How Metta Meditation Makes You Happier

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Relaxing meditation in the forrest

Do you sometimes get up in the morning and feel down or weak for no reason? 

There are many possible reasons for this. If it happens once, there’s no need to worry if it becomes a chronic condition, however, you should do something about it.

Meditation is a great way to deal with and resolve such mood lows effectively. 

In this guest post by Marbod Kindermann, we will introduce you to Metta Meditation. Marbod has a degree in mechanical engineering, but he dived further and further explored different techniques such as meditation, nutrition, breathing, biohacking, and stress management over the last decade. He also earned a certification with MovNat, and teaches classes on NeuroMeditation, Natural Movement, cold stimulation, and various breathing techniques.

Metta Meditation is a form of meditation that lets you cultivate positive emotions like lightness, joy, compassion, and positive thinking. We will explain what happens in your brain during Metta Meditation and how this training changes the brain’s functioning sustainably. 

Finally, you’ll get practical guidance and tips on how to get started as beginner.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Metta Meditation?

Metta Meditation is a form of meditation taught in Buddhism that focuses attention on specific emotions. It is also known as the meditation of “Loving-Kindness”. In this type of meditation, you try to cultivate compassion, self-love, and connection to other living beings through various techniques, and – very importantly – to feel them yourself!

Metta Meditation: What Happens in the Brain?

Studies and comparative measurements show that different brain areas are involved when you experience positive emotions — for example, the right insular lobe and the left hemisphere of your brain. The measurements also show that the left hemisphere is less active when you feel depressed or are in a bad mood. 

After only a few minutes of metta meditation, it’s measurable that the brain’s left hemisphere is more active and that positive emotions show up. This effect lasts even after the meditation and remains noticeable: you feel how your mood improved even after the meditation.

How Neuroplasticity Changes Your Brain

To understand why you should practice metta meditation in your daily life and improve your mood, you must first understand how the brain works. Your brain follows principles similar to those of a muscle. It is plastic in its functioning and changes by the way you use it.

For example, if you use your brain regularly for mental arithmetic, you’ll memorize your grocery list faster and without an app. The same is true for positive emotions: If you think positively regularly, your brain increases the number of connections in your brain that facilitate these thought processes. Simply put, your brain notices how you use it and then makes it easier for you to continue to use it in this way.

The more often you think positively, the easier it will be for you to see the positive in any situation (no matter how challenging). Your brain gets “rewired”, and you develop a positive attitude towards life.

Scientific studies in brain scans have already measured this behavior after an 8-week program. In these studies, subjects either meditated or did mindful movement exercises five times a week for 45 minutes. (Source)

Metta Meditation Guide

Meditating outside

Mentally exercising your brain sounds more strenuous at first than it actually is. To help you get started, here are instructions for a successful Metta Meditation:

  • Get into a comfortable sitting position (preferred). Alternatively, you can lie down.
  • First, focus on your body and your awareness. 
  • Close your eyes.
  • Concentrate on your breath and feel your natural breathing rhythm.
  • Take a few deep breaths and feel how you become more relaxed with each breath.
  • Now normalize your breath.
  • Imagine breathing directly into your heart center and keep your focus on this region. While doing so, place your hand on your heart and feel the warmth that arises on your skin.
  • Recall a situation in which you felt completely safe. Imagine the scene as accurately as possible and relive it. Try to feel what you felt and experienced in the situation and try to use all your senses: Were you alone or with other people? What did you see, smell, taste, and hear? 
  • Visualize how you strengthen the pleasant feeling in your heart with each breath. Feel free to imagine it as a glowing ball of energy that shines brighter with each breath.
  • Let the warm light flow from your heart to all the limbs of your body.
  • If you get lost in your thoughts, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Do not try to turn off all thoughts since it’s impossible and counterproductive to your meditation session.

This type of meditation is very visual and hence challenging for some beginners. If you have difficulty relaxing and “letting go” during metta meditation, you should try mantras. These give your brain something to do and make it easier to stay focused.

Instead of a memory, you can also work well with images from your imagination. Maybe you’re standing in awe on a mountain, lying in the sun on a beach, or looking at a breathtaking starry sky. The only important thing is that you manage to feel the emotions over time and not just think them.

You will find with time that blocking out a fixed time to meditate is beneficial for your success. If you meditate regularly, your mood will be much better throughout the day.

It’s a fact that you’ll get to benefit most from metta meditation when you’re in a lousy mood. Yet, this is precisely when it will be most difficult for you to develop positive feelings. To avoid getting into such a situation in the first place, you should establish a meditation routine.

Metta Meditation Routine

Calm person in busy streets

Meditating regularly is not easy. That’s why we put together some beginner’s tips to help you meditate regularly:

  • Be patient with yourself. All beginnings are challenging, and only through regular practice will you find it easier to immerse yourself in meditation.
  • Regularity is more important than duration. Meditate for 10 minutes every day rather than once a week for an hour.
  • Use mudras and mantras.
  • Do not try to shut down your thoughts completely.
  • Clarify your personal WHY. This will motivate you to meditate even in difficult times.
  • Recall the many benefits of meditation for your body and mind.
  • Define fixed times when to meditate.
  • Don’t be disappointed or depressed if you miss a meditation session. Make sure to not get off track completely.
  • Your brain cannot distinguish between reality and imagination. You can take advantage of this. Start smiling even if you don’t feel good yet. This will improve your mood, and the smile will feel more natural after a few minutes.

A beneficial tip is neurolinguistic programming (NLP). NLP uses so-called anchors, for example, to get back to calm from a stress reaction. You can also use this technique during Metta Meditation. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Begin your metta meditation (see above for instructions).
  • At the peak of the meditation (when the emotions are most intense), try to amplify the feelings as best you can and experience them with all your senses: How does it feel in the body? How does it feel in the center of your heart? How does it feel in the abdomen?.
  • Now set the emotional anchor in this state, i.e., a stimulus that you can easily recall in everyday life. This can be a melody that you hum, a picture that you call to your mind, or simply the pressure of thumb and index finger on each other. 
  • Used regularly enough, you can then evoke positive emotions and feel good “at the push of a button”. Whenever you want to improve your mood during your day, you can trigger the programmed stimulus. 

You should, however, use the anchor positively often enough and not trigger it exclusively under challenging situations. Otherwise, you might rewire your brain to the negative emotions.

When Is Metta Meditation Not Right for Me?

Studies show that Metta Meditation might be an unsuitable meditation style when participants have active depression. Since Metta Meditation is very intense, everyone can’t get into the right mood with the techniques described above. This can make the positive thoughts feel a step too far away or even impossible to reach.

In this case, it is advisable to resort to other styles of meditation. In the case of active depression or strong-negative thought loops, we recommend focus meditations. This involves narrowing your attention very much and focusing on one thing for minutes at a time. For example, you can focus on your nostrils while breathing.

This targeting of attention activates your prefrontal cortex (i.e., the front hemisphere of the brain, as is the case with positive emotions) and trains your ability to direct your own perceptions actively. (Source)

Conclusion

Metta meditation is a great tool to go through life with more optimism, a more positive mood and understanding, and connectedness with other people. If you manage to cultivate positive emotions in meditation with a suitable routine regularly, you will change the way your brain works in the long term. Our instructions and tips here will help you get started with this technique.

Picture of guest author

Guest post by Marbod Kindermann

NeuroMeditation Instructor, Retreat Organizer

Find out more: https://www.marbodkindermann.de/

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