HEALTHY LIVING
08/06/2013 08:50 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2013

Mindfulness Meditation Might Help You Smoke Less -- Even If You Aren't Trying To

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Mindfulness meditation could help smokers cut back on the habit without them even realizing it.

A small new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that a form of mindfulness meditation, called Integrative Body-Mind Training, improved self-control among smokers and was associated with them lighting up less, even if they didn't necessarily notice they were doing so. Integrative Body-Mind Training is a form of Chinese mindfulness meditation that involves mental imagery, mindfulness training and relaxation.

"We found that participants who received IBMT training also experienced a significant decrease in their craving for cigarettes," study researcher Yi-Yuan Tang, of Texas Tech University, said in a statement. "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, who worked on the study with Michael I. Posner, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon, approached their volunteer recruitment process a bit differently than some others that involve smoking cessation. Because the kinds of people who sign up for smoking studies typically want to quit the habit, the researchers marketed their study as one that involved stress reduction and performance improvement.

Among all the recruited participants for the study, researchers focused on the 27 who were smokers. These individuals had an average age of 21 and smoked 10 cigarettes a day, on average. The researchers had 15 of the smokers undergo Integrative Body-Mind Training for five hours total over a two-week period , while the other 11 smokers were in a control group where they just engaged in relaxation techniques. The study participants underwent carbon monoxide testing before and after the relaxation or mindfulness regimens (to objectively gauge how much they smoked), as well as brain scans (via fMRI).

The researchers found that after the mindfulness training, participants cut down on smoking by 60 percent (as evidenced by the carbon monoxide testing) -- plus, they found that some of the participants didn't even realize they had smoked less often, until seeing the results of the carbon monoxide tests.

They also saw differences in brain activity before and after the mindfulness training. Specifically, there was increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus/ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

And after following up with the smokers who underwent the mindfulness training two and four weeks after, five of them still had reductions in their smoking.

"This is an early finding, but an encouraging one," Posner said in the statement. "It may be that for the reduction or quitting to have a lasting effect, smokers will need to continue to practice meditation for a longer time period."

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