Learn how to stretch your mindfulness to new places with this loving-kindness meditation to improve all the relationships in your life.
Your heart is a muscle, and just like any other, you have to work it out to keep it strong. (And by that, we don't mean heart rate-boosting cardio, though that helps too.)
Whether you're "training" your heart for romantic love, #selflove, or food love, the best way to flex those heart-warming muscles is with meditation. (And if food-love is your jam, this guide on how to eat mindfully is key.)
Though there are several different types of meditation, this open-heart practice utilizes mindfulness meditation, which is all about focusing on the physical sensation of the breath, says Lodro Rinzler, author of Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken and co-founder of MNDFL, a meditation studio in New York City. "It's all about coming back, over and over again, to the present moment." (Here's why everyone is hyped up about mindfulness.)
This practice is beneficial to all the relationships in your life—even those that fly under the radar. Open-heart and loving-kindness meditations can help you develop vulnerability, patience, and empathy, and have a humanizing effect on everyone you cross paths with, says Patricia Karpas, founder of the Meditation Studio app. (Check out these 17 other magical health benefits of meditation.)
The more you train your mindfulness, the more you're able to show up for all the people in your life and be fully present and authentic when you're with them (whether that's a first date, dinner with our long-time spouse, or at work with a complete stranger), says Rinzler. "It's a bit like taking the heart to the gym; you experiment with opening our heart to people you like, people you don't know very well, and even people you don't get along with."
And while it has benefits for your everyday life, this kind of meditation can help you prep for big moments, too—like having difficult conversations or surviving a fight—says Karpas. "An open-hearted conversation sometimes means just radically accepting another's point of view and moving on." (Kind of like when you're sitting at the dinner table with your uncle who is a "yuuuge" Trump supporter.)
Here, Rinzler guides you through an open-heart meditation that not only explores your relationship with someone you love, but also with someone you may have a conflict with—whether that's an ex, a family member, or a boss you butt heads with on the regular. (Need some auditory guidance? Try the audio below for an Opening the Heart meditation by Elisha Goldstein and the Meditation Studio app.)
Open Heart Guided Meditation
1. Take three deep breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
2. Bring to mind the image of someone you love dearly. Make it visceral—think about how they normally dress, the way they smile, and the way they do their hair; all aspects about him or her.
3. Soften your heart toward this person and repeat a simple aspiration: "May you enjoy happiness and be free from suffering." As you repeat this phrase, you might contemplate, "What does that look like for this person?" "What would make him or him happy today?" Keep coming back to the aspiration itself, and at the end of five minutes let the visualization dissolve.
4. Bring to mind the image of someone you don't necessarily get along with. Sit with that image for a minute, letting judgmental thoughts go. Then begin to list positive things that this person desires. At the end of each thing, add three magic words: "just like me." For example: "Sam wants to be happy...just like me." or "Sam wants to feel desired...just like me." Hopefully that will illicit some form of empathy for this person.
5. Then, move on to other areas that might be less easy to accept: "Sam lies at times...just like me," or "Sam was totally arrogant...just like me," or "Sam slept with someone he shouldn't have...just like me." Maybe you haven't been arrogant for weeks or slept with someone inappropriate in years. But if you've ever done these things or something else you aren't necessarily proud of, just own that fact for a moment. Sit with it. After a few minutes of contemplating ways that this person is just like you, drop the contemplation, raise your gaze toward the horizon, and rest your mind. Rest with whatever feelings have emerged. (Need to let out some anger? Try this NSFW anger meditation that makes it okay for your mind to have zero filter.)
If you're just learning how to meditate, it might take some practice to calm your mind and focus on just one thing (because, let's be honest, our brains usually have about 10,000 tabs open). But the best part is that you literally can't do meditation wrong. According to Rinzler, the only possible mistake you can make is "judging yourself harshly. That's it."