Tapping into our Neurology of Love and Kindness

Emotions rest inside of us. In fact, because that is such an innate understanding in all of us, you may be wondering why I offer it. What benefit will those words give to your everyday, to your relationships?

At times, I joke with the couple that I work with that if they could help me find the switch for kindness and love, we should stop therapy and sell this – we would be very wealthy! They always laugh…but here is my secret…I am serious.

Today I offer you the switch. It stems from a type of focus coming from a centuries-old Buddhist practice which turns on the systems of the brain responsible for feelings of kindness, warmth and goodwill toward others and yourself. It usually takes 13 minutes, but don’t worry if you are able to give that time to it at first, or today. Give what you can.

You will be asked to close your eyes and think of people you love as well as an acquaintance, and silently direct feelings of love and kindness toward them and yourself. There are various versions of the loving-kindness meditation. I’ve chosen a version that was used in research by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. It’s narrated by Emma Seppala, a Stanford professor and the director of the Center. Keep an open mind and try it! I hope you like it.

Why Am I Doing This?

The loving-kindness meditation may be one of the most-studied meditation strategies. Research at Stanford University and other institutions has found that loving-kindness meditation increases feelings of happiness and well-being and makes a person feel closer to others, even strangers. The meditation can help you be less self-focused, which ultimately can lessen anxiety and depression. It’s been shown to improve migraines, chronic pain and the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. The effects of loving-kindness meditation are greater if you do it regularly. Do it just once and it’s been shown to increase feelings of social connection and feelings of positivity toward strangers. A 2008 study at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased a number of positive emotions (love, joy, contentment, gratitude, hope), which in turn predicted increased life satisfaction, greater purpose, more social support and better health. In 2011, another study found that positive emotions were correlated with the number of minutes spent meditating daily.

Helpful Tips

Sometimes the most difficult part of meditation is just getting through it the first time. You may find that your mind wanders. A wandering mind is common when people begin to meditate but don’t be discouraged. Just bring yourself back to the present and keep going. This loving kindness meditation is the one studied at Stanford, but there are variations that ask you to think not only about people you love, but people you don’t like. Others focus more on feeling loving-kindness toward yourself. I encourage you to explore other loving-kindness meditations and find the one you enjoy the most. This is truly my favorite meditation in that it helps me focus on positive feelings, and it always leaves me centered and refreshed to start the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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