Loving-Kindness Meditation is a meditation practice that is included in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), sometimes referred to as “metta” meditation.1 It utilizes mantras that emphasize kindness towards oneself and others. Increased positive interactions with others, along with an increased satisfaction within relationships are a couple of the many benefits that practicing loving-kindness meditation can lead to.1
What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Loving-kindness meditation was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and was incorporated into his Buddhist tradition based mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program.1 It is a form of meditation with many different techniques and approaches. One method works by shifting focus from oneself and onto other people, which may lead to decreased anxiety and depression. Or, other techniques move focus inwards and emphasize loving-kindness towards oneself. Whether the focus is on others or oneself, this meditation practice improves mindfulness and compassion.
Loving-kindness meditation is commonly used for:
- Stress management
- Emotional regulation
- Anger management
What Does Research Say About Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Research has found evidence suggesting that various populations who consistently practiced loving-kindness meditation experienced positive results. These impacts include improved emotions, life satisfaction, self-compassion, interpersonal interactions, and self-reassurance. It also contributed to decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms, self-criticism, and psychological distress, compared to before beginning the practice.1
In an additional 2015 study, experts stated that MBSR practices improved depressive symptoms, regardless of one’s affiliation with religion, spirituality, sex, age, etc. However, other studies have found contradicting evidence, suggesting that MBSR may not benefit all populations equally.1 For example, improved mental health in female prisoners more frequently occurred than for male prisoners in Massachusetts correctional facilities.1 Additionally, certain practices in MBSR contradict some cultural worldviews for certain populations, and some may experience little to no significant changes in mental health or quality of life. More studies need to be done to determine exact benefits and who would not benefit, but studies from Haiti and Brazil showed no significant improvement in mental health after practicing.1
7 Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness meditation has many potential benefits. By practicing this method, one may experience an improvement in overwhelming mental states and a decrease in their overall impact.2 Simply taking the time out of one’s day to sit and be alone with themselves (not sure – should this be “oneself” instead of “themselves”?) is an act of radical love, says Jon Kabat-Zinn.2 By stopping and intentionally noticing how things are in a given moment–without placing judgment and when the mind wanders–the mind, body, soul, and spirit are restored.2
Below are seven potential benefits of loving-kindness meditation:
1. Pain Management
Chronic pain is a complex condition that intertwines one’s physical and emotional experience.3
Chronic pain can have a large impact on mental health, including depression, anxiety, and anger. Anger is recognized as a significant component of the experience of chronic pain.3 A pilot trial found that the longer patients engaged in practicing loving-kindness meditation, the more their pain would decrease.3
2. Emotional Regulation
Practicing loving-kindness meditation can help with effective emotional regulation. This meditation technique can enhance activation in brain areas that are involved in processing emotions and empathy.4 Loving-kindness meditation is believed to enhance positive emotions and lessen negative emotional states, like feelings of sadness.4
3. Social Anxiety Management
Individuals who experience social anxiety display low self-esteem, high self-criticism, and dependency. Self-criticism has been found to be the strongest predictor for social anxiety.5 Individuals who struggle with this type of anxiety also show lower levels of self-compassion, which is linked to a fear of negative and positive evaluation by those around them.5
Practicing loving-kindness meditation, alongside treatment such as cognitive behavior therapy, can improve symptoms related to social anxiety.4 Research suggests that by practicing this method, people begin to react more positively to others, and their social interactions become more satisfying.1 Loving-kindness meditation provides warmth and a sense of connection, which increases positive affect, specifically in emotions that are related to calmness and safety–this can ease symptoms of social anxiety.5
4. Improved Self-Compassion
For those who experience low self-esteem, self-criticism, or negative self-talk, loving-kindness meditation provides many benefits. Research shows that self-compassion is an impactful method to achieving emotional well-being and contentment within one’s life–this trumps self-esteem, as self-compassion allows an individual to flourish.6 Self-compassion is achieved by kindness towards oneself, and loving-kindness meditation has been shown to improve self-compassion.7,6 Self-compassion can improve one’s overall view of themselves and their self-talk.
