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Brain-Mind-Body Practice and Health

November 21, 2017 - Currently, increasing number of human studies emerged to demonstrate the association between "brain-mind-body practice and health", which is of great implication for understanding basic scientific issue "mind and body" and providing efficient strategy for clinical practice and health promotion.

It is challenging to clarify the influence of brain-mind-boy practice on health outcomes because it was misunderstanding that some outcomes could be detectable only after long-term training or practice, which usually takes much time to conduct relevant longitudinal studies.

One of the solutions is to detect the effect of practice on health is adopting cross-sectional study to compare the differences in behavioral and neural level between experienced practitioners and controls. One study used functional MRI to investigate the neural correlates underlying the effect of extensive mind-body practice on cognitive control in large-scaled brain network perspective. They recruited Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practitioners for 10 years of experience as expert group and controls as novice group to scan their brain function during resting state. The results showed that compared to control group, TCC group had significantly decreased fractional Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuations (fALFF) in bilateral frontoparietal network (FPN), which was found to be associated with TCC experience as well as cognitive control performance. This study highlights the functionally plastic role of the frontoparietal network in the context of the "immune system" of mental health recently developed in relation to flexible hub theory.

The limitation of this paradigm is that it is not clear if the differences of behaviors or brain between these groups are induced by nature or nurture (practice). It is possible that some practitioners have featured brain tissue sensitive to training and they undoubtedly presented better performance in behaviors. However, these original studies offer more insights for further investigations in potential change of behaviors and neural circuits induced by long-term practice.

In view of this limitation, researchers in the field of brain-mind-body practice utilized short-term intervention period for about several weeks to examine the effect of practice in order to exclude the influence of nature or heredity. Baduanjin, a form of Qigong, was employed as an intervention tool to investigate behavioral change including mood and executive control induced by it. The intervention protocol lasted for 8 weeks. As predicted, Chen et al. detected significant improved mood state and executive function. Moreover, an increase in oxygenated hemoglobin in the left prefrontal cortex was observed during the Incongruent Trails test only after exercise intervention. Similarly, Ma et al. observed that 8-week diaphragmatic breathing without any explicit movement was observed to improve cognitive function and negative mood as well as decreased stress level among healthy adults. A combined cognitive training consisting of memory strategy and executive function was examined in this topic. The results demonstrated the effects of cognitive training on both intention-based and stimulus-based actions, which supported the role of mental training on action operation.

In summary, these contributions in this research topic cover majority forms of brain-mind-body practice including mindfulness, Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong, cognitive training and aerobic exercise. Readers who are interested in any brain-mind-body practice could have access to basic knowledge on theoretical background and get a glimpse of new development and research findings. All these studies enrich our understanding of neural mechanisms underlying healthy behaviors as well as the association between mind, body and brain, and offer new insights for developing possible behavioral practice interventions in subjects with neurological or mental dysfunction.

This is an editorial by Swiss journal Frontiers in psychology.




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