Meditation Benefits

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change – HuffPost

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change

Posted: 10/02/2013 7:58 am
By Angela Wilson, MA, RYT

One increasingly popular form of meditation is loving-kindness meditation (LKM), the practice of wishing oneself and others to be happy, content and at ease. In the yoga tradition, loving-kindness is seen as an opportunity to “cultivate the opposite.”

Where many meditation techniques encourage students to explore difficult feelings or emotions directly, in loving-kindness the invitation is to send well wishes to oneself (who is in distress) as well as the other (who we feel distress toward). This isn’t meant to suppress the feelings as they arise, but instead it can be thought of as a soothing balm, something gently placed on a wound for healing.

Over the past several years, as meditation research has become more prevalent, science has become interested in the effects of loving-kindness practice on the mind and the body. Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers believed that LKM would offer similar benefits to other forms of meditation, such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation.

As it turns out, LKM offers unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. What are those differences? Some just might surprise you.

LKM is a key tool for an optimal life.

One benefit of LKM is that loving-kindness reduces the stress response. Those who practice even a short course of LKM (say over the course of eight weeks) experience less distress than those who do not by the end of those eight weeks, according to this study. Probably no huge surprise there, right?

However, further exploration into this practice may intrigue you. The study on the effect of compassion meditation also investigated the impact of LKM on the body’s inflammatory and neuroendocrine system. At first preliminary results revealed that LKM showed no discernable differences in inflammation compared to the control group.

However, when divided into high-practice group verses low-practice group (i.e., those who practiced LKM each day compared to those with minimal practice) the results became more striking. The high-practice group saw a significant decrease in inflammation compared to the low-practice and no-practice groups. This research highlights two important findings. First, that not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress, but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (in this case, LKM reduced inflammation). The second, equally noteworthy finding is that this only happened for those who activity engaged in the practice of LKM. Simply attending a meditation class once a week was not enough to produce a change. Students had to practice at least a little each day.

Another pivotal study in the investigation of LKM was conducted by positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Dr. Fredrickson and her team investigated the impact of LKM not only on emotions, but also on how this practice could actually build personal resources (cognitive, emotional and physical). Her research team invited a group of people to practice LKM over the course of nine weeks. Participants in the LKM group had to practice at least a little every day, and researchers measured subjects on a variety of outcomes — including their experiences of positive emotions, their immunity to illness and their relationships to others. Her question: Could LKM actually build a person’s personal resources?

It did. In their seminal research paper, Dr. Fredrickson and her team write,

The practice of 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. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of nine weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others and good physical health… They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.

These findings are powerful.

The Brain on LKM.

So we know that LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, our sense of connection. But does that translate to an impact on the brain?

Neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin became interested in just that question. He has extensively studied the effect of meditation, including LKM, on the brain. He had a simple question. Would LKM change the brain? To investigate the exact implication of this practice on the brain he invited two groups of subjects into his lab: those who had at least 10,000 hours of LKM under their meditative belt and those who were interested, but new to meditation. He invited both these groups into the fMRI scanner to see how LKM would impact the brain.

The results were clear. The practice of LKM changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. While both groups saw an increase in insula activity, the group with 10,000 hours of experience showed significantly more activation than the other group. This group was experiencing higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group.

A similar finding appeared for the TPJ. The TPJ, like the insula, is also related to our ability to process empathy and our ability to attune to the emotional states of others. Again, compared to short-term meditators, those with a long-term meditation practice showed significant activation of this brain region.

Loving-kindness creates feelings of social connection.

Given this research, it is no surprise that LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers. A study conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that in just seven minutes of LKM, subjects reported greater social connection toward others. Other studies have shown that the feeling of social connection can predict changes in a person’s vagal tone (a physiological measurement of resilience and overall well-being).

As a yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Providers Program, I have the opportunity to teach the Loving-Kindness practice to members of a workforce who are at high risk for compassion fatigue — health-care providers. In just the 10 minutes that I invite participants to practice LKM toward themselves and others, something powerful emerges. Some students begin to cry. Some bring their hand softly to their heart. Some physically relax. Afterward, when I invite the group to look around at each other, the sense of connection is palpable.

What is striking about the research and about the experience teaching is that these changes can happen in a short amount of time. Concentrated practice is essential. Even a few minutes creates a shift, and that shift is marked.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” And indeed, it seems that in fact, with a little practice, LKM has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.

For more from Kripalu, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health

Oh mindfulness meditation, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Even though the academic research on mindfulness meditation isn’t as robust as, say, nutrition or exercise, there is a reason why it’s been around for literally thousands of years. And we’re starting to get a better understanding of why it seems to be beneficial for so many aspects of life, from disease and pain management, to sleep, to control of emotions.

For starters, let’s define what mindfulness is: A Perspectives on Psychological Science study described it as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life. And for our full coverage on the topic, click over to our Mindfulness Meditation page.

1. It lowers stress — literally. Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, it’s also linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. It lets us get to know our true selves. Mindfulness can help us see beyond those rose-colored glasses when we need to really objectively analyze ourselves. A study in the journal Psychological Science shows that mindfulness can help us conquer common “blind spots,” which can amplify or diminish our own flaws beyond reality.

3. It can make your grades better. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that college students who were trained in mindfulness performed better on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE, and also experienced improvements in their working memory. “Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences,” the researchers wrote in the Psychological Science study.

4. It could help our troops. The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of seeing how mindfulness meditation training can improve troops’ performance and ability to handle — and recover from — stress.

5. It could help people with arthritis better handle stress. A 2011 study in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease shows that even though mindfulness training may not help to lessen pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it could help to lower their stress and fatigue.

