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Metta Meditation: The Benefits, The Science Behind It, & How to Do It

by | Jun 16, 2022

The goal of Metta meditation is to cultivate kindness for all things, including: family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, the guy you see at the grocery store, teachers, animals, plants, and even the difficult people in your life! The main technique of Metta meditation involves reciting phrases toward yourself and others that speak to the. type of inner peace and contentment that you would like to cultivate in your own life. Like other types of meditation, the practice is beneficial for mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s especially useful for reducing negative thoughts and emotions towards yourself and others.

What to Know About a Metta Meditation

Different traditions approach the practice in different ways. However, all forms of Metta meditation share the common goal of developing unconditional positive emotions toward all beings.

This includes feelings of:
• joy
• trust
• love
• gratitude
• gratefulness
• happiness
• appreciation
• compassion

To cultivate these emotions, you silently recite a series of phrases toward yourself and others. These phrases are meant to express kind intentions.

Some examples of Metta meditation phrases include:
• “May I be happy.”
** or, depending on where you are in the Metta meditation, as you will see below,
the phrase might be “May you be happy” or “May all living beings be happy”
• “May I be healthy.”
• “May I be safe.”
• “May I be free from all suffering.”
• “May I live with ease and in peace.”
• “May I lead with compassion.”
• “May I prosper with wisdom.”
• “May I walk confidently in my values.”
• “May I find forgiveness.”

It’s important to repeat each phrase that you decide to use with great intention and mindfulness. This helps you really focus in on the phrase and the associated emotions (very important!) for yourself or the other person, persons, or living beings.

What Does Science Say About the Benefits?

A regular Metta meditation practice can be beneficial for both your mind and body. Let’s look at some of these benefits more closely.

1. Promotes self-compassion

Since Metta meditation involves reciting kind phrases toward yourself, it can foster a sense of self-compassion. The idea is that you must love yourself before you can love other people. Self-compassion can also reduce negative emotions toward yourself, including:
• unworthiness
• self-doubt
• judgment
• anger
• self-criticism

These benefits were observed in a 2014 study. Participants who practiced Metta meditation became less critical toward themselves than those who didn’t use this practice.

Another 2013 study found that routine Metta meditation had the ability to increase self- compassion and mindfulness in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These effects helped decrease PTSD symptoms.

2. Decreases stress and anxiety

According to research from 2013, mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Additionally, clinical evidence has shown that mindfulness meditation, when practiced regularly, can also reduce the inflammation response that’s caused by stress. Metta meditation can take this even further, according to meditation practitioners. As you develop self-compassion, you perceive yourself in a more positive light. This promotes
emotions like love and gratitude.

These emotions can increase your level of life satisfaction, thus reducing stress and anxiety and increasing motivation.

3. Reduces physical pain

There’s some evidence that Metta meditation can decrease some types of physical pain. In an older 2005 study, the practice decreased persistent lower back pain. A 2014 study found a similar effect in people with frequent migraine attacks. The researchers in both studies attributed the lower pain levels to the stress-relieving effect of Metta meditation. Emotional stress, after all, can worsen physical pain. Negative emotions can also reduce your tolerance for pain. Positive emotions, like those cultivated through Metta meditation, have the opposite effect.

4. Improves longevity

Telomeres are DNA structures at the ends of each chromosome. They work to protect genetic information. As we get older, our telomeres naturally shorten. Chronic stress can speed up this process, causing faster biological aging.

Stress-relieving activities, like Metta meditation, can ease this effect. A 2013 study found that Metta meditation is associated with longer telomere length. The researchers speculated that the practice could help improve longevity.

5. Enhances social connections

Metta meditation can also nurture stronger social relationships. After you recite kind phrases toward yourself, you extend that kindness to other people. This allows you to display compassion and empathy toward them. It also encourages you to think about others and to recognize how they make you feel. Plus, as you develop self-love, you may be less likely to view yourself negatively. This makes it easier to hold space for others, which can cultivate more positive connections.

How to Practice a Metta Meditation

You don’t need any special equipment or gear to get started with Metta meditation. Another bonus is that you can do it anywhere you like — in a quiet corner of your home, outdoors in a yard, or at your desk. Try to choose a spot where you’re least likely to be distracted, then follow these steps:

Breathing and Centering

1. Sit in a comfortable position that allows for an alert and dignified posture. It can be helpful to set an intention of both ease and awareness.

2. You can close your eyes or just softly gaze at a spot in front of you. Whatever feels most comfortable and safe.

3. Take several slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose.

4. As you settle back into your natural breathing pattern, imagine your breath traveling throughout your body. See where in the body you can feel the breath the most. It may be in the stomach or abdomen, where you can feel the rising and falling as the body breathes. It might be in the chest, where you may notice the expansion and contraction as the body inhales and exhales. Perhaps it’s at the nostrils, where you can feel a slight tickle as the air comes in, and the subtle warmth as the body exhales. You can pick one spot to stick with for this meditation practice. As you feel the body breathing, try to stay with the breath all the way through. Stick with it from the beginning of the inhale all the way through the end of the exhale.

