By Margarita Nahapetyan
Chinese scientists have unraveled a secret of a mind-body technique, adapted from traditional Chinese medicine, that significantly cuts down stress levels in just five days of practice.
The practice - integrative body-mind training (IBMT) - is practiced by thousands of people in China and is now being taught to undergraduates who are taking part in the research on the method at the University of Oregon (UO). In October 2007, scientists led by visiting UO professor Yi-Yuan Tang and UO psychologist Michael Posner found that doing IBMT prior to taking a mental math test resulted in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol among Chinese students. It was also found that the experimental group had lower levels of anxiety and fatigue, depression and anger, compared to the students in a relaxation control group.
The previous study demonstrated that IBMT subjects had a reduced response to stress, Dr. Tang said. The new findings, in turn, demonstrate how IBMT changes blood flow and electrical activity in the brain, as well as quality of breathing and even skin conductance, thus allowing individuals to feel relaxed, calm and refresh without any stress. This is the state of meditation, the expert added.
Dr. Tang and thirteen Chinese colleagues based their findings on two experiments that involved 86 undergraduate students at Dalian University of Technology, where Dr. Tang is a professor. In each experiment, the subjects who had never practiced relaxation or meditation before, received either integrative body-mind training or instructions on how to relax in general for 20 minutes a day for 5 days. It was revealed after that while the participants in both groups experienced some benefit from the training, those in IBMT group demonstrated significant changes based on brain-imaging and physiological testing.
When compared with the subjects in the relaxation group, IBMT participants showed lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude and reduced rates of chest respiration, all of which, the investigators wrote, reflected less effort and more relaxation of body and calm state of mind. "We were able to find that the training improved the connection between a central nervous system structure, the anterior cingulate, and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system to help put a person into a more bodily state," the experts said. The results appear to show a connectivity of brain and body.
Integrative body-mind training avoids struggles in order to control thought. Instead, it relies on a state of restful alertness, allowing for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from an instructor. During therapy, an instructor provides guidance on balanced breathing and mental imagery along with some other techniques, while quiet and relaxing music plays in the background. Mind control is achieved step by step through posture, relaxation, harmony between body and mind and balanced breathing. According to Dr. Tang, having a good coach is critical.
Our lives are full of stress, and individuals need to learn methods to be able to deal with stress and improve their performance, Dr. Tang said, and added that there is also physical training available, but he and his colleagues wanted to carry out more research on mental training. This method appears to be beneficial for the modern society where the pace is fast.
The study was published online in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The research was funded by China's Natural Science Foundation and Ministry of Education and the U.S.-based James S. Bower and John Templeton foundations.