Science behind meditation

Published: April 21, 2016

CATHERINE MURRAY  

Staff Writer

Various forms of meditation are beneficial for your health. A research article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, asserts that meditation for 20 minutes each day for five days will improve your attention span and your self-regulation. The researchers randomly assigned research participants to two groups, one who received integrative body-mind training and a control group who received relaxation training. The training method that they chose to give to the experimental group was based on traditional Chinese medicine, and mindfulness training was also incorporated. Integrative body-mind training focuses on mind and body training over short periods of time, while controlling one’s thoughts develops naturally through posture, relaxation, mind-body harmony and breathing. A trainer watched the trainees perform the training and gave them advice on how to improve their technique to get the maximum effect of the body-mind training. The trainees were guided by both the trainer and a CD, and they were told to concentrate on achieving a balanced mind.

After five days of this training, the experimental group had a better ability to solve conflicts, indicating that short-term integrative body-mind control can increase one’s ability to concentrate on a specific object or task, called executive attention. Improving one’s executive attention aids in improving memory and overall attention span. Trainees also experienced enhanced positive moods and decreased negative moods. Anger, hostility, depression, dejection, fatigue, tension and anxiety were all reduced for the trainees but not for the control group. Similarly, vigor and activity were increased after the integrative body-mind control training.

Researchers also noted that the cortisol and sIgA levels were affected after receiving the treatment. Cortisol is a steroid that the body releases in response to stress. SIgA is an antibody that plays important roles in the immune system, and it is also an important marker for measuring stress levels in the body. The experimental group experienced a lowered cortisol response to induced stress, suggesting that the integrative body-mind training decreased the amount of stress that one experiences. The sIgA increased relative to the control after the participants were exposed to stress, which is consistent with the mechanism of sIgA in the body following short-term exposure to stress.

The researchers concluded that the integrative body-mind training helped participants lower their overall stress level, leading to increased attention and a smaller reaction to induced stress. They suggested that this training could alter the brain network to generate these improvements, but further research would need to be done to confirm this hypothesis.

Overall, daily practice of integrative body-mind training was proven helpful if done correctly. The researchers noted the importance of the trainer and how he or she guides the trainee through his or her meditation. If the trainer is successful, he or she can help reduce stress and increase attention.

Contact the writer: catherine.murray@scranton.edu

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