Building resilience with loving kindness meditation

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Body Project Blog, Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

The Buddhist practice of Metta (Loving Kindness) can nourish, strengthen and energize you during difficult times.

In the Alexander technique we use directional thoughts to expand and open the body (Neck to be free, to allow my head to move forward and up, to allow my back to lengthen and widen…etc). These directions can be viewed as a physical embodiment of the energy of Metta. I’ve written more about this here:

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To practice Metta let your mind descend into your heart. Repeat the following four phrases to your self. Imagine radiating the messages from your heart through your whole body. Observe the physical manifestations of these thoughts. Allow the phrases to become personal. If an image or sense memory comes up go with that.

  • May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm (neck to be free)
  • May I be peaceful and happy (head floating up)
  • May I be healthy and strong (back lengthening and widening)
  • May I navigate the world with skill. May I take care of myself with skill. (Arms and Legs release away from torso)

Note that these phrases are wishes not affirmations. Insisting that you are safe in a dangerous world might bring up disbelief. If negative feelings are triggered, that’s also normal. You can either note the emotions and return to the phrases, or apply R.A.I.N. That is (R = recognize what is going on and name it. A = allow the emotions to be without amplifying or suppressing. I = investigate the story lines around the emotions. N = nurture your self and non-identify.)

It’s very beneficial to spend a long time practicing loving kindness directed towards your self – something our culture does not encourage. Self compassion is often confused with narcissism. You may also send the loving kindness energy to a mentor, a friend, an acquaintance and a difficult person (don’t start with your biggest enemy, choose someone who is mildly annoying at first), and then expand the loving kindness to all beings everywhere.

If you enjoyed the practices, some other names to look for are Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodrun and Tara Brach among many many others. Or, find an Alexander Technique teacher in your area, and experience what it’s like to move in the world with more energy, resilience and strength.

the eleven benefits of loving kindness meditation

  1. You will sleep easily
  2. You will wake easily
  3. You will have pleasant dreams
  4. People will love you
  5. Devas (gods or angels) and animals will love you
  6. Devas will protect you
  7. External dangers, such as poisons, weapons, and fire, will not harm you
  8. Your face will be radiant
  9. Your mind will be serene
  10. You will die unconfused
  11. You will be re-born in happy realms

This is big stuff, regardless of whether you believe in angels or reincarnation.

Having good sleep, pleasant dreams, a radiant face and a serene mind, all sound pretty great to me.

Scientific research into the benefits of loving kindness (Metta) practice shore up at least a few of these claims. Researchers have found that regular loving kindness meditation can:

    • Lower stress — self perceived, behavioral and physiological.
    • Enhance immunity
    • Increase behaviors that enhance social connectedness.
    • Increase happiness

Here’s a decent popular science article with links to studies: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kripalu/loving-kindness-meditation_b_3961300.html

I’d be curious to know about the effects of loving kindness practices on sleep.

Maybe someday I’ll get back into the lab and study the effects of Metta practice on neck tension, breath, and posture.

 

Metta Meditation & Alexander Technique

Invariably, at some point during the semester, one of my MFA acting students shows up in an Alexander Technique tutorial and says, “I need to learn to meditate.”

I can’t argue with them.

It wasn’t until I learned Metta (Loving kindness)Meditation  that I developed sufficient self-compassion to look at my habits without falling into an unproductive state of shame.

It wasn’t until I began watching my thoughts in Vipassana (Insight) meditation that I gained an inkling into what it might mean to, “not do, not try, not care.”

Meditation gives me the skill to work with my thoughts. Alexander Technique takes these processes to the next step, and looks at the embodiment of thought – but that’s another essay.

For now, I want to talk about how Metta meditation can help you free your neck and expand your body.

Here’s the Metta practice:

May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
May I be peaceful and happy
May I be healthy and strong
May I be at ease with the conditions of my life

Traditionally you direct these thoughts to yourself, then a mentor or benefactor, then a dear friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, and then the circle can be expanded out to all beings everywhere.

Metta creates the inner climate that allows the neck muscles to release – although please note this is my idea, and has nothing to do with traditional Alexander Technique teachings.

The Metta phrases and the Alexander Technique directions can reinforce each other when thought one after the other. For example:

Metta (M): May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
Alexander Technique (AT): Allow my neck to be free

Isn’t neck tension the first thing that happens when we feel threatened? A free neck is almost synonymous with safety.

(M): May I be peaceful and happy
(AT): Allow my head to balance forward and up

Isn’t a poised head the physical expression of peace? I’m imagining a Buddha statue.

(M): May I be healthy and strong
(AT): Allow my back to lengthen and widen

Isn’t an open back that allows the free movement of breath and the decompression of organ systems the expression of “health?”

(M): May I be at ease with the conditions in my life
(AT): Allow my legs to release away from my hip joints, and my shoulders to expand to the sides

Isn’t physical expansion the gesture of ease?

You don’t need to say all the words in the Metta phrases. You can generate the feeling of Metta and project the Alexander Technique directions simultaneously. I encourage you to experiment.

There’s a bi-directional loop between body positions and emotions. We can create the feeling tone of safety, peace, health and ease, from the mind down and from the body up.