Depending on whom you ask, there are as many as 23 different types of meditation, all of which can help you deal with anxiety. With so many styles of meditation to choose from, it’s a wonder the decision doesn’t create more anxiety. We’re here to make the case for a type of meditation growing increasingly popular with practitioners and researchers alike: Loving kindness meditation.
What is loving kindness meditation?
Put simply, loving kindness meditation is a practice that cultivates and nurtures feelings of unconditional kindness and love towards oneself and others using silent mantras or phrases. Like mindfulness, the technique has its origins in the Buddhist tradition, where it’s known as Metta, meaning benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, and goodwill.
For example, you might use a phrase like, ‘May I be happy’. Or, ‘May I feel peace’.
And unlike mindfulness, loving kindness meditation not about becoming aware of thoughts and feelings, which we know can be difficult for sufferers of anxiety. In this sense, loving kindness meditation is a great place to start if you want to start a simple meditation practice. We understand if you’re a bit skeptical... but before you run off, check out these powerful science-backed benefits!
Benefits of a loving kindness meditation practice
- Decreases negative emotions and increases positive emotions. Not only has loving kindness meditation shown promise in helping to decrease depression and social anxiety, but a 7-week study demonstrated it also increases positive feelings such as love, joy, cheerfulness, appreciation, fulfillment, amusement, and even awe. In less than 2 months, participants reported higher overall life satisfaction - which we think is more than enough reason to give loving kindness meditation a try. But if you need more...
- Quiets the inner critic. For many with anxiety, the inner critic (the name we give to the self-judgemental chatter in our heads) is more than an annoying voice - it’s downright cruel. Loving kindness meditation has shown to reduce self-criticism in those particularly vulnerable. This same study also confirmed our first point above: Loving kindness meditation decreases negative emotions and increases positive emotions - even after 3 months post-intervention!
- Strengthens empathy & increases compassion. Not surprisingly, a loving kindness meditation practice fosters empathy and compassion for others, potentially more than any other type of meditation. But did you know that it can also increase these feelings (and other positive affective experiences) even when responding to others in distress? That’s the power of compassion-training.
- Enhances social and nature connectedness. For those who report an increase in positive emotions from loving kindness meditation, it also enhances perceived social connectedness. In other words, the subjective feeling of belonging and closeness one feels in their relationships with others. In another study, this technique was also found to be superior to progressive muscle relaxation in increasing feelings of connectedness to nature.
- Decreases migraine pain and tension. Great news for long-time migraine sufferers: Loving kindness meditation can reduce the pain and emotional tension from migraines after only one session! More impressively, the same study found that pain and tension went down on average a 33% and 43%, respectively. Speaking of pain...
- Decreases chronic pain. One 8-week pilot study researched the effects of loving kindness meditation on one of the worst types of pain: chronic lower back pain. Not only was the meditation program found to be more effective than the standard care for chronic lower back pain, but loving kindness meditation was also associated with greater decreases in pain, anger, and psychological distress.
- Slows the aging process. Telomeres - a small section of the chromosome whose length is a marker of aging - tell us just how fast, or slow, we’re aging. The longer the telomere length, the younger we are, biologically. When compared to an age-matched control group, researchers found that women who practiced loving kindness meditation were significantly more likely to have longer telomeres. Talk about the fountain of youth!
So how exactly do you do a loving kindness meditation?
- Much like any other type of meditation, you’d begin this technique by finding a comfortable seated position where you won’t be disturbed.
- Before you begin with your chosen phrases, imagine yourself sitting in a large, warm ray of sunlight. Imagine the light filling you with complete physical and emotional wellness and peace. Feel love and kindness fill your body as if with liquid sunlight.
- Then repeat your phrases silently to yourself while staying focused on sending unconditional love and kindness to yourself and/or to others. Phrases like:
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I feel peace.
May I be safe.
May I live with ease.
- Continue to repeat throughout the length of your meditation, whether it’s 2 minutes or 20.
- You can also visualize this meditation by picturing the person you are sending these thoughts to; it could be you, a loved one, or even a stranger.
If you’re still unsure...
Don’t worry if you don’t believe the words at first - you’ll still receive the benefits of a loving kindness meditation. This technique may feel strange, or even a bit self-centered initially directing these words to yourself; it’s not always easy to cultivate self-compassion. If you need help, you’re in luck! To help you get started, Pocketcoach now offers a course in teaching you just that: Self-compassion. Until then:
May you be happy. May you feel peace.