Use of loving-kindness meditation in counseling

Leppma, M. (2012). Loving-Kindness Meditation and Counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34 (3), 197. Full text.

Excerpts: Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a type of mindfulness-based meditation that emphasizes caring and connection with others. LKM incorporates nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, which enhances attention, presence, acceptance, and self-regulation; it also entails directing caring feelings toward oneself and then others and emphasizes both self-care and interconnectedness. Thus, LKM is suitable for helping clients forge healthy connections with themselves and others. This article examines the use and implications of LKM in counseling.

This article describes ways in which mental health counselors can infuse loving-kindness (metta, Sans.) principles into their work. These principles coincide with the general goals of counseling. Metta principles can also help counselors to foster a positive therapeutic alliance by increasing empathy, wellness, presence, and positive emotions. More than 30 years of research in mindfulness [meditation] and burgeoning research in loving-kindness and compassion provide solid support for using these principles in counseling.

Loving-kindess practice may improve longevity

Hoge, E. A., et al. (2013). Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice Associated with Longer Telomeres in Women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Published online.

From the Abstract: Relatively short telomere length may serve as a marker of accelerated aging, and shorter telomeres have been linked to chronic stress. Specific lifestyle behaviors that can mitigate the effects of stress might be associated with longer telomere lengths. Previous research suggests a link between behaviors that focus on the well-being of others, such as volunteering and caregiving, and overall health and longevity. We examined relative telomere length in a group of individuals experienced in Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM), a practice derived from the Buddhist tradition which utilizes a focus on unselfish kindness and warmth towards all people, and control participants who had done no meditation.

Blood was collected by venipuncture, and Genomic DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes. Quantitative real time PCR was used to measure relative telomere length (RTL) in fifteen LKM practitioners and 22 control participants. There were no significant differences in age, gender, race, education, or exposure to trauma, but the control group had a higher mean body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of past depression. The LKM practitioners had longer RTL than controls at the trend level (p=.083); among women, the LKM practitioners had significantly longer RTL than controls, (p=.007), which remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression.

Although limited by small sample size, these results offer the intriguing possibility that LKM practice, especially in women, might alter RTL, a biomarker associated with longevity.

Helps develop loving-kindness

Hunsinger, M., Livingston, R., & Isbell, L. (2012). The impact of loving kindness meditation on affective learning and cognitive control. [Abstract]. Mindfulness. Published online July.

Research on meditation has examined many variables across a wide range of techniques. Research on loving-kindness meditation has investigated its impact on affective variables, but has not yet investigated its impact on cognition. The present study investigated the impact of loving-kindness meditation on an affective variable not yet examined in the literature—affective learning—as well as cognition. Participants were randomly assigned to a control condition or a three-session, loving-kindness meditation training. Our results suggest that the beginning stages of loving-kindness meditation training impact the tendency to learn to associate positivity with neutral stimuli and cognitive control.

Brain changes in ‘loving kindness’ meditators

Leung, M.K., et al. (2012). Increased gray-matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators. [Abstract]. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. Published online. Full text.

Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation, namely, loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3T MRI scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years.

Compared with novices, more gray-matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural difference associated with meditation and its specific role in theory of mind and cognitive empathy suggest the uniqueness of this finding to LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety, and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM.

Overall, the findings of our study suggest that the experience with LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.