6. It changes the brain in a protective way. University of Oregon researchers found that integrative body-mind training — which is a meditation technique — can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness. The meditation practice was linked with increased signaling connections in the brain, something called axonal density, as well as increased protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region.

7. It works as the brain’s “volume knob.” Ever wondered why mindfulness meditation can make you feel more focused and zen? It’s because it helps the brain to have better control over processing pain and emotions, specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms (which play a role in what senses our minds are attentive to), according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

8. It makes music sound better. Mindfulness meditation improves our focused engagement in music, helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we’re listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.

9. It helps us even when we’re not actively practicing it. You don’t have to actually be meditating for it to still benefit your brain’s emotional processing. That’s the finding of a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which shows that the amygdala brain region’s response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when a person isn’t actively meditating.

10. It has four elements that help us in different ways. The health benefits of mindfulness can be boiled down to four elements, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of emotion and regulation of attention.

11. It could help your doctor be better at his/her job. Doctors, listen up: Mindfulness meditation could help you better care for your patients. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgmental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients.

12. It makes you a better person. Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, “do-good” behavior.

13. It could make going through cancer just a little less stressful. Research from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine shows that mindfulness coupled with art therapy can successfully decrease stress symptoms among women with breast cancer. And not only that, but imaging tests show that it is actually linked with brain changes related to stress, emotions and reward.

14. It could help the elderly feel less lonely. Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it’s known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to decrease these feelings of loneliness among the elderly, and boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

15. It could make your health care bill a little lower. Not only will your health benefit from mindfulness meditation training, but your wallet might, too. Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows that practicing Transcendental Meditation is linked with lower yearly doctor costs, compared with people who don’t practice the meditation technique.

16. It comes in handy during cold season. Aside from practicing good hygiene, mindfulness meditation and exercise could lessen the nasty effects of colds. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.

17. It lowers depression risk among pregnant women. As many as one in five pregnant women will experience depression, but those who are at especially high risk for depression may benefit from some mindfulness yoga. “Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

18. It also lowers depression risk among teens. Teaching teens how to practice mindfulness through school programs could help them experience less stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Leuven.

19. It supports your weight-loss goals. Trying to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight? Mindfulness could be your best friend, according to a survey of psychologists conducted by Consumer Reports and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness training was considered an “excellent” or “good” strategy for weight loss by seven out of 10 psychologists in the survey.

20. It helps you sleep better. We saved the best for last! A University of Utah study found that mindfulness training can not only help us better control our emotions and moods, but it can also help us sleep better at night. “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress,” study researcher Holly Rau said in a statement.

Can’t get enough reasons to love meditation? Fine, fine — here are seven more:

See Slideshow:

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health.

 

Robert Piper: Why Every CEO in America Should Be Encouraging Meditation in the Work Place

Ingrained into the fabric of America is the idea that we have to be the best. There’s nothing wrong with that idea; this is a country that gave birth to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even put a man on the moon.

However, stress is beating us up really badly. It’s just destroying us. The World Health Organization estimates that stress is costing America businesses up to $300 billion a year. Benjamin Franklin once said, “A small leak can sink a great ship.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suggest that meditation is needed in the workplace. We have the stats; we have decades of research from some of the brightest minds in America behind it. If you’re a CEO of a company you need to, “Make it happen.”

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that there are over 3,000 studies on the positive benefits of meditation. Meditation is legitimately America’s next push-up; it builds emotional resilience, happiness, and a positive outlook on life. Why isn’t every CEO in America encouraging this in the work place?

I think some of the road blocks to the wide-spread acceptance of meditation in America has to do with some of the myths attached to it. There are a lot of myths — like you need a meditation space, a meditation pillow, certain beliefs, etc. You might have read about Buddhist monks that have done over 10,000 hours of meditation; well I’ve also done well over 10,000 hours of meditation.

I do several hours of meditation a day; I consider it a positive marathon exercise for the mind. I do it because I think it’s a great tool for happiness and a resilient mind. And I can tell you that you don’t need to purchase a fancy meditation cushion to reap the benefits of meditation.

I’m a former frat boy who used a pillow as a meditation cushion for years; I purchased it for a few dollars at a convenient store during my college days. I still go out on the weekends, watch sports on TV, and listen to Bloomberg radio. My meditation space is my family room and consists of a 47 inch flat screen TV (I wanted to get a 57 inch put it wouldn’t fit), two couches and a picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall. I have never burned incense in my meditation space.

From my own experience, I can tell you that meditation has actually made me want to engage in positive conversations with as many people as possible. I actually try to seek out conversations with different types of people because it makes me happier. It also makes you totally resilient because you’re able to separate from your emotions.

Physical exercise has been a major staple of American culture, and it has been shown to reduce stress. I do cardio several times a week, but I can sometimes understand we don’t have the time. Meditation is something that can easily fit into our busy schedules.

Most importantly, meditation can be done right in your office chair. Here’s a simple meditation:

1. Sit in your office chair and bring your attention inward to your breathing.
2. Trying to focus your attention on your heartbeat.
3. Take a deep inhale.
4. Exhale out.
5. Repeat the steps above and try to keep this calm mind with you for the rest of the day.
6. You can come back to this practice at any time throughout the day.

America is one of the greatest countries in the world because we take what works the best and disregard the rest. I think we should take a few minutes a day to pause, reflect and do some meditation in our office chair.

For more by Robert Piper, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

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Robert Piper: Why Every CEO in America Should Be Encouraging Meditation in the Work Place.