The Power of LKM: Loving Kindness Meditation

Photo: Sarah Kunst

I DM a lot. I TM often though not as regularly as I’d like. I really crank the RPM when I spin. I’m not into EDM, but I know some people who are. I recently added a new acronym to my vocabulary, LKM, which stands for loving kindness meditation. We’re all familiar with the positive effects of meditation: focus, energy, relaxation, mindfulness. But LKM is a practice in compassion, based on the Buddhist principle of Metta.

Beyond compassion and empathy, LKM can reduce the stress response, inflammation in the body and brain, and even immune response, according to a study from Emory University.

To have ups, we also have downs. Even as a well-oiled wellness machine, I get stressed. I worry. I doubt myself. No matter how consciously I live, how mindful, or how much I practice self-care–none of us are immune to the lows of life.

When Good Things Freak You Out

Recently, I found myself on my bedroom floor on the brink of a panic attack.

I’d been wrestling with the slow build of the Get Go and pacing and parsing the terms of a new romantic relationship. All good things, but if you’re starting a business, there’s worry. If you’re beginning a relationship, there’s uncertainty. A seemingly innocuous text exchange was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The last time I’d felt this off-balance had been years ago. But I recognized the irrational wave of emotion in my chest, the clamp on my mind and thoughts, the feeling of being out of control–the panic. Knowing the symptoms is half the battle. The NOT KNOWING what’s happening to you is what creates even more panic.

This time, I went to my medicine cabinet, took an Ativan–a stress management accessory from my editor-in-chief days, got in bed, cued up Netflix and breathed deeply through an episode of Jessica Jones until I fell asleep.

I had managed the attack itself, but these things don’t go quietly. In the days that followed, I found myself crying during workouts. Crying in the shower. Crying while fixing lunch. Fighting back tears when people asked how I was doing in polite conversation. The truth is: I’m actually really happy. I’m following my dreams. I’m my own boss. I love pouring my heart and soul into the Get Go. A new relationship can give you wings. These are good things. Things I’ve made room for.

So what do you do when you’re already doing everything right?

Sometimes it’s not about asking what else you can do for yourself, it’s about getting outside yourself. Focusing on others–whether it’s doing something nice for a friend, calling your mom, volunteering, helping someone out at work–it can all help. Do it.

The Magic of Loving Kindness Meditation

But LKM was my low-lift savior. The principle and practice is simple: send kind, loving thoughts to others. That’s it. It works like a charm.

I downloaded a guided meditation off a free app called Insight Timer, from Diane Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education, at UCLA’s Mindful Research Awareness Center. Here’s the basic gist:

  1. Bring to mind someone who makes you feel happy the moment you think of them. A relative, a friend, a child, it could even be a pet. Someone easy to love. My grandmother came to mind. She had passed away two years before, but as the woman who raised me, she’s who I think of when I think of pure love. I could see her in my mind’s eye beaming at me.
  2. Notice your feelings when you think about them. That feeling, that smile is the essence of loving kindness. It comes naturally without effort. I felt a smile come to my lips as I imagined her.
  3. Wish your loved one love and happiness. Wish them peace, joy, protection and care in your own words. I spoke to my grandmother as if she were standing in front of me. I love you, Yaya, I said in my mind, as simply as I did when I was a child. I said it with all of my heart. I felt it. Wherever she might be, I sent feelings of loving kindness.
  4. Imagine hearing those same words spoken to you. Imagine your loved one turning to you and wishing the very same warm wishes. I cannot tell you how good it felt to hear, if only in my imagination, my beloved grandmother soothing me in my own voice, just as she had done throughout my life. It was such a surprise how good it felt and how much it calmed my soul.
  5. Channel the feelings and direct them towards someone else. Can you direct your words and feelings to someone else–someone you care about, someone who could use a boost, or even someone you don’t like or have issues? Can you let those words and feelings radiate outward to people you don’t know, your neighbors, your community, your world?

It’s a small but radical exercise. The anxiety I’d been feeling–what I’d tried to breathe away in yoga, what I tried to quiet in my own mind through my regular transcendental meditation practice, what I’d spoken about at length with my therapist–it dissipated. Maybe not entirely. Maybe not forever. Maybe not even until tomorrow. But I was soothed. I felt connected to my grandmother, to love, to something bigger than me.

Isn’t that what happiness feels like? Isn’t that what it really is?

Check out more Get Go ideas to trigger happiness physically and mentally.