5. Increased Resilience
This meditation technique can improve resilience. By practicing loving-kindness meditation, you can remind yourself that you deserve happiness, ease, healing, and peace.7 Through consistent practice, one will become more comfortable with their ability to combat everyday stressors.7 This meditation technique teaches you to show yourself love, kindness, and compassion, just as you would a friend. Therefore, when moments come up that are particularly difficult, having this practice as a part of your foundation may provide comfort through times of distress.7
6. Decreased Marital Conflict
Practicing loving-kindness meditation can decrease instances of marital conflict.8 By expressing love, kindness, and compassion to your partner, it creates and allows space for positive emotions and feelings to grow. When this is practiced by both partners, it can result in a foundation based on unconditional acceptance and love.
Loving-kindness meditation is also believed to shift one’s basic view of themselves in relation to others, and also increase one’s empathy.8 Research suggests that by practicing this method of mediation, close relationships become more satisfying, because people begin to automatically react to others more positively.7
7. Decreased Anger
Loving-kindness meditation techniques can help with decreasing anger and tension.3 A recent trial found that the longer patients practiced loving-kindness meditation, the lower their anger was the next day.3
Example of a Loving-Kindness Meditation
There is no right or wrong way to practice loving-kindness meditations. There are many guided exercises available online that can assist you with maximizing your meditation experience.
Below is a guided loving-kindness meditation to try:
This loving-kindness meditation is designed to extend loving-kindness to someone else.
- First, find a space where you feel comfortable and at ease, with as minimal distractions as possible.
- Set a timer to structure the time of your meditation, should you choose to do so.
- When you are ready, find a comfortable sitting or lying position to begin the loving-kindness meditation practice and close your eyes.
- Begin by taking five deep breaths, focusing on the air coming in through your nose and releasing out through your mouth.
- Bring your breath to a natural pace, and begin to shift your focus on someone who you would like to give loving kindness to.
- Imagine as if they were sitting with you in the room.
- Bring to mind a few mantras you would like to extend to that individual (i.e., I wish for you to be content, fulfilled, healthy, free from any suffering, etc.)
- If your mind wanders at all, gently bring your mind back to the mantra and your breath.
- After about five minutes of extending these loving-kindness mantras to the individual, take a deep inhale and release.
- One last time, take a deep inhale, focusing on drawing in your intention for this person and releasing the exhale out to the individual with your loving-kindness intention.
- Gently roll your neck in a clockwise and counterclockwise rotation (if physically and medically safe for you to do so.)
- Take a deep breath, and roll your shoulders up to your ears and backwards. Release your breath, rolling your shoulders up to your ears once more and forwards (again, if physically and medically safe for you to do so.)
- Continue as many times as you’d like, focusing on the release of tension and your gentle breath to awaken your body.
- When you are ready, open your eyes and continue to move through the remainder of your day with a disposition of loving-kindness.
Some helpful loving-kindness meditation mantras include:
- May I be content.
- May I be free from suffering.
- May I love and appreciate everyone in my life.
- May I move through the day with a disposition of gratitude.
- May I be at peace.
- May I be healthy.
- May I be present and grounded as I move through the day.
These mantras may be utilized for others in your life, as well, or anyone whom you want to extend loving-kindness to. For example, while in your meditation, you can say “may [someone you want to extend loving-kindness to] be content, at peace, and find love within themselves.”
Where to Find a Loving-Kindness Meditation Professional
Everyone can practice loving-kindness meditations on their own with or without a professional to guide them. As previously mentioned, there are many options online that have recorded loving-kindness meditations to walk you through a practice. There are a variety of meditations for individuals of all ages, including mindfulness for kids and mindfulness for teens. If you are nervous or uncertain about practicing a loving-kindness meditation on your own, you could also find a therapist who is open to walking you through it during a therapy session. You can find a therapist using an online therapist directory, and ask potential providers if they offer guided meditations.
Professionals who can help you practice loving-kindness meditation include:
- Yoga teachers: Some yoga teachers incorporate meditation into their classes. Reach out to prospective yoga teachers and inquire if they implement loving-kindness meditations into their classes.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MBCT): MBCT combines components of cognitive therapies and aspects of mindfulness into treatment.
- Personal meditation coach: This is a personal guide who is trained to walk you step-by-step through a meditation, rather than a pre-recorded course.
- Mental health professionals: Ask your therapist if they are trained in or have experience with implementing loving-kindness meditations into their treatment. If you currently do not have a therapist, but are interested, you can ask a therapist during your consultation with them.
If you struggle with stress, anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, or other mental health conditions, it may be beneficial to give loving-kindness meditation a try. It is worth testing out a couple different methods to see what works best for you, as everyone is unique; different techniques work better for different people.