New Mindfulness Training Drastically Reduces Tobacco Cravings
Smokers who participated in IBMT as part of a small research study curtailed their smoking by 60 percent. So, what is IBMT?
Start with soothing music. Add a state of restful alertness and heightened body-mind awareness. Throw in mental imagery and a coach who provides breathing guidance, and you have IBMT, or integrative body-mind training – a type of mindfulness meditation.
IBMT was derived from traditional Chinese medicine during the 1990s. It is widely practiced in China and is slowly trickling its way west via research. Scientists are interested in IBMT’s effect on the brain’s function and structure.
What is interesting about this smoking study is that the volunteers, though they were smokers, were recruited because they had a desire to reduce stress and improve their performance. They did not join the study to quit or reduce smoking. Yet they experienced a significant drop in their craving for cigarettes.
Why the participants cut back on smoking was revealed, at least in part, by the MRI scans taken before and after IBMT training.
- Before IBMT, the subjects' brain areas related to impulse control – the anterior cingulate cortex, left lateral prefrontal cortex, and other areas – showed reduced activity, indicating their self-control was impaired.
- After IBMT, the subjects' MRIs revealed increased brain activity in these same areas related to impulse control. The participants' ability to manage their impulses improved.
- The study’s control group that received relaxation training only did not experience any reduction in cigarette cravings.
Follow-ups were done at two and four weeks after the study ended. Five of the responding subjects who had significantly cut back on smoking after IBMT reported that they were maintaining the improvement.
According to Yi-Yuan Tang, researcher from Texas Tech University:
Because mindfulness meditation promotes personal control and has been shown to positively affect attention and an openness to internal and external experiences, we believe that meditation may be helpful for coping with symptoms of addiction.
A Treatment for Other Addictions?
Many studies have verified that the practice of mindfulness is beneficial for our physical and mental health. One of the pluses of IBMT is that is does not force people to resist cravings and change their addictive habits. Rather, it improves people's capacity for self-control so they can better manage cravings and smoking behaviors.
More research will be needed to see whether IBMT helps people reduce cravings for other addictive substances, and to discover how long the improved impulse control continues after treatment. It may turn out that mindfulness meditation will need to become a habit to permanently let go of other habits.