If you're trying to snuff out a nicotine habit, a small new study suggests that meditation could help.
A US study announced Sunday and published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that after a few hours of meditation, smokers puffed significantly less and showed increased activity in areas of the brain associated with self-control.
Researchers from the University of Oregon recruited 60 university students, including 27 smokers. Half of the group learned a meditation technique called integrative body-mind training, or IBMT. Subjects practiced for five hours over a two-week period. The remaining subjects followed the same schedule but practiced relaxation therapy, where they concentrated on releasing tension from different parts of the body.
At the end of their training, smokers who meditated smoked 60 percent less, while the smoking habits of those in the relaxation group didn't change.
Head researcher Michael Posner and the research team also used a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine to examine brain activity, finding a change in activity in regions associated with self-control in the smokers who meditated. Again, no change was seen in subjects who followed the relaxation program.
"We found that participants who received IBMT training also experienced a significant decrease in their craving for cigarettes," said coauthor Yi-Yuan Tang of 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."
Tang developed IBMT back in the mid-1990s based on traditional Chinese medicine, Taoism, and Confucianism. Unlike other meditation techniques, which focus on thought control and require long-term training, he says his technique focuses on body-mind awareness, such as body postures and breathing. According to Tang, with the right coach, you can learn the technique in as little as five days.
Both Tang and Posner conducted a prior study that found that 11 hours of practicing the technique (even for beginners) can have a positive physical effect on the brain, boosting connectivity and efficiency. That study was published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.