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Loving Kindness Meditation

October 7, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

It’s relatively easy to recognize when you’re not getting enough exercise, nutrition or sleep. In the case of exercise and sleep, deficiency symptoms are usually subjective – fatigue, mood changes, shortness of breath, etc. A lack of nutrients sometimes presents itself physically, but can also be detected and/or verified with the assistance of diagnostic tests. On the other hand, social connectedness, an equally important aspect of wellness, is often overlooked. And, ironically, it may be one of the most common deficiency states affecting mankind in the 21st century.

A form of meditation known as LKM or Loving Kindness Meditation, aims to address feelings of anger, emotional distance and separateness that permeate modern society. But, beyond that, this simple practice fosters greater acceptance and compassion for oneself (and others) while simultaneously improving the ratio of postive-to-negative emotions (affective regulation). If this sounds like nothing more than a feel good, self indulgent exercise, note that over a dozen studies have established that the regular practice of LKM literally changes the body and mind in decidedly constructive ways. A few of the many examples reveal that LKM assists those living with everything from chronic back pain to post traumatic stress disorder and even schizophrenia. What’s more, long-term loving kindness meditation increases gray matter in key segments of the brain and likely slows the aging process by protecting telomeres from accelerated shrinkage. Perhaps that’s why one researcher recently stated that using LKM to extend compassion, “is not only good care; it may also be good medicine”.

Establishing a daily LKM routine isn’t complicated in the least. All you need to do is set aside about 10 minutes a day for a bit of reflection and the meditative action itself. The first thing you’ll need to do is compose a basic “metta” or list of core statements you’ll repeat during LKM. The metta I personally use is below in “Section 1″. You can adjust the words to fit your own goals and preferences.

Section 1 (Metta):

  • “May I be fulfilled and happy.”
  • “May I be healthy and strong.”
  • “May I be protected and safe.”
  • “May I be at ease and peaceful.”

Once you have your metta written down, commit it to memory. Now, you’ll want to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed – preferably in a quiet space. At first, you’ll silently repeat your metta while imagining or visualizing yourself. Next, you’ll follow a very similar process in sections 2 – 5. Specifically, in sections two, three and four replace the “I” in your metta with someone else’s name. If you don’t know their name, you can describe the person without explicitly naming them. Examples are provided below. Once again, imagine or visualize the person/people during each step of the process.

Section 2: Replace the “I” in your metta statements with the name of a person you like, love or feel gratitude towards.

Example: May Madeleine, my wife, be fulfilled and happy. Etc.

Section 3: Replace the “I” in your metta statements with the name of someone you feel indifferent or neutral about.

Example: May, Joe, the clerk at my bank, be fulfilled and happy. Etc.

Section 4: Replace the “I” in your metta statements with the name of a person you don’t like or by whom you’ve been hurt.

Example: May the stranger that cut me off on the road today be fulfilled and happy. Etc.

Section 5: In the final metta statements, substitute “I” with “all beings”.

Example: May all beings be fulfilled and happy. Etc.

While practicing loving-kindness meditation (LKM), allow yourself to experience any feelings that come about when you imagine the various people associated with this five part meditative process. This is all part of the transformative experience. So, give yourself permission to feel more than usual during the process itself. Then, in time, you may well notice that your actions and emotional responses towards yourself and those around you will change for the better during your non-meditative time.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Loving-Kindness Meditation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (link)

Study 2 - Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice Associated with Longer Telomeres (link)

Study 3 - Distinct Neural Activity Associated with Focused-Attention Meditation (link)

Study 4 – Increased Gray Matter Volume In the Right Angular and Posterior … (link)

Study 5 - Non-Verbal Communication of Compassion: Measuring Psychophysiologic … (link)

Study 6 - Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation: Potential for Psychological (link)

Study 7 – Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving (link)

Study 8 - Loving-Kindness Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain: Results (link)

Study 9 - Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness (link)

Study 10 - A Pilot Study of Loving-Kindness Meditation for the Negative Symptoms (link)

Loving Kindness Meditation May Increase Brain Gray Matter Volume

Source: Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013 Jan;8(1):34-9. (link)

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8 Comments & Updates to “Loving Kindness Meditation”

  1. JP Says:

    Update: A new study points to possible cardiovascular benefits of LKM …

    http://www.explorejournal.com/article/S1550-8307%2814%2900205-5/pdf

    Loving-Kindness Meditation’s Effects on Nitric Oxide and Perceived Well-being: A Pilot Study in Experienced and Inexperienced Meditators

    Background

    Meditation is associated with lower blood pressure, but little is known about how loving-kindness meditation affects nitric oxide (NO) metabolism, a key mediator of cardiovascular physiology associated with vasodilation.

