Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Integrated Body Mind Training

Integrated Body Mind Training ( 调节法简介) is a holistic form of meditation based on both traditional Chinese medicine and Western Techniques.  It has been developed in a collaboration between Dr. Yi-yuan Tang and Michael Posner, an eminent psychologist.   It includes four parts: body relaxation, breath adjustment, mental imagery, and mindfulness.  IBMT helps improve self-regulation in cognition, emotion, and social behavior.  IBMT is practiced while listening to an audio compact disc (CD) and being physically coached by an experienced IBMT mentor. 

IBMT has recently been coupled with nature exposure to help improve attention state.  Chinese mind body training such as Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation have often been done in nature. Being in harmony with nature has been a central feature in Chinese philosophy.  Western psychological practices have come to understand that nature exposure helps restore directed attention.   However, unlike other nature exposure therapies, IBMT has the subject close his eyes and visualize nature. 

IBMT and nature exposure are both techniques that have been categorized as attention state training models (Tang & Posner, 2009).  Attention state training (AST) pertains to a change in conscious awareness that may result from meditative or nature exposure experiences.  Attention training (AT), comparatively, involves executive control mechanisms and may, for example, include mental effort and control on a working memory task.  Tang and Posner note that nature exposure is based on Kaplan’s attention restoration theory, which posits that mental fatigue may occur following a person’s sustained effort to maintain focused attention over time on cognitive tasks.  The premise of the attention restoration theory model is that a person can restore mental efficiency by decreasing directed, voluntary attention, and by increasing involuntary attention.  In other words, a person may become mentally fatigued as he or she sustains effortful attention on work-related tasks (computer, e-mail, documents, meetings, etc.), but can restore mental efficiency by increasing the involuntary attention that occurs via nature exposure.  Tang and Posner cited a recent study in which subjects assigned to an experimental group exposed to nature scenes demonstrated improved executive functioning compared to a control group exposed to urban scenes.  The main difference between IBMT and nature exposure, according to Tang and Posner, is that nature exposure is performed with one’s eyes open, whereas, IBMT practitioners practice with eyes closed and progressively use breathing and imagery techniques to accrue a set of experiences that enable the person to achieve deeper and deeper states from one session to the next.
The practice of mindfulness is involved in both IBMT and nature exposure.  Mindfulness involves a divergence from conscious awareness being focused on the past or the future, thus enabling one to center awareness of thoughts, emotions, and/or actions in the present.  Studies show that mindfulness training can help reduce pain, decrease stress, improve cognition, and increase positive mood (Tang & Posner, 2009).  Other findings indicate mindfulness meditation has beneficial effects on brain and immune functioning (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkranz, Muller, Santorelli, Urbanowski, Harrington, Bonus, & Sheridan, 2003)

IBMT does not stress efforts to control thoughts, but instead induces a state of restful alertness, enabling a high degree of awareness of body, mind and external instructions. It seeks a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Control of thought is achieved gradually through posture and relaxation. The coach works to achieve a balanced and harmonious state rather than by having the trainee attempt an internal struggle to control thoughts in accordance with instruction.

gyri - anatomical subregions of cerebral cortex.
Image via Wikipedia
An fMRI study has been done of structural alterations in the brain following IBMT.  These structural alterations were highest in the fibres connecting the anterior cingulate which is the part of the brain that standardizes emotions and behavior.  Researchers are wondering whether IBMT could do more than help alleviate stress as an underactive anterior cingulate has been connected to depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia and schizophrenia.

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