Professor Jo Aldridge Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation

Professor Jo Aldridge Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation Professor Jo Aldridge Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation - Start

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Professor Jo Aldridge Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation

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Presentations text content in Professor Jo Aldridge Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation


Professor Jo Aldridge

Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Meditation


Evidence and experience:

This presentation based on:

Evidence (I am an academic after all!): what does the scientific evidence tell us about the benefits of meditation?

Experience: professional and personal;Professional: as a researcher who specialises in research on and with ‘vulnerable’, socially excluded groups;As an academic with years of experience supporting students (pastoral care, personal tutoring, mentoring)

As an academic in the field of health, social care and social policy (National Institute for Health and Social Care – NICE- Fellow!); drawing on a wide body of national and international evidence.

See, for example:



Time to share:

Surviving trauma (past); managing (and surviving!) caring (current);

Without a doubt meditation has been critical as survival/coping mechanism – NOT a chore or a duty or ‘something else on my long list of “things to do”’;Using meditation: as therapy, to enhance relaxation and creativity and stress reduction;As something I don’t have to do but



need to do (like exercise for the brain);Wish I had started younger but benefits at any time of life.



Discussing and providing evidence for the benefits of meditation for students;

Specifically: enhancing creativity; and reducing stress

Please note: this presentation is


endorsing a particular technique or approach (NOT, for example, mindfulness based stress reduction; MBSR programme).


What type

of meditation?


is meditation?Many different kinds/techniques but fall into three categories:Focused attention (eg focus on breath, mantra, word or object);Open monitoring (eg Mindfulness);Transcendental (no effort; akin to ‘brain massage’ or ‘sublime state’);

For useful layperson’s (online) guide see:

Or: The Meditator’s Handbook by David Fontana (1992); Element Books.

Many linked to ‘the breath’ and ‘breathwork’ and focus on breathing aids body and mind relaxation – synchronisation.


Meditation: enhancing creativity and stress reduction. The evidence

Meditation benefits often seen as therapeutic - providing relief, curative, in some cases preventive. Linked to reduction in physiological problems such as high blood pressure; pain reduction etc – a lot of evidence for the positive effects.

But meditation also provides a number of other benefits, including enhancing creativity and stress reduction


Advances in knowledge about meditation and its effects on the brain (and body)

Advances in neuroscience and neurophysiology and in technology mean we know much more about how the brain works through magnetic imaging, brain wave function tests etc; in short how the brain responds to internal and external stimuli

Meditation is a powerful stimuli


Meditation ‘builds up the brain’


does more than just feel good and calm you down, it makes you

perform better – and alters the structure of your brain, researchers have found.’ (New Scientist, 2005, p.1)‘Many studies have reported that the brain works differently during meditation – brainwave patterns change and neuronal firing patterns synchronise.’ (ibid)


Lazar and colleagues’ study of 15 meditators (1-30 years’ experience of meditating) and 15 non meditators:

Meditation: ‘Increases

the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula


Not due


growth of new neurons, but due to wider blood vessels

, ‘more

supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections



Four decades of research on TM and creativity

Scientific research on Transcendental


‘showed increased creativity in comparison to controls, as measured by a higher level of pictorial originality when measured after five months of practice. They also showed increased creativity, as measured by higher levels of pictorial flexibility and verbal fluency’ (Travis, 1979, p. 170).


Most extensive and convincing evidence is for TM (transcendental meditation)

But this is because more studies funded to look at the effects of TM; increasingly Mindfulness is being studied – a contemporary and very popular meditative technique.


Meditating for years…

(testimony in his creativity…) but also countless numbers of famous artists and creators: Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Cameron Diaz, Clint Eastwood, Sean Lennon…


‘Being’ or ‘Pure Consciousness’ – ‘During the process of TM, the mind, motivated by its own natural tendency to move in the direction of the infinite – that is, toward greater happiness and satisfaction – is drawn by the increasing charm of subtler levels of awareness until it reaches the field of pure consciousness’ (revised ed, 2012, p. 60).