    Methods

    We studied seven inexperienced and five experienced healthy meditators at one study visit, after they refrained from eating nitrate-rich foods for at least 12 h. Participants completed questionnaires on demographics and meditation practices. We measured nitrite and nitrate and self-reported stress at baseline, after a neutral reading period (prior to meditation), immediately after, and 10 min following a standardized 20-min loving-kindness meditation.

    Results

    The 12 subjects had a mean age of 51 years, and two were male. Stress was significantly lower at baseline in the experienced group (15 vs. 49 on 100 point scale, P < .05) as was heart rate (HR) [68.1 ± 0.5 beats per minute (bpm) vs. 73.4 ± 0.7 bpm, P < .05]. Stress levels fell significantly with meditation (52 vs. 11, P < .05), while relaxation increased (55 vs. 89, P < .05) in the inexperienced group. Plasma nitrite levels were not significantly higher, but nitrate levels were more than twice as high (P < .05) for experienced vs. inexperienced meditators before and after loving-kindness meditation.

    Conclusion

    Loving-kindness meditation is associated with stress reduction in inexperienced meditators. Experienced meditators had higher nitrate levels, trended toward having higher nitrite levels, and had significantly lower stress levels than inexperienced meditators. Nitric oxide metabolism may be involved in the cardiovascular effects of persistent meditation practice. Larger longitudinal studies would be fruitful to better understand the mechanisms involved.

    Be well!

    JP

  2. JP Says:

    Update:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10943-014-9999-8

    J Relig Health. 2015 Jan 30.

    Training Emotion Cultivates Morality: How Loving-Kindness Meditation Hones Compassion and Increases Prosocial Behavior.

    Traditional moral philosophy has long focused on rationality, principled thinking, and good old-fashioned willpower, but recent evidence strongly suggests that moral judgments and prosocial behavior are more heavily influenced by emotion and intuition. As the evidence mounts, rational traditions emphasizing deliberative analysis and conscious decision making are called into question. The first section highlights some compelling evidence supporting the primacy of affective states in motivating moral judgments and behavior. The real challenge is finding a way to align intuition with desired behavior. In cool reflective states, one may desire to be a kind and loving person. But when it is time to act, the moment is often accompanied by strong affect-laden intuitions. I argue that if affective states are the primary motivators of behavior, then moral sentiments must be trained through habituation in order to increase prosocial behavior. The second section provides empirical evidence linking emotional training with increased prosociality. To highlight this connection, focus is placed on the relationship between habitual meditation training, compassion, and prosocial behavior. Recent studies by Antoine Lutz, Richard Davidson, Susanne Leiberg, and others show that various meditation practices can dramatically affect the human person at various levels, i.e., increased physical health, neural restructuring, regulation and development of emotions, and increased helping behavior, to name a few. The current article focuses on the impact the habit of loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has on compassion and prosocial behavior. Recent studies strongly support the conclusion that LKM training hones compassion and ultimately leads to an increase in compassionate behavior.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. JP Says:

    Update 06/16/15:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4450657/

    Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015 May 25;11:1273-7.

    The interventional effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions and interpersonal interactions.

    The study aimed to investigate the effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions, intragroup interactions, and complex understanding of others. A total of 50 freshmen not receiving any training in meditation intervention were randomly divided into the meditation group (25 subjects) and the control group (25 subjects). The meditation group was implemented with group meditation intervention for 4 weeks, three times a week, about 30 minutes each time. The results revealed that the effect sizes in interpersonal interaction and complex understanding of others in the meditation group were both above 0.8, indicating strong effects. It was concluded that loving-kindness meditation can effectively improve positive emotions, interpersonal interactions, and complex understanding of others in college students.

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Updated 08/12/15:

    http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/07/03/0886260515591277.abstract

    J Interpers Violence. 2015 Jul 5.

    Impact of Meditation on Mental Health Outcomes of Female Trauma Survivors of Interpersonal Violence With Co-Occurring Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    This study was a randomized controlled trial that examined the impact of meditation practice on the mental health outcomes of female trauma survivors of interpersonal violence who have co-occurring disorders. Sixty-three female trauma survivors were randomly assigned to the meditation condition and the control condition. Treatment conditions consisted of a 6-week meditation curriculum that was influenced by Tibetan meditation tradition and focused on breathing, loving kindness, and compassion meditation. Clients in the meditation condition made significant changes in mental health symptoms (t = 5.252, df = 31, p = .000) and trauma symptoms (t = 6.009, df = 31, p = .000) from pre-treatment to post-treatment, whereas non-significant changes were observed among the control condition clients. There were significant group differences between clients in the meditation condition and in the control condition on their mental health symptoms, F(1, 54) = 13.438, p = .001, and trauma symptoms, F(1, 54) = 13.395, p = .001, with a generally large effect size of eta squared .127 and .146, respectively. In addition, significantly more clients in the meditation condition achieved reliable change in mental health symptoms (35.5% vs. 8.3%) and trauma symptoms (42.3% vs. 4.8%) than clients in the control condition. Significance of the study is discussed with respect to the empirical evidence of meditation practice as a complementary behavioral intervention for treating female trauma survivors of interpersonal violence who have co-occurring disorders.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. JP Says:

    Updated 08/12/15:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4468348/

    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:269126.

