+ Eleven Hours of Meditation Can Rewire a Brain

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According to Sian Beilock’s article in Psychology Today, we have a good indication that you needn’t devote years or even months to learning to meditate if you want to reap the benefits.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael Posner and colleagues says that they placed undergraduates at the University of Oregon in one of two situations: either an integrative mind-body training (IMBT), or a relaxation program.  

All students had had no meditation experience at all.

Students spent a total of 11 hours of training, split up into 30-minute sessions conducted over a one month period.

IMBT  vs  Meditation

IMBT involved body relaxation, mental imagery, and mindfulness training.  Subjects were guided by a coach as well as an assistive CD.  This meditation approach stresses a state of “restful alertness.” 

The idea is to reach such a high degree of awareness of your body and mind that unwanted thoughts are unlikely to co-opt your attention. 

But the relaxation training option, on the other hand, taught people to relax different muscle groups over the face, head, shoulders, arms, legs, chest, back and abdomen.  Progressive training like this is designed to help individuals achieve calm relaxation.

The results, however, show that relaxation does not offer the same benefits as IBMT.

Researchers scanned the students’ resting brains  both before and after training, using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).  An MRI machine measures the magnetic properties of the object (in this case, the brain of the individual) inside it.

Brains consist of both gray and white matter.  Gray matter is where the cell bodies of neurons reside, and where signals are sent from one brain cell to another.

The white matter connects these gray matter areas.  It is because of these white matter connections that different parts of the brain can communicate and work together.

Researchers focused on these white matter tracts, using a form of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

What Researchers Found

After only 11 hours of meditation training, they found, there were changes for the better in a white matter tract that connects the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures in the brain.

The ACC is part of a network of brain regions involved in regulating our emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

In other words, after meditation training, the integrity and efficiency of the connections with the ACC — that major player in our ability to regulate our thoughts, behaviors and emotions — improved.

The idea that the brain’s structure can change as a result of meditation is intriguing.  It means that meditation can help you regulate your thoughts, emotions and behaviors when you need to perform at your best.

Eleven hours are less time than it would take to watch six films — or four football games.  You could repaint your bedroom in less time, writes Beilock.

It may be worth learning more about IBMT — integrative mind-body training. 

Sole source: Sian Beilock’s 8/20/10 article in Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com.

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