Last week, two University of Oregon scientists published new research confirming and expanding upon previous findings from a 2010 study which supported the benefits of a Chinese meditation technique known as integrative body-mind training (IBMT).
The paper, authored by Eugene scientists Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner, appears in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It documents findings proving the benefits of meditation on two levels.
In the concrete physical dimension, the brains of subjects who consistently meditated for a month showed an increase in axonal density, or signaling connections, and growth of the protective fatty tissue known as myelin.
On the subjective level, these changes translate to positive behavioral development and an increased sense of well-being. Deficiencies in the aforementioned brain structures are linked to many disorders including depression, ADD, dementia and schizophrenia.
The initial 2010 study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to document evolving brain connectivity associated with positive behavioral changes. The new study intended to confirm and expand upon initial findings by using additional diagnostic techniques such as a different MRI process known as diffusion tensor imaging, as well as integrating the results of a parallel study at a Chinese university involving a wider pool of participants. After two weeks the new study documented improved axonal density, and by the month's end, the researchers also noticed increased myelin growth.
Posner affirms that, "This study gives us a much more detailed picture of what…is actually changing…we did confirm the exact locations of the white-matter changes that we had found previously. And now we show that both myelination and axon density are improving. The order of changes we found may be similar to changes found during brain development in early childhood, allowing a new way to reveal how such changes might influence emotional and cognitive development."
Each of these studies compared the benefits of focused mindfulness meditation with a control group which merely engaged in a sequential body relaxation. Invariably, the meditation group showed lower levels of fatigue, anxiety, depression, and anger, lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, and increased belly breathing amplitude compared to the relaxation group.
The effect of the steadily increasing body of evidence supporting mediation's efficacy on the practice's popularity will only become fully apparent in time, but it's safe to say that everyone can and should benefit from this ancient discipline.
"Day 106" by SuperFantastic on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.