    Loving-Kindness Meditation to Target Affect in Mood Disorders: A Proof-of-Concept Study.

    Conventional treatments for mood disorders primarily focus on reducing negative affect, but little on enhancing positive affect. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a traditional meditation practice directly oriented toward enhancing unconditional and positive emotional states of kindness towards oneself and others. We report here two independent and uncontrolled studies carried out at different centers, one in Boston, USA (n = 10), and one in Frankfurt, Germany (n = 8), to examine the potential therapeutic utility of a brief LKM group intervention for symptoms of dysthymia and depression. Results at both centers suggest that LKM was associated with large-sized effects on self-reported symptoms of depression (d = 3.33 and 1.90), negative affect (d = 1.98 and 0.92), and positive affect (d = 1.63 and 0.94). Large effects were also found for clinician-reported changes in depression, rumination and specific positive emotions, and moderate effects for changes in adaptive emotion regulation strategies. The qualitative data analyses provide additional support for the potential clinical utility of the intervention. This proof-of-concept evaluation of LKM as a clinical strategy warrants further investigation.

    Be well!

    JP

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 04/17/16:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rnj.268/abstract

    Rehabil Nurs. 2016 Apr 14.

    Nontraditional Cardiac Rehabilitation in Korean Patients with Coronary Artery Disease.

    PURPOSE: This pilot investigation sought to compare outcomes including depression, anxiety, stress, mindful awareness, and exercise capacity between exercise-focused cardiac rehabilitation (ECR) and meditation-focused cardiac rehabilitation (MCR) programs for patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) who had percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

    DESIGN: A nonrandomized pretest-posttest design was employed.

    METHODS: Two different interventions (ECR vs. MCR) were implemented with participants of each group for 12 weeks. Questionnaires assessing depression, anxiety, stress, and mindful awareness, and measures of peak VO2 , were completed before and after the 12-week interventions.

    FINDINGS: Thirteen patients completed the cardiac rehabilitation (CR) programs. MCR was associated with significantly greater reductions in depression as compared to ECR; there were no significant differences between the two groups on other outcomes.

    CONCLUSIONS: MCR program has similar effects to improve the physical and psychological outcomes, compared with ECR program.

    CLINICAL RELEVANCE: There is potential for patients with CAD to participate in and benefit from nontraditional CR programs, and such CR could play a role in secondary prevention of CAD.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. JP Says:

    Updated 09/25/16:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27664531

    Body Image. 2016 Sep 21;19:104-112.

    Brief self-compassion meditation training for body image distress in young adult women.

    Self-compassion interventions may be uniquely suited to address body image distress (BID), as change-based strategies may have limited utility in a cultural context that so highly values appearance. The current study evaluated a version of an Internet-based self-compassion training, which had previously shown promising results, but was limited by high attrition. The intervention period was reduced from three weeks to one week in the present study to improve retention. Eighty undergraduate women endorsing body image concerns were randomized to either self-compassion meditation training or a waitlist control group. Results suggest that brief exposure to the basic tenets of self-compassion holds promise for improving aspects of self-compassion and BID. Attrition was minimal, but compliance with meditation practice instructions during the week was low. Efforts are needed to improve engagement, but this approach has the potential to be an acceptable and cost effective method to reduce BID.

    Be well!

    JP

  8. JP Says:

    Updated 06/01/17:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28558524

    Psychol Rep. 2017 Feb;120(1):102-117.

    Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation.

    An experiment involving 115 undergraduate students (74.8% females; mean age = 20.5 years, SD = 4.3) was conducted to explore effects of meditation on social connectedness, nature connectedness, and affect. Participants listened to one of three brief guided meditation Mp3 recordings via the internet, which involved mindfulness meditation (MM), loving-kindness meditation (LKM), or progressive muscle relaxation (active control group). Participants in the MM and LKM groups reported greater social and nature connectedness at post-test than those in the control group. There were no significant differences in connectedness between the MM and LKM groups, suggesting they are both effective for enhancing connectedness. There were no significant changes in negative or positive affect at post-test due to the interventions. Recommendations for future research are provided.

    Be well!

    JP

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