5. You may notice the mind wandering. This is a normal part of the human experience. When the mind wanders, it really offers us an opportunity to cultivate “noticing”, or mindful awareness. Each time we notice the mind has wandered we strengthen our ability to more quickly recognize our experience. Each time we bring the mind back to the breath, we’re strengthening our ability to refocus and return to the present moment. This is where the magic happens. It is an opportunity for us to celebrate and return to our practice.

6. You can now start the practice of Metta by bringing to mind yourself as you sit here right now. Try to connect with your own deepest intentions for happiness, ease, and safety. You don’t need to dive into stories of what will make you happy, but connect with that natural desire you have.

Reciting a Metta

Metta phrases are kind, positive phrases such as those listed ealier. You are always welcome to come up with your own phrases, or tailor your meditation to fit a situation or person.

You can choose any number of phrases to use, but most people recite between 2-5 of the phrases for each of the following 5 categories of people/living beings. For this instruction, we will choose 3 phrases to recite: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease and in peace.”

There is no right or wrong number and there is no right or wrong number of times to repeat the phrases. If you have time, then repeat the phrases as many times as you wish. Even when pressed for time, a Metta meditation practiced using just one phrase, one time, for each person chosen, is better than no Metta at all!

There are 5 categories of living beings for whom we recite loving kindness phrases for in a Metta meditation. You are certainly not “required” to recite the Metta phrases for all 5, but it is preferable.

1. Metta For Self

Begin your practice by silently offering the Metta phrases for yourself. Acknowledge their meaning and notice how they make you feel. It may feel uncomfortable to do this for yourself at first, but you will soon find that you have a new sense of compassion for who you are, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, and your discomfort will fade. If you have difficulty conjuring up compassion for yourself as you are today, maybe think back to a time when you were a vulnerable child in need of some loving kindness, and offer these phrases for you as that child.

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease and in peace.”

If you get distracted, avoid judging yourself. Just return to the phrases and keep repeating them for as long as you wish.

2. Metta for a Benevolent Person(s) or Loved One(s)

Now, think about your friends and family, a person you admire (known personally or not), or even a beloved animal. You can also choose a group of people if you wish. Really focus in on the person or group in your mind and notice any felt sensations in your body. Recite the phrases for them. Again, recognize the meaning behind your phrases and how you feel towards them as you meditate.

“May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease and in peace.”

3. Metta for a Neutral Person

Continue reciting the phrases towards someone you may not know as well such as a neighbor, the person who checks you out at the grocery store, or maybe a service provider in your building or community. Although you don’t know this person well, you can recognize that, like everyone else, this person wants to be happy and at peace. You don’t need to know what their happiness looks like necessarily. Again, offer this person the phrases of loving kindness, connecting with the intention to care about their wellbeing.

“May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease and in peace.”

4. Metta for a Difficult Person/Group

Now try and recite the phrases towards someone who is a more difficult individual for you. You may want to start out with someone who you feel just slight agitation towards and work your way to someone more difficult in later meditations. Recognize and allow for your emotions to be present, even if they are negative. Repeat the phrases and see if you can soften your experience of them. It may take many, many times of meditation to get there. You may not even be able to fully soften towards them, but it will change the way you relate to your feelings about that person.

“May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease and in peace.”

5. Metta for All Living Beings

Finally, zoom out and open the Metta up to all living things: People, animals, plants, bugs, etc. Imagine a world where every living being could live their lives in peace and with ease.

Tips For Beginners

If you’re new to meditation, it may seem intimidating. Your first few times might also feel unproductive. Keep in mind, however, that it takes time to achieve the intended effects. Think of it like when you take a Tylenol for a headache. It doesn’t necessarily work immediately, but you feel like you have at least started the process. Then, at some point, you suddenly realize you have found some much needed relief from your headache.

Consider these beginner tips:

• Be patient. Don’t expect instant results. Meditation is a practice that’s meant to evolve.

• Let go of perfection. Your mind will likely drift, so don’t worry about getting distracted. Just acknowledge that this is normal. Try to focus on the present moment instead of the potential results.

• Avoid judging yourself. When you get distracted, avoid criticizing yourself. Recognize the distraction and gently return to the practice.

• Experiment. Meditation can be done in any location or pose, and at whatever time works best for you. Try meditating in different places and poses and at different times of the day to find what works best for you.

The Bottom Line

During Metta meditation, you recite positive phrases toward yourself and other people. The practice aims to foster a mental state of kindness, love, and compassion. When done regularly, Metta meditation can help minimize negative emotions toward yourself and others. Like other forms of mindfulness meditation, it can also reduce stress and physical pain.

If you’d like to try Metta meditation, be patient and open to the experience. Practicing a few minutes each day may help make a difference over time.

About Leigh | View Profile
Leigh is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients who experience a wide range of symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and trauma.  She utilizes mindfulness-based and evidence-based treatments in her practice, including ACT, MBSR, DBT, CBT, and SFBT.
We offer in-person and virtual services - contact us today to learn more!

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