Health and Happiness
7 Reasons to Practice Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. Buddha
It’s easy, free of charge, requires as little as 5 minutes a day, and creates health, happiness, peace of mind, and improved relationships. Too good to be true? Loving-kindness meditations are practiced daily by millions of people across several continents. Research studies over the past 15 years have shown conclusively that this type of mindfulness practice improves coping skills and confers significant mind-body health benefits.
What is Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Practice?
Mindfulness is a type of mind-body approach to peace of mind and stress management. Based in meditation practices that have been perfected over 3000 years, mindfulness is one of the most effective types of coping skills. In its most basic form, mindfulness is awareness without judgment. When we practice mindfulness, we maintain a moment-to-moment awareness of our internal experience (thoughts, beliefs, and feelings) and external situations (other people, places and things) – and we gently let go of opinions and judgments (especially negative valuations). We avoid emotional reactivity and practice emotional and spiritual equanimity and balance.
Loving-kindness practice includes compassion, empathy, goodwill, benevolence, and friendship toward one’s self and others. Loving-kindness is practiced with meditation and acts of goodwill toward others. This type of mindfulness practice is one of the most effective types of coping skills for stress management and creating more loving relationships.
How to Practice Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness
There are many types of mindfulness and loving-kindness practices. Most of these methods begin with one breath. Our breath brings us back to center – the center of our being (some would say our soul or spirit). The one “cleansing breath” involves inhaling through your nose, diaphragmatically (the stomach area expands and the shoulders remain stationary), and exhaling through your mouth. Some of the most effective coping skills begin with this breath.
I suggest starting with a simple 5 minute mindfulness meditation every morning. Make it a part of your usual morning routine. Close your eyes, and start with the cleansing breath. Then breathe normally and notice the sensation of breathing in and out. Your mind will wander – notice what comes up for you (thoughts and feelings). Gently let go of those thoughts and feelings and return your awareness to your breath. Toward the end of the 5 minutes silently repeat a loving-kindness affirmation or prayer. A typical example follows:
May I be filled with loving-kindness;
May I be well;
May I be peaceful and at ease;
May I be happy.
The second repetition may be focused toward someone you love or care about (“May you be…”). The third repetition may be directed toward someone you’re angry with or dislike. A final repetition can include everyone, or a group of people.
It is also quite beneficial to do a gratitude exercise at the end of your mindfulness meditation. Specify 5 people or things you are grateful for today and repeat this sentence for each of them – “I’m grateful for…” This type of gratitude exercise has been shown to be a highly effective coping skill in dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship distress.
7 Reasons to Practice Mindfulness and Loving Kindness
The use of mindfulness practice as an effective mind-body coping skill has been proven by numerous studies. The benefits range from improved physical and mental health to career and athletic success.
1. Reduced frequency and severity of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
2. Less chronic pain, headaches, and improved immune system functioning.
3. Improved stress management, and less anger. Improved ability to relax.
4. Increase of positive, and decrease of negative emotions. Improved ability to regulate or manage emotional reactions.
5. Improved focus, concentration, and retention of information.
6. Positive self-esteem and self-love. Reduced levels of self-criticism.
7. Improved relationships. More empathy, compassion and generosity toward others.
I’ve been practicing mindfulness methods, including loving-kindness meditations, for many years. Of all the coping skills, this one has always been the most helpful. When I’ve neglected my practice I notice that I’m more easily stressed out, anxious and irritable. The good news is that it’s easy to resume this practice, and it’s immediately effective. The counselors at our Center often use mindfulness methods with individuals and couples, and we hope you will contact us today for more information about this invaluable method.