Loving-kindness meditation teaches how to nurture kindness for yourself and others, and is shown to help with depression symptoms.

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Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) teaches you how to be unconditionally kind to yourself and to others. Studies show LKM can help reduce symptoms of depression and strengthen positive emotions.

In many ways, LKM is like other meditation practices. You take time to focus on your breath and thoughts. There’s a slightly different goal, however, when compared to other practices. With LKM you’re trying to direct kindness to the world.

LKM has its roots in Buddhist practice. It’s sometimes called metta meditation. It can take many forms, but the core elements involve creating an attitude of unconditional kindness toward oneself and others.

LKM often involves the repetition of mantras that focus on well-being. In some practices, one begins by focusing on the self for a period of time, then on a loved one, then on others for whom one feels less direct affection, and finally on all beings.

LKM shares many elements with other types of meditation like sitting or walking quietly and remaining free from distraction.

Its focus on cultivating kindness is what makes it different. Mindfulness meditation, for example, centers on focusing on the present moment, which may be emphasized less in LKM.

Researchers have begun to study the effects of LKM and the results are promising.

A 2015 literature review found that LKM enhanced positive emotions. But the authors concluded more in-depth research was necessary to define the psychological processes at work that made it effective.

There’s newer empirical evidence that shows LKM may help people living with mental health conditions.

A 2021 clinical trial compared LKM to group cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for veterans living with PTSD. The reduction of PTSD symptoms was similar, although modest, in both groups. The LKM group experienced a greater reduction in depressive symptoms than the CPT group.

A 2021 study of people with depression found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in combination with LKM improved depressive symptoms and quality of life.

Even if you have no experience with meditation, it’s easy to get started with LKM. A simple practice technique involves the use of imagery and a few simple mantras. If you like, you can start off slow with just a few minutes a day.

The practice of LKM doesn’t require any special equipment but a quiet space and a set amount of time.

For example, the guided meditation created by Emma Seppala, PhD, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, takes about 15 minutes. And the practice developed by meditation teacher and author Jack Kornfield, PhD, draws on imagery and words to evoke positive feelings.

To practice LKM, you can start with these steps:

Step 1: Sit in a quiet place

Ease yourself into a comfortable position. Breathe slowly for a few minutes.

Step 2: Focus on yourself

Recite these or similar phrases:

  • “May I be filled with loving-kindness.”
  • “May I be well in body and mind.”
  • “May I be at ease and happy.”

As you recite these phrases, hold an image of yourself in your mind. It can be a picture of who you are now, or who you were at another time in your life. Direct the feelings of loving-kindness toward yourself.

Kornfield recommends focusing on yourself for several weeks of meditation until you feel a greater sense of self-love. Then, you can move on to other people.

Step 3: Think about others

Start with a beloved person for whom you feel deep affection. Kornfield names this person as “the benefactor,” or someone who has shown you care.

Recite the same phrases you had directed at yourself, but now directed at this person:

  • “May you be filled with loving-kindness.”
  • “May you be well in body and mind.”
  • “May you be at ease and happy.”

The purpose of LKM is to cultivate loving feelings. So, you can change the order of these steps. Some people, for example, are more comfortable starting with a focus on a beloved person than themselves.

You can expand your practice to send love to neutral people, for whom you have no particular feelings, and then to the entire world. Seppala recommends picturing the globe as a tiny ball when you take this last step.

LKM is one option for you to start a meditation practice. It can also help reduce symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression and PTSD.

Here are a few practical tips to get started with meditation practice:

  • Start small. Keep your meditation sessions to 5 minutes or less, then build up slowly to 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Keep a schedule. Choose a regular time to try to meditate each day.
  • Find a quiet place. You don’t need a meditation “room” to do the job. Your bedroom, closet, or even bathroom can work.
  • Sit comfortably. Arrange yourself in a comfortable seated position that allows you to focus and relax.
  • Be kind to yourself. LKM often starts with kindness toward oneself. Do as much as you can, but don’t worry if you can’t sit still, feel distracted, or otherwise don’t meet your own expectations. Whatever you can do is fine.

Before you get started with LKM, you can try some 1-minute mindfulness exercises to get into the habit.

If you’re not sure what kind of meditation is right for you, check out PsychCentral’s picks for the best online guided meditation options.