Chinese meditation reduces stress

It is examination time in many schools, colleges, and universities and students around the world are seriously stressed out. In the famous university town of Cambridge, England, for example one can almost feel the anxiety in the air as students pass on the sunny days and instead head to the library. Students are of course justifiably apprehensive in the face of exams and other due dates. In fact, some anxiety is good – it prepares the mind for serious work. But perhaps there is a way to help manage this stress and keep it from developing into the debilitating fear it too often becomes.

As first reported by ScienceDaily, Researchers at the University of Oregon appear to have found a promising technique adapted from traditional Chinese medicine.

In 2007 Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner of the University of Oregon found that “integrative body-mind training” (IBMT), a technique developed in the 1990s in China, practice “prior to a mental math test led to low levels of the stress hormone cortical among Chinese students. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than students in a relaxation control group.” These impressive results appeared after only five days of practice in the meditative technique.

IBMT relies on archiving “a state of restful alertness” which allows for “a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a coach, who provides breath-adjustment guidance and mental imagery and other techniques, while soothing music plays in the background.”

In a new study by Tang and 13 Chinese colleagues and set to appear in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, these results are linked to specific alterations in “blood flow and electrical activity in the brain, breathing quality and even skin conductance.” All of this allows for what Tang calls, “a state of ah, much like in the morning opening your eyes, looking outside the grass and sunshine, you feel relaxed, calm and refresh without any stress, this is the meditation state."

Study participants with no previous experience with relaxation or meditation techniques “received either IBMT or general relaxation instruction for 20 minutes a day for five days. While both groups experienced some benefit from the training, those in IBMT showed dramatic differences based on brain-imaging and physiological testing.”

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) revealed that IBMT subjects had increased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate cortex, a region associated with self-regulation of cognition and emotion. "We were able to show that the training improved the connection between a central nervous system structure, the anterior cingulate, and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system to help put a person into a more bodily state," Posner said. Subjects in the IBMT group also showed substantial changes in various physiological measures such as lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude and decreased chest respiration rates compared to the relaxation group. IBMT seems to have made connections between “mind” and “body” leading to relaxation of both.

Promising news for the anxious and an interesting area of convergence in science and religion research to be sure.

For the original ScienceDaily article see here.

For the 2007 study by Tang and Posner et al, see here.

For the new study by Tang et al, see here.