How Loving-Kindness Meditation Helps Recovery

business man in park sitting with eyes closed

Numerous studies tout the positive effects of meditation.

Support of the medical community helps validate why this holistic wellness method proves beneficial for people, especially those overcoming substance use disorder (SUD).

For people in recovery, meditation helps:

  • Improve mindfulness. One typical aspect of addictive behavior is an inability to stay in the present moment. By using meditation to enhance mindfulness, you’re able to accept and tolerate what’s happening now, rather than worrying about the future or fretting the past. This capability leads to better self-control.
  • Establish heightened self-confidence. For many people, SUD develops from a traumatized emotional or mental state. Dr. Ronald Alexander referred to this as the “wanting mind.” Meditation improves the activity of the amygdala—a region of the brain that regulates emotional response. Alexander believes that through meditation, someone in recovery can develop a more realistic perspective. This enables you to feel better about yourself and what you’ve overcome. Then, it’s easier to develop a healing path for the future.
  • Enhance health management. Meditation calms the autonomic nervous system, so regular practice helps individuals pro-actively with symptoms of chronic co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety. It can also lessen problems with compulsiveness and insomnia.

People often try a variety of meditation styles, and that’s good. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM), in particular, continues to spark attention from various researchers for its powerful impact on both the practitioner and who he/she encounters.

What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation?

Psychologists and psychiatrists frequently encourage people to find reasons to be kind. Greater Good in Action at the University of California, Berkeley, indicates this is because “kindness is one of the most direct routes to happiness.” It references scientific studies that suggest “kind people tend to be more satisfied with their relationships and with their lives in general.”

Just like exercising to improve your physicality, a deliberate meditation practice enriches your mind, spirit, and ability to be kind. Also called metta meditation, LKM allows a person to cultivate more kindness by sending warmth and goodwill silently to themselves and others while repeating specific mantras. Metta, also referred to as maitrī in Sanskrit, is defined by benevolence, friendliness, loving kindness, and peace.

Researchers believe LKM is a powerful practice because it:

  • Helps increase an individual’s level of happiness.
  • Improves a feeling of connection to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
  • Encourages a natural reaction of increased positivity, which assists in individual well-being as well as relationships with others.
  • Enables people to find better methods for dealing with stress, chronic pain, and migraines.
  • Combines all of these things to enable someone to not get so caught up in themselves, the past, or the future—which often makes it easier to manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

In the study Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources, a variety of researchers refer to the practice as an “intervention strategy” to offset the “hedonic treadmill effect.” For people in recovery, this might suggest that rather than follow the false sensations produced by substances or other compulsive behaviors, they can use LKM to experience more natural positive sensations, among other benefits.

How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation

Meditation, in its most basic form, is often quite simple:

  • Sit in a quiet, comfortable place with your back straight and supported.
  • Close your eyes and focus on soft, slow breathing.
  • If thoughts appear (and they will!) the object isn’t to stop them, but to briefly acknowledge they exist and move on.
  • Open your eyes after a period of time—this could be one minute or 20 minutes—and go about your day.

Various methods of meditation allow you to explore your practice on a more personal level and see really resonates with you.

With a loving-kindness approach, you have a chance to change not only you may feel in mind, body, and spirit, but also trust that your intent to send purposeful messages out into the world has an impact. The mantra aspect of it—wherein you repeat these messages frequently—creates a rhythm that allows you to both feel nurtured and be the nurturer. Often, an LKM starts with:

  • May I be happy
  • May I be well
  • May I be comfortable
  • May I be at peace

Then, as you visualize different people, the “I” directive shifts to “you.”

One of the wonderful characteristics of meditation practitioners is how they share different ideas and applications with other people.

For example, Emma Seppälä, science director for Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, conducted extensive research into LKM. To help people get started with the method easily, she created these guided sequences at no cost that are simple to follow. As a form of mantra meditation, use the positioning explained above and incorporate Seppälä’s audio instruction.

Many other examples are available from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and director of the PEP Lab at the university. She’s studied the effects of love, positivity, and LKM for nearly two decades. She has an entire page of free audio meditations for not only for LKM, but also self-love, celebratory love, and breathing.

The Honest Guys also offer a free guided LKM accompanied by calming music and visuals. And on YouTube, WiseMindBody provides another no-cost option for a LKM audio/video practice.

Over time, you may find you can create a loving-kindness meditation mantra of your own with more personalized messages or affirmations.

Alternative Therapies to Help You

Cottonwood Tucson has earned international recognition for using programs that heal the mind, body, and spirit. From meditation and yoga, to music or art therapy, to equine and wilderness therapy, you’ll learn to access your inner goodness, reduce stress triggers, and connect with others in more meaningful ways.

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