Neuroimaging studies have illuminated the unique impact of various meditation practices on neural activity. Notably, focused attention meditation (FAM) and loving kindness meditation (LKM) yield distinct alterations in brain function, each with its own intriguing implications.
FAM centers on concentrating attention on an object or bodily sensation to achieve a clear, undistracted state. Long-term practice of FAM reshapes attention-related brain regions, ultimately leading to reduced activation in these areas. This phenomenon signifies the development of expertise, making concentration meditation less effortful over time. Additionally, FAM practitioners exhibit enhanced emotion-processing abilities, reflected in heightened activation within emotion-related brain regions. This enables practitioners to maintain emotional equilibrium in the face of positive and negative stimuli.
In contrast, LKM sparks no specific activation in attention-related brain regions. Instead, it stimulates emotion-processing centers linked to emotion regulation. LKM revolves around cultivating universal love and compassion for oneself and others. Practitioners envision beings and radiate boundless benevolence, fostering love and compassion unhindered by constraints. This unique neural activation associated with LKM correlates with improved behavior and voluntary emotion regulation.
Regardless of the chosen meditation path, these findings underscore meditation’s profound influence on emotion processing and its enduring impact.
Lee TMC, Leung M-K, Hou W-K, Tang JCY, Yin J, et al. (2012) Distinct Neural Activity Associated with Focused-Attention Meditation and Loving-Kindness Meditation. PLoS ONE 7(8): e40054. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040054
SAMPLE PRACTICE EXERCISE OF LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
- Find a Quiet Space: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Take a Few Deep Breaths: Start by taking a few deep, slow breaths to help you relax and settle into the present moment.
- Cultivate Self-Love: Begin by directing loving-kindness towards yourself. Repeat a set of positive phrases silently in your mind, such as: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I live with ease.” Say these phrases with genuine warmth and care, visualizing yourself surrounded by a gentle and loving light.
- Extend Kindness to Others: Gradually shift your focus to other people in your life, starting with someone you care about deeply. Repeat the same phrases for them: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.” Picture them in your mind’s eye, bathed in the same loving light.
- Expand to Wider Circles: Move on to neutral people, acquaintances, and even people you may have had difficulties with. Repeat the phrases for them, wishing them well with an open heart.
- Extend to All Beings: Finally, extend your loving-kindness to all living beings everywhere. Imagine your love and compassion spreading like ripples in a pond, touching the hearts of all beings.
- End with Gratitude: Take a few moments to sit quietly, experiencing the warmth and kindness you’ve generated. When you’re ready, gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back to the present moment.