Integrative Body-Mind Training

As was mentioned in the immediately preceding post, during his Opening Address at the Meeting of  the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Posner discussed Attention and two main approaches to training the mind.  The previous post discussed his talk on attention training.   This post discusses his talk on attention state training. Integrative body-mind training (IBMT) is an example of the attention state approach to training the mind.  IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s in China, where it is being practice by thousands of people. Posner  has brought this technique to the United States at the University of Oregon.

IBMT does not try to control thought, but instead relies on a state of restful alertness that allows for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a coach.  The coach provides breath-adjustment guidance, mental imagery and other techniques as soothing music plays in the background.  Gradually thought control is achieved through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balancing breathing.  Having a good coach is important.

Two experiments were run at Chinese universities.  In both experiments participants who had not previously practiced relaxation or meditation received either IBMT or general relaxation instruction for 20 minutes a day for five days.  Although both groups experienced some benefit from the training,  those in IBMT showed dramatic differences  based on brain-imaging and physiological testing.

IBMT subjects had increased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region associated with self regulation of cognition and emotion.  Compared with the relaxation group, IBMT subjects had lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude and decreased chest respiration rates all of which reflected less effort exertion by participants, more relaxation of body and a calm state of mind.  The following is complicated, so please bear with me, “IBMT subjects had more high-frequency variability than their relaxation counterparts, indicating successful inhibition of sympathetic tone and activation of parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system.”  Sympathetic tone becomes more active when stressed.

Posner has essentially replicated these results at the University of Oregon.    He has conducted another study using a group of smokers (randomly assigned either to basic relaxation training or to IBMT.  Although this study used smokers it was not portrayed as a study designed to help them stop smoking.  After two weeks the IBMT group (but not the relaxation group) showed an average 60% reduction in cigarette smoking.  Brain scans confirmed  an increase in brain activity in areas related to self-control, including the anterior cingulate..

What specially amazed Posner was that many of the subjects did not realize that they were smoking less, despite the fact some of the reduction levels approached those of a quitter!

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