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Unlocking Wellness: The Transformative Power of Self Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation

Two hands are held up showing a peace sign with their fingers

In all my classes this month we have been exploring the theme of Metta, loving kindness and compassion. This is one of my absolute favourite areas to explore and the practices that cover these topics are some of the ones I use most regularly. I find when I practice Metta regularly I am happier and generally a nicer person. I have also found through my yoga therapy work that this is one of the most common areas that people need to work on.

For so many of us being kind to ourselves, or feeling worthy of love and kindness from others, doesn’t come easy. It can be hugely transformative to start to bring this into our lives and learn to soften into greater kindness and compassion, in particular self compassion is so important. When we stop over criticising ourselves, and instead cheer ourselves on, our whole perspective on life can change. We go from being in a constant state of fight and struggle to being supported and cared for. I often say to my students that we have a choice in any moment, to berate and criticise ourselves or to be kind and supportive, to become our own best friend. I am on a mission to help people find that inner voice that supports them and help them find that best friend inside.

Loving kindness vs Compassion

a young hand olds and older person's hand in their lap

While these two things are very similar they do differ a little in their meaning. Loving kindness refers to the pure benevolent feeling of caring for someone or something. Compassion is linked to this but comes with an awareness of suffering and a desire to alleviate it or help in some way, there is more of a drive to do something. When talking about these topics I often like to use the term Metta as it takes away the stories and baggage that we may have attached to ideas of love and compassion and helps point to the purest essence of these feelings.

What the Research Says

One of the things I love about working as a yoga therapist is that the work I do is not only based on ancient wisdom but is always influenced by modern scientific understandings too. I love seeing how the research is starting to catch up with what yogis have know for centuries, this gives us a deeper understanding of our practice and the mechanisms by which it helps us. When it comes to loving kindness and compassion, scientific studies are unravelling the therapeutic potential of this ancient mindfulness practice, providing substantive evidence for its transformative effects.

a painted board covered in images of different people's hands with hearts in the palms and the words "love and kindness are never wasted"

Research consistently indicates that integrating loving-kindness meditation into our daily lives can be a powerful ally for mental health. A study published in the "Journal of Clinical Psychology" (Hofmann et al., 2011)1 found that loving-kindness meditation significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study found loving kindness and compassion meditation may enhance activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy and may reduce stress-induced subjective distress and immune response.

The benefits of loving-kindness meditation extend beyond mental well-being to impact physical health, with emerging evidence suggesting positive effects on the immune system. A study published in "Psychosomatic Medicine" (Pace et al., 2009)2 demonstrated that individuals who engaged in compassion meditation exhibited increased levels of salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody crucial for immune function. This link between loving-kindness meditation and a bolstered immune response implies that the practice may contribute to a more robust defence against illnesses.

Top Tips on How to Develop Compassion & Loving Kindness

Despite the benefits, it isn’t always easy for people to tap into feelings of loving kindness or compassion

A hand holds a small object with engraved with th e words "in a world where you can be anything, be kind"

and it can take a some practice. From helping myself and my clients with this I have found that one of the first steps in this process is that of acceptance. I have recently written another post that goes into this in more detail which you can check out here. In essence, when we can accept what is happening we take away the fight, and it is very hard to feel loving towards something that you don’t accept.

There are a few other tips that I find helps people when starting to practice Metta which I will share below:

• How would you treat a friend? When practicing self compassion imagine how you would feel towards someone else in your position, a friend or family member who you love. If you were looking after their body for the day how would you treat it differently than you treat your own? How would you talk to them differently than how you speak to yourself?

• Find a compassionate colour. Is there a colour that represents compassion or loving kindness for you? If you find it hard to tap into the feeling of these things then instead imagine that colour within you. You might also see it as a light or a warmth.

• Words can also be useful. You might repeat a phrase such as “may I be peaceful, may I be well.” You can say anything that feels right to you, something that shows your intention of being kind and wanting what is best for yourself and others.

• If you come up against resistance in yourself don’t try and fight it. Instead let it know it’s welcome, that it is a part of you. As best as you can send the feeling of love towards that resistance or see it wrapped in you compassionate colour or phrase. Notice what happens when you accept this resistance.

And most of all stick with it. The more you practice these things the easier they will become. If you would like to have a go at some Metta meditation I have short guided meditation for you to give it a try, simple click here to join my mailing list and I will send it out to you.


1 Hofmann SG, Grossman P, Hinton DE. Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: potential for psychological interventions. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 Nov;31(7):1126-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.003. Epub 2011 Jul 26. PMID: 21840289; PMCID: PMC3176989.

2 Pace TW, Negi LT, Adame DD, Cole SP, Sivilli TI, Brown TD, Issa MJ, Raison CL. Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Jan;34(1):87-98. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.08.011. Epub 2008 Oct 4. PMID: 18835662; PMCID: PMC2695992.

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