Researchers from Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, set out to explore why five days of integrative body-mind training (IBMT)* improves attentional focus and self-regulation better than relaxation training. The underlying mechanisms were sought by measuring physiological and brain changes at rest before, during, and after 5 days of IBMT and relaxation training.

[*IBMT is a meditation practice developed by Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang, a pioneer in studying neurological effects of meditation, by modifying and simplifying Chinese Tao meditation. It doesn’t focus on thoughts in the mind, but rather a state of restful alertness from a high level of body awareness, augmented by the breath and guided imagery with music.] 

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 controls.


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 (MRI’s) demonstrated stronger subgenual and adjacent ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the IBMT group. Frontal midline ACC theta was correlated with high-frequency 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 autonomic nervous system 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. [More info here]

Citation: Tang YY, Ma Y, Fan Y, Feng H, Wang J, Feng S, Lu Q, Hu B, Lin Y, Li J, Zhang Y, Wang Y, Zhou L, Fan MCentral and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U S A. 2009 Jun 2;106(22):8865-70. Epub 2009 May 18. [email protected]