Positive relationships drive our happiness. One powerful way to improve our relationships is something called Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM). In this simple meditation, you bring specific people to mind and send them positive wishes about their life and happiness. Simple heart-felt statements such as “May you be happy. May you be healthy” repeated over time is all it takes. When practiced regularly this simple activity has been shown to open you to more connection, to strengthen your relationships and to increase your happiness all at the same time. This is one of my favorite activities and almost always brings my mood up a notch or three.
Loving-Kindness meditation has been practiced and honed for millennia and in the last decade top researchers have been exploring the benefits of this practice in controlled scientific studies.
Here’s what we’ve learned about Loving Kindness Meditation so far:
- In a six week study Fredrickson et al (UNC) showed that LKM not only increases feelings of love during the meditation, but participants also experienced significant increases in all the positive emotions (joy, serenity, hope, pride, etc) throughout the weeks they practiced. And this was “dose-dependent,” meaning the more people practiced LKM, the more positive emotions they felt.
- In brain imaging studies, LKM activated the parts of the brain (insula and temporal parietal junction) that are associated with empathy and emotional self-awareness, both of which are essential to our ability to connect with others.
- Stanford researchers showed that short LKM meditations increased feelings of social connection and positivity with other people, even total strangers.
- Head-to-head studies of LKM and mindfulness meditation showed that LKM more directly and consistently increases positive emotions while mindfulness meditation more directly decreases stress and helps you process negative emotions. The study also found that that LKM was easier and less depleting for new meditators than mindfulness, allowing them to stay with the practice longer.
- Other studies tie LKM with decreased inflammation, increased vagal tone (which is associated with better physical health, more positive emotions and social closeness) and reduced chronic back pain.
How to do it
The best way to start a loving kindness meditation practice is to use some guided meditations. As you listen to the audio, you bring a specific person to mind and silently repeat the loving phrases toward that person. The goal is to open up to the warm feelings you have for them.
Of course the best way to learn is to try it out. So let’s do it right now. … click on this link and it will play for you.
Seriously. Try it right now. It’ll take less than 5 minutes, I promise.
Now check in with yourself. Did this practice fill you with warmth and good feelings? If so, awesome! Spend a little time right now savoring that positive warmth. Enjoy it. And then skip to the next section.
What if it doesn’t work at first
Sincerity is important in this practice. So don’t try to force good feelings. We can’t control our emotions; we can only create the environment to open to these feelings of love. For some people LKM can feel mechanical or awkward at first and it can even bring up its opposite, feelings of irritation or anger. If this happens to you, it’s especially important to be patient and kind towards yourself. Notice whatever feelings are there and be present for whatever happens.
Then try again later today or maybe tomorrow. If you want, you can try to prime those good feelings the first few times you practice by looking at pictures of this loved one before starting the meditation. Or switch to someone else, perhaps you will find that thinking of a beloved grandmother or former teacher will more easily generate feelings of love because your relationship is less complicated than those who are in your life every day. You can also try doing this at different times of day – first thing in the morning or just before bed at night. Play with it. It’s a powerful practice that’s worth investing some time in.
Commit to this simple practice for this week. Just 5 minutes a day for 7 days. Find a time to simply listen to this short meditation each day and follow along with the instructions. Put it in your calendar now and when it’s time, come back here and run it from the web page. Or you can download the meditation (right click and hit “save link as” ) and put the mp3 on your phone so you can listen whenever you want.
Here is is again: Loving Kindness Meditation
Next week, I’ll have more on how Loving Kindness Meditation works and will provide additional ways that you can expand and add diversity to this amazing practice.
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
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