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Why IBMT Can be an Effective Treatment for ADHD

IBMT or Integrative Body-Mind Training has been a major research project at both the Dalian University of Technology in China and the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon in the USA.

For over six years, Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang and Dr. Michael Posner have studied the effects of a body-mind meditation practice derived from Chinese medicine on the body, emotions and the brain.

Their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or PNAS, shows specifically that IBMT produces greater changes in brain and behavior than relaxation training alone.

Their research involved two groups; the experimental group was given integrative body-mind training, while the control group received relaxation training in which individuals were taught to relax the muscles of their bodies in a progressive manner using deliberate thought control.

With just 11 hours of training, practitioners of integrative body-mind training achieved far greater emotional and physiological changes than participants in the control group. These were physiological changes reflecting a deep, restful state, balanced emotional responses and brain changes associated with the development of attention and self-regulation.

Their results make Integrative body-mind training an ideal treatment for ADHD.

Body-Mind Training Reduces Cortisol Levels

In a study published in PNAS in 2017, Tang and his team discovered that just 5 days with 20-minute training sessions conducted each day led to a significant decrease in the level of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue in the participants of their research study. Moreover, blood tests revealed a decrease in stress-related cortisol levels and there was an improvement in the body’s basal immune function.

Both experimental and control groups were given a battery of psychological and emotional tests one week before training and immediately after the final training session.

Before training, these tests showed no difference in emotions and moods between the two groups. After training, tests revealed significant differences in the experimental group, but not in the control group. The overall results of these tests indicated that even short term body-mind training could “enhance positive moods and reduce negative ones.”

Moreover, when both groups were given a mental arithmetic challenge, the experimental group had a “significant lowered cortisol response to the mental stress after training than did the control group.”

Individuals with ADHD sometimes demonstrate higher levels of cortisol in their salivary glands when they are placed in a stressful situation. Integrative Body-Mind Training can certainly help them in this regard.

Deep Relaxation Response Can Help ADHD

In their research, Tang and his team revealed that IBMT creates specific physiological relaxation responses that are helpful for individuals with ADHD. Their study, published in 2019 issue of PNAS shows that just five days of body-mind practice changed the central and autonomic nervous system in a positive way.

They located a stronger and more effective engagement of parasympathetic activity in the experimental group when results were compared with those of the control group. Parasympathetic activity is the body’s capacity for rest and “downtime” as opposed to sympathetic activity which is the fight or flight response of a body under stress.

Compared with the control group, the experimental group showed better physiological reactions in heart and breathing rates, respiratory amplitude and lower skin conductance response – all of which are indications of a deep relaxation response.

IBMT Enhances Brain Functions Associated with Self Control and Regulation.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of IBMT is its effect on brain functions. In their study published in the Early Edition of PNAS, Tang and his team revealed that just 11 hours of training could bring about structural changes in the anterior cingulate cortex that promotes self-regulation and attention.

The anterior cingulate cortex or ACC is a network in the frontal lobes that is related to the maturation of self-control in a person as he or she develops from childhood to adulthood. In children diagnosed with ADHD, little activity is registered in the ACC. The ACC is also activated when the child retrieves memories of past experiences, a task very important for the maturation of self-control because it is from remembering past mistakes that one learns appropriate behavior for the present.

Increased activation of the ACC is usually found in individuals with great social insight and executive functions. Decreased activation of the ACC is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, depression, dementia and schizophrenia.

Tang’s research suggests that 3 hours of integrative body-mind training increased ACC activation; it also shows that more than 6 hours and fewer than 11 hours of training are needed to bring about structural changes in the white matter tract connecting the ACC with other brain structures. An increase in the volume of this white matter indicates strengthened connectivity in the anterior cingulate, which is correlated with self-control and attention.

Compared with the control group, the experimental group demonstrated more significant white matter changes after 11 hours of body-mind training than those following relaxation training alone.

What Makes IBMT an Effective Self-Management Tool?

One reason proposed by Tang is that integrative body-mind training does not rely on one specific meditation or mental training technique. It combines several key parts of body-mind training techniques with mindfulness traditions.

According to Tang, this combination may make the training more effective than any single method.

Secondly, integrative body-mind training reduces one’s reliance on thought control as the pivotal method of relaxation. The practice therefore becomes much more easily assimilated by novices who often struggle with thought control.

Instead, novices are coached into a state of restful awareness and rhythmic breathing. Then, gradually, through postures and relaxation, thought control is achieved with the help of a coach.

The success of IBMT stems from its diversification of processes and the ease with which this process can be taught. As such, it is ideal for individuals with ADHD who often struggle with impatience and inattentiveness.

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