Loving Kindness Meditation has been around for thousands of years, coming originally from Buddhism. Loving kindness is seen in Buddhism as a gift freely given, which is different to compassion, which is kindness in the face of suffering. Loving kindness is also known as ‘Metta’.
Mettā (Pali) or maitrī (Sanskrit) means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, friendship, good will, kindness, and active interest in others originally from the Theravāda school of Buddhism.
There are traditionally four sublime states in Buddhism:
- Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation – a gift freely given
- Compassion – kindness in the face of suffering
- Sympathetic Joy – celebrating the happiness of others
- Equanimity – accepting the ups and downs of life
So this is where is came from originally… and nowadays, Western reasearch has shown that there is very good reason why Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Studies have shown many benefits, including:
- Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative EmotionsIn a landmark study, Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues ( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008) found that practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.
- Decreases Migraines: A recent study by Tonelli et al (2014)demonstrated the immediate effects of a brief Loving Kindness Meditation intervention in reducing migraine pain and alleviating emotional tension associated with chronic migraines.
- Decreases Chronic Pain: A pilot study of patients with chronic low back pain randomized to Loving Kindness Meditation or standard care, Loving Kindness Meditation was associated with greater decreases in pain, anger, and psychological distress than the control group ( Carson et al., 2005).
- Decreases PTSD: A study by Kearney et al (2013)found that a 12 week Loving Kindness Meditation course was associated with decreases in depression and PTSD symptoms among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
- Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain: A recent study (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014) demonstrate this
- Slows Aging: We know that stress decreases telomere length (telomeres are tiny bits of your genetic materials – chromosomes – that are a biological marker of aging). However, Hoge et al (2013)found that women with experience in Loving Kindness Meditation had relatively longer telomere length compared to age-matched controls! Throw out the expensive anti-aging creams!
Try this free audio guided Loving Kindness mindfulness meditation. Over time, please feel free to change the phrases to suit you: personalise it!
Most importantly however: you don’t have to feel anything – you just have to try. By trying, you are exercising your ability to open your heart.
Over time, this will help you in difficult interpersonal situations as well as protect you from empathy burnout. This is particularly important if you are a care-giver of any description, but Loving Kindness Meditation or Metta is for everyone!