A collaborative study by scientists from China and the USA has found that 11 hours of meditation can induce positive structural changes in an area of the brain that helps regulate behaviour.
The meditation technique used, integrative body-mind training (IBMT), was developed from Daoist and Confucian meditation practices commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Previous studies of IBMT have found that it improves attention and self-regulation by changing the interaction between the central (brain) and autonomic (body) systems, as measured by theta wave activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and high frequency heart-rate variability correlation. It has also been shown to improve immune parameters in healthy adults, both at a basal level and following a stress challenge. The most recent work involved 45 healthy volunteers who were randomised to either IBMT (consisting of body relaxation, mental imagery and mindfulness training) or a control group that received the same amount of relaxation training (guided muscle relaxation). Neuroimaging using a type of magnetic resonance allowed researchers to examine fibres connecting brain regions before and after training. The most marked changes were seen in connections involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain area involved in the regulation of emotions and behaviorbehaviour. The changes were observed only in those who practiced meditation and not in the control group, were observable after six hours of meditation and became clear by 11 hours of practice. The authors suggest that the changes were due to re-organisation of white-matter tracts or an increase in neuronal myelination. (Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 31;107(35):15649-52).