Loving kindness meditation involves using silent mantras or phrases to cultivate feelings of unconditional kindness and love. The practice is associated with the Buddhist tradition, known as Metta Meditation, meaning benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, and goodwill. The benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation are numerous.
Modern scientific research suggests that practicing loving kindness meditation positively affects physical and psychological health. For example, when compared to an active control condition (a method used in scientific studies when the treatment group is given something to do, such as playing video games), participants who received loving-kindness meditation training experienced greater reductions in anxiety, improvements in self-esteem, and increases in positive emotions.
Further research suggests that loving kindness meditation may also benefit those experiencing physical health problems. For instance, a study of people with HIV found that those who participated in a loving kindness meditation program showed reductions in viral load, an indicator of the severity of the virus, compared to those who did not participate in the program. The researchers suggest that the practice may help to improve immune function and reduce inflammation in people.
Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation
1. Increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions
Loving-kindness meditation is a type of mindfulness meditation that focuses on cultivating feelings of love, kindness, and compassion for oneself and others. One study found that participants had increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions after just four days of practicing loving-kindness meditation.
2. Increases vagal tone, which increases positive emotions and feelings of social connection
Vagal tone is a measure of the health of your vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your heart. It’s associated with several beneficial outcomes, including increased positive emotions and feelings of social connection. One study found that people with high vagal tones had more friends and maintained friendships.
3. Decreases Migraines
Migraine headaches can be debilitating and hard to treat. One study found that practicing loving-kindness meditation for just 30 minutes during the four months of the study reduced migraine frequency by 40 percent and reduced disability by 37 percent. This is likely because loving-kindness meditation decreases activity in your amygdala (the brain’s fear center), improving your mood and decreasing pain.
4. Decreases Chronic Pain
Several studies have shown that loving-kindness meditation reduces the experience of chronic pain, even among those with very high levels of pain. Interestingly, this is one condition where benefits may start after only a few minutes of practice — in one study, participants who reported high levels of chronic pain showed a decrease in pain ratings after only four minutes of exercise.
5. Decreases PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. One study found that loving-kindness meditation effectively treated PTSD, reducing symptoms by approximately 50 percent. This may be because loving-kindness meditation helps increase positive emotions and reduce negative emotions, which are known to aggravate PTSD symptoms.
6. Decreases schizophrenia-spectrum disorders
Schizophrenia-spectrum disorders are a group of mental health conditions that include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. One study found that loving-kindness meditation effectively reduced positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking) in people with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.
7. Activates empathy and emotional processing in the brain
Loving-kindness meditation has been found to activate areas of the brain associated with empathy and emotional processing. This may be because loving-kindness meditation encourages a more compassionate attitude towards oneself and others, leading to the increased heart.
8. Increases gray matter volume
Several studies have shown that loving-kindness meditation increases gray matter volume in various brain areas, including the hippocampus (essential for memory) and the anterior cingulate cortex (important for emotional regulation). This suggests that loving-kindness meditation may have several benefits for memory and emotion processing.
9. Increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)
Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is a measure of the health of your heart’s autonomic nervous system. It’s associated with many positive outcomes, including increased feelings of well-being and decreased anxiety and depression symptoms. One study found that people who practice loving-kindness meditation have increased RSA, suggesting that the practice may also improve heart health.
10. Slows biological aging
Loving-kindness meditation has been shown to slow down biological aging in many different studies across various populations. For example, one study found that people in their 60s and 70s who taught loving-kindness meditation classes showed increased telomerase activity compared to those who didn’t participate in the classes, which is associated with longer life.
11. It Makes you a more helpful person
Although it may seem like kind acts stem from spontaneous urges, new research shows that they can be cultivated by practicing loving-kindness meditation. In one study, participants were randomly assigned to practice loving-kindness meditation or observe they are natural breathing for seven weeks. The loving-kindness meditation group reported more intense feelings of kindness and generosity throughout the study, and they were also more likely to help someone out when they needed it.
12. Increases compassion
Compassion is the feeling of wanting to help others who are suffering. One study found that loving-kindness meditation increased compassion towards oneself and others. This may be because loving-kindness meditation encourages a greater sense of connectedness with others, increasing compassion.
13. Increases empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. One study found that loving-kindness meditation increased empathy towards both loved ones and strangers. This may be because practicing love and kindness towards others encourages us to think from another person’s perspective, increasing our ability to empathize with them.
14. Decreases your bias towards others
Loving-kindness meditation has been shown to decrease the unconscious biases of certain groups, including minorities and the homeless. It may be because increasing our feelings of love and kindness towards others can make us feel more connected to different types of people, which lessens our tendency to think about them as “others” or “not self.” By thinking more about their perspective – seeing them as a part of you – it becomes harder to see them as someone who is fundamentally separate from yourself.