Eleven hours of practicing a Chinese meditation technique increased “white matter,” the brain’s connective tissue, in the brain region that helps regulate behavior. This finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2010; doi:10.1073/pnas.1011043107), adds to the growing evidence that meditation practice can positively affect brain tissue.
Researchers at the University of Oregon (UO), Eugene, under the leadership of Yi-Yuan Tang from Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, conducted the study on UO students using brain imagery equipment. Investigators randomly assigned 45 students to either an integrative body-mind training (IBMT) group or a control group. IBMT group members participated in 30-minute sessions of IBMT over a 1-month period for a total of 11 training hours. IBMT practice is adapted from traditional Chinese medicine and consists of coach-guided body relaxation, mental imagery and mindfulness training with a musical background; it is designed to help participants achieve a balanced state of body and mind. Control group subjects attended relaxation training sessions, also for a total of 11 hours. Investigators acquired brain images from all subjects before and after each training.
White matter in the brain consists of myelinated nerve cell axons that connect gray-matter areas of the brain to one another. Gray matter consists of neuronal cell bodies, neuropils, glial cells and capillaries. In the simplest terms, gray-matter cells process information, while white matter transmits it. Data analysis showed that after 6 hours of training, only IBMT subjects experienced changes in white-matter connections with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This part of the brain is involved with monitoring and resolving conflict among competing response tendencies related to the ability to regulate emotions and behavior. After 11 hours of training, changes in reorganization of the myelin that surrounds the ACC were clearly visible. Significant changes occurred in the left anterior corona radiata, the left superior corona radiata, the genu of corpus callosum and the body of corpus callosum.
“The importance of our findings relates to the ability to make structural changes in a brain network related to self-regulation,” said study co-author Michael Posner, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at UO and a National Medal of Science recipient. “The pathway that has the largest change due to IBMT is one that previously was shown to relate to individual differences in the person’s ability to regulate conflict.” Tang and Posner suggested that IBMT might be used as a vehicle to understand how such training influences brain plasticity. More research was recommended.To learn more about this research, go to www.yi-yuan.net/english/tyy.asp.