Loving Kindness Meditation, or LKM, is used to increase feelings of warmth and caring for yourself and others. Like mindfulness, this practice is derived from Buddhist principles, but rather than passively observing thoughts, you concentrate on actively directing a feeling of compassion towards yourself and then extend your focus to an ever-widening circle of others, ultimately radiating warmth and compassion in all directions.
LKM has been shown to boost positivity and life satisfaction as well as reduce depressive and illness symptoms. A Stanford University study found that in just seven minutes of LKM, people reported greater social connection toward others, which is no small thing when we’re in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. A 2008 study led by leading positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil showed that LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. This mood boost was in turn linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and good physical health. Since then, additional studies have continued to support these results and a 2015 meta-analysis (a study of studies) found that LKM has a medium effect size in improving daily positive emotions.
It’s important to note that a ‘medium effect size’ means that while the technique has been shown to work, it doesn’t always work and it’s interesting that Frederickson’s recent work, published last month is starting to explore the genetic basis for why this type of meditation is effective for some people but not others. But just because mindfulness meditation or LKM don’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other techniques that could help lift your mood.
To practice LKM begin by sitting or lying down comfortably. (If you’re prone to sleepiness when you begin to relax, I’d recommend sitting). Take a few deep breaths, filling your chest and stomach and slowly breathing out. Feel any tension in your body begin to release and relax. Close your eyes.
The idea of this practice is to induce a mental state of unselfish and unconditional kindness to all beings. First, focus on directing feelings of warmth, kindness and compassion towards yourself. Next, focus on a good friend, then someone you feel neutrally about (eg; your bus driver or postman), then a “difficult” person (eg; a person you may have negative feelings about); and eventually focus on the entire universe. You might like to silently repeat phrases, such as “may you be happy” or “may you be free from suffering” towards your targets.