Teach Teens the Loving-Kindness Meditation
During this difficult time of upheaval, when the news is focused on the pandemic, racial unrest, economic difficulties, and political divisiveness, it’s important that each of us find healthy ways to cope. Teens are definitely struggling right now with anger, stress, anxiety, and depression. Science shows that one of the most beneficial things we can do to feel better, combat stress, and become more resilient is practice a loving-kindness meditation.
Benefits of Practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation
Research in neuroscience has proven that frequent practice of a loving-kindness meditation provides numerous benefits to adolescents, including:
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and even depression
- Increases positive emotions and sense of well-being
- Improves attention, performance and concentration
- Changes the brain in ways that protect against mental illness and improve control over emotions
- Increases compassion and empathy
- Slows biological aging
- Curbs self-criticism
- Improves emotional intelligence and social connection
- Decreases chronic pain and migraines
- Improves sleep
With so many good things going for it, this meditation is certainly worth a try! Be sure to explain these benefits to your teen when encouraging them to try it.
Don’t be surprised if your teen is reluctant to try meditation – it’s a new concept and one that feels a little awkward. Instead, practice it yourself and then mention how it’s impacting your life in a positive way. Role modeling is often a more powerful encouragement for adolescents. Even if they don’t start it now, it’s something they will remember and might try at a later time in their life when they are struggling.
How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
Prepare your Body
The first thing you need to do is to get yourself in a good position to conduct the meditation. Find a quiet place. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your spine straight. Relax your whole body. Close your eyes to bring your awareness inward and avoid distractions. Take slow, deep breaths, imagining that you are breathing out (or exhaling) any stress, tension or negativity and breathing in (or inhaling) peace, wellness, and love.
Repeat three or four positive and reassuring phrases to yourself, out loud or silently in your mind, that wish good things to yourself. Common phrases that people use for the loving-kindness meditation include:
- May I be happy.
- May I be healthy.
- May I be peaceful.
- May I live with ease.
- May I be free from suffering (or pain).
You can use these phrases or you can create your own, as long as the phrases are positive, extend love, and make you feel good.
You can also imagine that someone you love very much is sending you wishes for your well-being and happiness. Feel the warm wishes and love coming from that person towards you.
The idea is that you are extending love and kindness to yourself first. You are wishing positivity in your life. Some people find this part of the meditation very easy, while others really struggle. We are often our worst critics and sometimes this part of the meditation is hard for people because they don’t actually believe they deserve happiness or peace. Stick with it and say the phrases even if they are hard. Eventually, you will find it easier to extend love to yourself.
Once you have extended love to yourself, you now offer that same love and kindness to others. Keeping your eyes closed, you bring someone to mind and tell them the same 3 or 4 phrases that you said to yourself. For example, you might think of your mother and say to her, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from suffering.” The idea is to bring people into your awareness and envision them with perfect wellness and inner peace. Send all your love and warm wishes to that person.
When doing the meditation, you should always start with bringing people to mind who you love or who are very special to you. Then, you can move on to people who are important in your life, but might not be as special, such as an extended relative or an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Move on to bring someone to mind that you don’t know as well, perhaps an acquaintance, neighbor or a coworker and repeat the same phrases to them. Finally, bring someone to mind that you don’t like or with whom you are having a conflict and wish them well.
Sending warm wishes to someone you dislike or disagree with can be very difficult. When you bring this person to mind, recognize that they are not perfect, just like you are not perfect, and that they have feelings, hopes, and suffering, just like you do. Hatred tends to divide us and make us focus on our differences. Remembering that you have things in common with someone can break those walls down and help you to extend loving-kindness to them. This process can help you reach a place of either forgiveness or greater peace.
You can also bring to mind groups of people around the world who are different from you, such as people with another political party affiliation, from a different race or ethnicity, or that practice a different type of religion. You can extend feelings of loving-kindness to people around the globe and focus on a feeling of connection and compassion.
Completing the Meditation
Take a few slow, deep breaths in and out. Notice the state of your mind and how you feel after this meditation. When you’re ready, you may open your eyes.