In the Journals

'Mindfulness' meditation associated with changes in brain white matter

Focused meditation was associated with improved changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region associated with the ability to resolve conflict and exercise control of cognition and emotion, according to study results.

“Since many mental disorders are related to reduced self-regulation, it is possible that this form of mental training could help reduce the tendency toward addiction, depression and other disorders,” study researcher Michael I. Posner, PhD, told Healio.com. “Further research will be needed to test this possibility.”

Posner, along Yi-Yuan Tang, PhD, of the University of Oregon’s department of psychology and Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for NeuroImaging, performed two studies using diffusion tensor imaging — a noninvasive MRI-based technique — to examine the brain connectivity of undergraduate students who underwent either integrative body-mind training (IBMT) or relaxation training. The first study included 45 students from the University of Oregon who participated in a 4-week course of either IBMT or relaxation training, whereas the second study included 68 Chinese undergraduates at Dalian University of Technology, who took part in a 2-week course. None of the participants had prior experience in IBMT or relaxation training.

IBMT involves body relaxation, mental imagery and mindfulness training, accompanied by selected background music, according to the researchers. “Cooperation between the body and the mind is emphasized in facilitating and achieving a meditative state,” they wrote. For 30-minute sessions, participants were lead by a “coach” and a CD to concentrate on achieving a balanced state of mind and body. According to the researchers, IBMT stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead emphasizes a “state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, mind and external instructions.”

Relaxation training involves the relaxation of different muscle groups in the head, face, shoulders, arms, legs, chest, back and abdomen. Participants in the relaxation group were also guided by a coach and CD. “With eyes closed and in a sequential pattern, one is forced to concentrate on the sensation of relaxation, such as the feelings of warmth and heaviness,” the researchers wrote.

In the US study, there was no significant difference in white matter integrity or efficiency between the IBMT and relaxation groups (P>.05) before training. After training, results showed significant reductions in anger/hostility, confusion/bewilderment, depression/dejection, fatigue/inertia and total mood disturbance in the IBMT group, but not in the relaxation group.

In the later study, correlations between changes in total mood disturbance and decreases in the axial diffusivity — a measure of axonal density — at the left posterior corona radiata (R=0.409), and changes in total mood disturbance and decreases in the axial diffusivity at the left sagittal stratum (R=0.447) were significant (P<.05), “indicating the training-induced change in mood was correlated with the brain changes in these areas,” according to the researchers.

“Our studies have shown that meditation training increases the brain connectivity in an area of the brain that is related to self regulation,” the researchers wrote.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

Focused meditation was associated with improved changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region associated with the ability to resolve conflict and exercise control of cognition and emotion, according to study results.

“Since many mental disorders are related to reduced self-regulation, it is possible that this form of mental training could help reduce the tendency toward addiction, depression and other disorders,” study researcher Michael I. Posner, PhD, told Healio.com. “Further research will be needed to test this possibility.”

Posner, along Yi-Yuan Tang, PhD, of the University of Oregon’s department of psychology and Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for NeuroImaging, performed two studies using diffusion tensor imaging — a noninvasive MRI-based technique — to examine the brain connectivity of undergraduate students who underwent either integrative body-mind training (IBMT) or relaxation training. The first study included 45 students from the University of Oregon who participated in a 4-week course of either IBMT or relaxation training, whereas the second study included 68 Chinese undergraduates at Dalian University of Technology, who took part in a 2-week course. None of the participants had prior experience in IBMT or relaxation training.

IBMT involves body relaxation, mental imagery and mindfulness training, accompanied by selected background music, according to the researchers. “Cooperation between the body and the mind is emphasized in facilitating and achieving a meditative state,” they wrote. For 30-minute sessions, participants were lead by a “coach” and a CD to concentrate on achieving a balanced state of mind and body. According to the researchers, IBMT stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead emphasizes a “state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, mind and external instructions.”

Relaxation training involves the relaxation of different muscle groups in the head, face, shoulders, arms, legs, chest, back and abdomen. Participants in the relaxation group were also guided by a coach and CD. “With eyes closed and in a sequential pattern, one is forced to concentrate on the sensation of relaxation, such as the feelings of warmth and heaviness,” the researchers wrote.

In the US study, there was no significant difference in white matter integrity or efficiency between the IBMT and relaxation groups (P>.05) before training. After training, results showed significant reductions in anger/hostility, confusion/bewilderment, depression/dejection, fatigue/inertia and total mood disturbance in the IBMT group, but not in the relaxation group.

In the later study, correlations between changes in total mood disturbance and decreases in the axial diffusivity — a measure of axonal density — at the left posterior corona radiata (R=0.409), and changes in total mood disturbance and decreases in the axial diffusivity at the left sagittal stratum (R=0.447) were significant (P<.05), “indicating the training-induced change in mood was correlated with the brain changes in these areas,” according to the researchers.

“Our studies have shown that meditation training increases the brain connectivity in an area of the brain that is related to self regulation,” the researchers wrote.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.