The news and social media platforms are abuzz with information on meditation. There are many forms of meditation, including mantra meditations, visualization meditations, open-focus meditations, breath-based meditations, etc. However, many of us struggle with meditating because we don’t fully understand the process. Did you know that scientists are actually studying the benefits of meditating on self-compassion and loving kindness? The research indicates that there are many benefits to this practice.
You might be wondering what a loving kindness meditation is? Loving-kindness meditations focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others and self (Salzberg, 1997). Research shows that meditating on loving kindness has a variety of benefits ranging from feelings of well-being, to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence. Here are some examples of what the research has shown the benefits of meditating on loving kindness are:
It improves our ability to love ourselves by helping to curb self-criticism: Shahar et al (2014) did a study that found that participants who engaged in a loving kindness meditation practice had a reduction in self-criticism and depressive symptoms. These individuals also reported improvement in self-compassion and positive emotions.
It improves our sense of well-being by increasing positive emotions & decreasing feelings of negative emotions: In 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. It was found that these positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). The study indicated that individuals experienced increased life satisfaction and a reduction in depressive symptoms.
It increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection: In a study by Kok et al (2013), the results found that individuals who received a loving kindness meditation intervention, compared to a control group, had increases in positive emotions. This was measured by an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone, which is a physiological marker of well-being.
It reduces our stress response leading to more internal resources that increase resilience. Specifically, research has shown that just 10 minutes of a loving kindness meditation has an immediate relaxing effect on the body by slowing individuals respiration rate leading to a relaxed state. (Law, 2011 reference)
Leads to physical healing and reduction in chronic pain and illness: Tonelli et al (2014) demonstrated the immediate effects of engaging in a brief loving kindness meditation intervention in the reduction of migraine pain and alleviation of the emotional tension associated with chronic migraines. Another pilot study on chronic low back pain compared a loving kindness meditation practice with standard care. The study found that the control group who engaged in a loving kindness meditation practice had a higher decrease in pain, anger, and psychological distress compared to the standard care control group. ( Carson et al., 2005)
It decreases the symptoms of PTSD: In a study by Kearney et al (2013), looking at veterans diagnosed with PTSD, they found that individuals who participated in a 12-week loving kindness meditation course had significantly reduced depression and PTSD symptoms.
It increases the emotional intelligence in the brain: Neuroscience has shown that the brain is shaped by the activities we engage in. Research has shown that regularly practicing a loving kindness meditation actually activates and strengthens areas of the brain that are responsible for empathy and emotional intelligence. Furthermore it activates the areas of the brain responsible for empathy and emotional processing. (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014) and (Hoffmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2011)
It increases gray matter volume: MRI studies have shown that individuals who meditate on loving kindness have increased gray matter volume in areas of the brain related to emotion regulation. (Leung et al (2013); Lutz et al (2008); and Lee et al (2012))
It increases social connection: Loving kindness meditation appears to enhance positive interpersonal attitudes as well as emotions. There was a review of mindfulness-based interventions which concluded that a loving kindness meditation practice is effective for increasing self-compassion and compassion for others. (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012). Another study done by Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm and Singer (2013) found that a loving kindness meditation practice increased the participants’ empathic responses to the distress of others. This study also showed that participants had increased positive affect to various life experiences, including in response to witnessing others in distress.
As you can see there are many benefits of engaging in a loving kindness meditation practice. The only way to know how you will benefit from meditation is to learn how to meditate and to give it a try. The great news is, you don’t have to meditate for hours. Research has shown that even in small doses (a single session lasting less than 10 minutes) can increase feelings of social connection and positivity towards strangers. (Hutcherson, Seppala and Gross (2008). So loving kindness meditation in small doses can help you manage life stressors. Of course, the more you practice it, the greater the benefits. A study by Cohn et al (2011) found that 35% of individuals who participated in a loving kindness meditation practice on an ongoing basis, experienced enhanced positive emotions after 15 months of beginning a meditation practice. The study showed that positive emotions correlated positively with the number of minutes spent meditating daily.
Has this blog sparked your curiosity about the benefits of meditating? Would like to learn more? If so, I may be a good fit. Please feel free to contact me to schedule a free consultation at email@example.com or 503-880-7190.