An advancing area for study:

‘Meditate to create’:

In higher education: ‘Creativity and consciousness studies’ (Sarath, 2006)

Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring meditation techniques and creativity (Colzato et al, 2012)Integrative Mind-Body Training (IBMT) and creativity (Ding et al, 2014)


You can test your capacity/openness to meditation

Focus and recall

A small test (increase your levels of ‘pictorial flexibility’ and recall good for your studies!)…


But what does practice entail?

The basics:

Environment – quite place, no distractions (switch off your phone; social media; anything that may distract you)

Time – dedicate time each day for meditation (just as you would for exercise/enjoyment)Regular practice – every day needed for benefits; at least 20 minutes per dayWhichever technique you choose it may be helpful to complement with ‘breath work’ (for enhanced body/mind relaxation; increased oxygen to brain and vital organs, decreased heart rate)

For layperson’s guide to value of breathwork:

OR, for example:

Caldwell, C., & Victoria, H. K. (2011). Breathwork in body psychotherapy: Towards a more unified theory and practice.

Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 6(2), 89-101.


Lots of resources…

Popular with students (free online resources):

The Honest Guys: Headspace App (free 10 day trial, but rest costs):



Find a technique that suits you - experiment

You will benefit from joining a class/meditation group or seeking tuition if that is what you want (eg TM);

Meditation does not have to be religious, spiritual, be about preventing thoughts, chanting, sitting cross-legged in a room repeating ‘OM’!

There are countless on line resources too.Personally: ‘sublime state’, closest to TM but should you have to pay to be given a mantra?

Flexible approach – sometimes just quiet, other times using online relaxation and meditation resources (yes, ‘OM’, but also nature sounds, even to roomful of people meditating!);

Always start with breath (10 minutes and body relaxation);

Switching off – altered (‘sublime’) state (‘pure consciousness’?).



Evidence reviews often gives conflicting or contradictory findings (particularly systematic ‘scientific’ reviews of evidence, eg RCTs)

But overall, global evidence on meditation shows little harm and many benefits

Important: what works for YOUImportant for students: Supporting student mental health and wellbeing Westminster Briefing:


Key issues to be addressed include: HEIs' responsibilities for student mental health & wellbeing

Facilitating the transition to higher education

Identifying vulnerable groups & tailoring responses

Raising awareness & understanding among staffProactive actions to reduce anxiety & stressFacilitating interruptions, deferrals & return to studyThe link between mental health & wider wellbeing issues

Educating students about wellbeing & study skills

Combatting loneliness & isolation

The role of student unions in raising awareness & offering support

Embedding a whole institution approach to mental health & wellbeing


The bad news re health and social care services:

The GOOD news: you can help yourself – the important role of self-help and personal ‘activation’ (meditation is one form of self-help towards personal health and care management: value of taking an active role yourself). Taking ‘

Proactive actions to reduce anxiety & stress’See also:



Caldwell, C., & Victoria, H. K. (2011). Breathwork in body psychotherapy: Towards a more unified theory and practice.

Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 6(2), 89-101.

Colzato, L. S., Szapora, A., & Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Frontiers in psychology,


, 116

.Ding, X., Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., & Posner, M. I. (2014). Improving creativity performance by short-term meditation. Behavioral and Brain Functions



(1), 1



, J. (2012, revised

ed). Transcendental meditation. Hay House: London.


, L.,


, M., King, R., & Lowe, R. (2012). Breathwork: An additional treatment option for depression and anxiety?.

Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 42(2), 113-119.


, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R.,


, D. N.,


, M. T., ... & Rauch, S. L. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.




(17), 1893



, A. (2005). Meditation builds up the brain, New Scientist,

15 November, 2005:



Sarath, E. (2006). Meditation, creativity, and consciousness: charting future terrain within higher education.

Teachers College Record



(9), 1816-1841



, F. (1979). The Transcendental Meditation technique and creativity: A longitudinal study of Cornell University undergraduates.

The Journal of Creative Behavior



(3), 169-180.

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