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Five days of integrative body-mind training (IBMT) improves attention and self-regulation in comparison with the same amount of relaxation training. This paper explores the underlying mechanisms of this finding. We measured the physiological and brain changes at rest before, during, and after 5 days of IBMT and relaxation training. During and after training, the IBMT group showed significantly better physiological reactions in heart rate, respiratory amplitude and rate, and skin conductance response (SCR) than the relaxation control. Differences in heart rate variability (HRV) and EEG power suggested greater involvement of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in the IBMT group during and after training. Imaging data demonstrated stronger subgenual and adjacent ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the IBMT group. Frontal midline ACC theta was correlated with highfrequency HRV, suggesting control by the ACC over parasympathetic activity. These results indicate that after 5 days of training, the IBMT group shows better regulation of the ANS by a ventral midfrontal brain system than does the relaxation group. This changed state probably reflects training in the coordination of body and mind given in the IBMT but not in the control group. These results could be useful in the design of further specific interventions.
Using diffusion tensor imaging, several recent studies have shown that training results in changes in white matter efficiency as measured by fractional anisotropy (FA). In our work, we found that a form of mindfulness meditation, integrative body–mind training (IBMT), improved FA in areas surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex after 4-wk training more than controls given relaxation training. Reductions in radial diffusivity (RD) have been interpreted as improved myelin but reductions in axial diffusivity (AD) involve other mechanisms, such as axonal density. We now report that after 4-wk training with IBMT, both RD and AD decrease accompanied by increased FA, indicating improved efficiency of white matter involves increased myelin as well as other axonal changes. However, 2-wk IBMT reduced AD, but not RD or FA, and improved moods. Our results demonstrate the time-course of white matter neuroplasticity in short-term meditation. This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is part of a network implicated in the development of self-regulation and whose connectivity changes dramatically in development. In previous studies we showed that 3 h of mental training, based on traditional Chinese medicine (integrative body–mind training, IBMT), increases ACC activity and improves self-regulation. However, it is not known whether changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. We here report that 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the ACC to other structures. Thus IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders.