I’ve been in a funk. Maybe it’s the time of year with a lack of morning light and some bitter cold temps here in the midwest. Maybe it’s the tendency to look ahead at the year and reflection the year that was which elicits a familiar and unsettling deep-seated feeling of “not enough.” I know I am not alone in having these things – fears, doubts, uncertainties. This is why I meditate.
You see, I have adopted tools that work for me. I stay consistent with sleep, meals, exercise and rest. And one of the ways I “rest” is through meditation. I sit daily.
I am not claiming that meditation will fix you in any way, nor lessen any need for medication. For me, meditation engenders a sense of peace and calm like nothing else I’ve tried.
Lately, my go-to meditation has been that of Loving-Kindness. Studies show that this type of meditation can do the following:
1. Increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions
Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues ( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008) found that practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation increased feelings of love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and a reduction in depressive symptoms.
2. Increases vagal tone which increases positive emotions and feelings of social connection
A study by Kok et al (2013) found that individuals in a Loving-Kindness Meditation intervention, compared controls, had increases in positive emotions, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone which is considered a marker of well-being.
3. Decreases chronic pain
In a pilot study of patients with chronic low back pain, those who practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation (vs. standard care) had greater decreases in pain, anger, and psychological distress than controls. ( Carson et al., 2005).
4. Decreases PTSD symptoms
A study by Kearney et al (2013) found that 12-weeks of a Loving-Kindness Meditation course significantly reduced depression and PTSD symptoms among veterans with PTSD.
5. Activates empathy and emotional processing
This type of meditation can lessen self-focused thought and increase a sense of social connection. (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014) and (Hoffmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2011).
7. Slows biological aging
It’s becoming clear that stress decreases telomere length (these are tiny bits of genetic materials – chromosomes – that are markers 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.
8. Increases compassion
Loving-Kindness Meditation may be the most effective practice for increasing compassion (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012).
9. Decreases bias towards others
A study from 2014 (Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014) found that six weeks of Loving-Kindness Meditation training decreased implicit bias against minorities.
10. Curbs self-criticism
A study by Shahar et al (2014) found that Loving-Kindness Meditation was effective for self-critical individuals in reducing self-criticism and depressive symptoms, and improving self-compassion and positive emotions. These changes were maintained three months post-intervention.
The nice thing about Loving-Kindness Meditation is that it is effective in immediate and small doses, but it also has long-lasting and enduring effects. Just 10-minutes practiced daily can increase feelings of social connection and positivity toward strangers. ( Hutcherson, Seppala, and Gross (2008) )
To begin any sort of meditation, first dedicate some uninterrupted time in your day. It could be right after you get up or right before bed or maybe at some other spot during the day that you can get yourself to hold – consistently. Get comfortable and remember that there are no hard and fast rules to this. While there are many proddings from the universe that will pull you in other directions, resolve to just sit and be with yourself for this period of time you have dedicated to yourself.
Once settled, offer these words towards yourself.
May I be safe and free from danger
May I have mental happiness
May I have physical health
May I have peace and well-being
Next, bring to mind a mentor or teacher and offer those same words, substituting “you” for “I”. After that person, send the same words to a loved one, a neutral person (like the mail carrier), then a person you know is struggling at the moment. Next you can offer the words to this collective community and then to all beings in the world. Of course, you can merely offer the words towards yourself and stop there. If the words here don’t resonate quite right with you, feel free to adopt your own variations for safety, happiness, health and peace.
If you want to follow a guided meditation, here is one from Sharon Salzberg, author of Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness –
Send me an email to let me know what you discover.