Meditation has long been promoted as a way to feel more at peace. But research from a Texas Tech University faculty member shows it can significantly improve attention, working memory, creativity, immune function, emotional regulation, self-control, cognitive and school performance and healthy habits while reducing stress.
Yi-Yuan Tang, the presidential endowed chair in neuroscience and a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, has developed a novel method of mindfulness meditation called Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT).
"Meditation encompasses a family of complex practices that includes mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, yoga, tai chi and chi gong," Tang said. "Of these practices, mindfulness meditation — often described as nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experiences — has received most attention in neuroscience research over the past two decades. For example, when we observe our thoughts or emotions in the mind, we are often involved in them. With IBMT practice, you distance your thoughts or emotions and realize they are not you, then you see the reality in an insightful and different way. Mindfulness helps you be aware of these mental processes at the present, and you just observe without judgment of these activities."
IBMT avoids struggles to control thought, relying instead on a state of restful alertness that allows for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a qualified coach, who provides body-adjustment guidance, mental imagery and other techniques while soothing music plays in the background. Thought control is achieved gradually through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balance.
"IBMT works by brain (central nervous system) and body (autonomic nervous system) interaction - IBMT coaches help participants to change both body and mind states to achieve a meditative state; this is why participating in just five 20-minute sessions of IBMT has shown increased attention, relaxation, calmness, body-mind awareness and brain activity," Tang said. "Most participants notice a significant decrease in daily stress, anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. Additionally, IBMT participants show an overall improvement in emotional and cognitive performance as well as improved social behavior."
Tang says the specific parts of the brain most affected by IBMT - the anterior cingulate cortex and adjacent medial prefrontal cortex - are mainly involved in self-control ability.
"Deficits in self-control have been shown in mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, addictions, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder," Tang said. "Since IBMT could improve self-control effectively, it may help prevent and treat mental disorders. In the education field, since IBMT improves attention, cognitive performance and self-control, it could help those with ADHD or learning difficulties to improve academic performance and school behavior."
The next step in Tang's research will be to conduct large-scale longitudinal studies to more fully understand brain-body mechanisms of mindfulness and their applications.