What Is A Loving-Kindness Meditation?

Loving-Kindness Meditation Definition

Loving-kindness meditation or metta bhavana (from the Pali language) is a form of Buddhist meditation that is used to cultivate compassion and love for ourselves and others.

Metta = unconditional love

Bhavana = cultivation

It is sometimes described as “love with wisdom” and referred to as a practice for “softening the heart.

a woman doing a loving-kindness meditation in front of a window

Loving-Kindness Meditation Deep Dive

Loving-kindness meditation is not an easy practice. One of the most difficult things for many of us is to be compassionate toward ourselves.

By cultivating kindness and compassion for ourselves we are then in a position to send that love and compassion out to others. This is the fundamental principle of loving-kindness meditation.

This is a hugely popular type of meditation as it can be practiced inter-religiously and requires no prior training. In fact, it can be done at any time and in any place.

The whole practice is based on the process of sending out love and compassion without judgment and with the expectation of nothing in return. In recent years science has begun studying loving-kindness meditation and has found there to be several benefits including:

  • An increase in positive emotions
  • A decrease in negative emotions
  • Reduction in pain
  • Improvement in healing time
  • Increased empathy
  • Deeper social connection
  • Increased self of purpose
  • Promotes self-compassion
a man doing a loving-kindness meditation under a tree

So how does it work?

Loving-kindness meditation is a practice of awareness. Working with statements like “may I be happy” or “may I be free of suffering” the practitioner first contemplates the statements for themselves and then offers them to others and eventually to all beings. The love and compassion within these statements is not dependent on whether one is deserving – it is for all and is unconditional.

The practice usually begins with compassion for ourselves with the notion that without finding a deep sense of love for ourselves we are unable to offer it to others. The meditation is usually practiced in the following way:

  • Metta for yourself
  • Metta for someone you love/care deeply for
  • Metta for someone neutral that you do not know well
  • Metta for someone you have negative feelings towards
  • Metta for all beings

Loving-Kindness Meditation In your life

6 Practice Tips:

Metta is a practice of concentration that helps us to be more kind towards ourselves and others. It can help us work with difficult feelings and negative emotions as well as have positive effects on our relationships. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Goals – This is not a goal-orientated practice so find patience with your meditation because it is exactly that – a practice.
  • Keep coming back  – it is normal for the mind to wander during meditation. If you drift away, take a breath and come back to the present moment before re-entering the practice.
  • No Judgment – This practice is to be free of judgment as you meditate for both yourself and all other beings.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable – any seat will do as long as you are alert and not likely to be in pain or fall asleep.
  • Time – Begin with a small amount of time at first and set a timer. You can extend this when you feel ready.
  • When – Experiment with different times of the day to practice and make the meditation fit around your schedule.
a woman sitting outside cross legged with her hands over her heart

How To Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation

The key to loving-kindness meditation is practice. Try using these prompts to get you started.

  • Find a comfortable place to sit.
  • Let your breath and body settle.
  • Imagine a deep sense of calm washing over your body.
  • Know that there is no rush to get through the practice. Take your time.
  • Feel your whole body and mentally repeat “may I be safe.” Notice how it feels to say these words to yourself.
  • Repeat the words “may I be at peace.” Take time to let the words settle into your body.
  • Repeat the words “may I be powerful.” How does this phrase land in your body?
  • Take a moment to rest in the resonance of the practice and all it has brought you before gently moving back into your day.

Once you are familiar with this practice you can begin to include someone you love, someone you have a natural relationship with, someone you have negative feelings towards and finally all beings. 

The heart of the practice is to use the phrase “may I be…”, “may you be…” or “may we be…”. You can try adding some of the phrases below or add your own.

May I Be:

free from suffering
at peace
full of joy
present
healthy
happy
safe
filled with loving-kindness
at ease

Give metta meditation a go and spread some love and compassion!

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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