Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Meditation Proven to Boost Brain Efficiency

Meditation Proven to Boost Brain Efficiency
  • A team of researchers at the University of Oregon proves that meditation positively alters the structure of the brain.
  • A team of researchers at the University of Oregon proves that meditation positively alters the structure of the brain.Meditation was once the domain of fringe groups bent on instilling life-changing attitudes into their inductees by getting them to slow down, take deep breaths and let the stress melt away. Unproven until now, Chinese and U.S. researchers claim to have scientific evidence that guided meditation introduces positive structural changes in the brain, which help people regulate goal-oriented behaviors without all the stress.
    The research team led by professor Yi-Yuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology, working in collaboration with University of Oregon psychologist Michael I. Posner, found that just 11 hours of guided meditation is all you need to make positive structural changes in your brain. Their technique, called integrative body-mind training (IBMT), has been developed in China over the last two decades, but finally its positive benefits have been measured with the help of brain-imaging technology at the University of Oregon.
    The research project, sanctioned by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, trained 45 University of Oregon students, half in IBMT and half in traditional stress-reducing "relaxation" training. Before and after each training session, the subjects' brain functions were measured with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called diffusion tensor imaging. By examining the fibers that connect neurons together in the brain, the researchers were able to observe positive changes in the portion of the brain that regulates emotions and behaviors, called the anterior cingulate cortex. Changes in connectivity were observed in the test group, but not in the control group, after just 6 hours of IBMT and became statistically significant after just 11 hours.
    After just 11 hours of guided meditation, increases in fiber strength (colored) can be measured in the anterior cingulate cortex.

    The researchers have done no invasive experiments to actually inspect brain matter, but speculate that the observed MRI changes are the result of reorganization of the white matter that interconnects neurons in the brain. By increasing the myelin that surrounds those connections, the researchers claim the changes make those pathways stronger and more efficient. According to Posner—last year's recipient of the National Medal of Science—strengthening these particular pathways has already been shown to enable people to handle stress better, but this is the first time that meditation has been verified as a cause.
    Previously, Posner and Tang had published results verifying a positive correlation between IBMT and stress. In 2007, they found a correlation between IBMT and lower levels of a stress hormone called cortisol.
    University of Oregon professor Michael Posner receiving the National Medal of Science from President Obama last year. 
    Then, in 2009, with University of Oregon psychology professor Mary Rothbart, they showed that meditators had increased blood flow in the brain, lower heart rates, lower skin conductance and decreased respiration rates. However, the current study is the first to verify that enduring structural changes in the brain result from IBMT.
    IBMT uses a coach to guide meditation by providing real-time breath-adjustment guidance, mental imagery and posture suggestions. Read more about it here.

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