I find myself revisiting a metta meditation often these days. It’s a word and ritual I learned long ago, when I first started practicing yoga.

I learned the concept by first learning a Sanskrit mantra: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. This essentially means, “may all beings everywhere be safe, nourished, protected, and loved. And may my actions contribute to the wellbeing and happiness of all.”

This was my first experience with the concept of metta—the practice of sending positive energy and kindness toward yourself and others—and I think it sums up the expression of the word in such a beautiful way.

During any challenging time, this is a practice we can benefit from, to cultivate more peace and ease within and around us.

Metta is a traditional Buddhist practice where it is taught that, no matter what is going on, we can cultivate an attitude of kindness and friendliness.

There are a number of ways to define the word metta, but (like many words in the English language) defining it isn’t so simple. The concept can’t be filtered through and formalized into one word because it’s more of an experience.

That said, metta is referred to as the practice of loving-kindness, and it only comes alive when we extend it.

If you look at the dictionary definition of loving-kindness, it says it’s tender and benevolent affection or a feeling or disposition of deep affection for someone. How, then, does this become a practice?

To bring metta to life, we use it in combination with a mantra—a word or phrase, and meditation, or a mindfulness practice. The other element is extending this mantra to ourselves, to someone we have an intimate relationship with, to an acquaintance or someone we don’t know, to someone we struggle with, and to all beings, even animals.

You can choose any wish: If there’s something you are working through or something someone else is struggling with, you can let that inspire your phrase.

Commonly used mantras are, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe.” Then you use the same wording as you rotate through the meditation, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.” You can use one phrase or many and you can change the wording if you like.

Before we look at how to incorporate this practice into your everyday life, I invite you to consider another definition of metta: goodwill.

This definition allows you to not only share love, kindness, and happiness to yourself and others, but you can share any sentiment that allows someone else to tap into their own inner strength and wisdom.

‘Goodwill’ can sometimes feel like a more realistic goal. Our words, grounded in integrity, can share kindness with all. We recognize that sending positive energy to others is effective and we’re not responsible for other people’s happiness. We are all responsible for our own. So goodwill helps us use this practice in a way where we wish for others to find ease because of their own wisdom and actions.

Regardless of whether we are thinking of metta as more of a feeling of loving-kindness or of goodwill, this meditation practice, done regularly, can have a variety of positive benefits.

A metta meditation can help us to regulate our nervous system; as we slow down, pause, and take a moment for reflection, we reduce the input of stress.

We reduce negative thoughts, naturally calming our breathing.

Mental and emotional stress can make physical pain worse, so more restorative practices, like metta, allow our body a chance to step out of the pain-loop response.
When we start to physiologically calm our bodies, anxiety can soften, our mood can elevate, and we also strengthen our empathic skills.

One of the most powerful aspects to this practice, though, is how it can strengthen self-compassion.

There is so much we can not control outside of us. The only thing we can truly control is ourselves, our responses, and our well-being. When we can love and respect ourselves first, we can offer that same kind of love and respect to those around us.

When we can love ourselves for who we are and quiet the critical voice inside, we begin to cultivate self-worth. The power starts to build from the inside out.

When we can release the judgment toward ourselves, we stop judging others and get curious instead. With curiosity, we can experience life with a more reflective, kind, and patient perspective.

As you embark on your metta journey, it’s important to remember it starts with you. Continue to practice sending loving-kindness your way and begin this practice sending your goodwill mantra to yourself first.

Also, be patient with yourself along the way.

Experiment with words and phrases that resonate for you. You can always change them. There is no right or wrong way and you can always rotate through the people, beings, and situations you are working with in this practice.

You can play with what time of day you do this meditation, where you do it, and even what position your body is in. Often we do meditation seated in stillness, but we can practice metta in a moving meditation way (perhaps during a walk or while doing sun salutations), sending your dedication with each one you do.

Here is an easy way to begin if you are new to metta meditation or if you need a gentle reminder.

You will use the same phrase or phrases for all beings involved in your meditation. You can repeat them to yourself as many times as you would like before moving on to the next. You can also exchange your words and phrases with others. Traditionally, “May I be” has been used, but use the phrase that feels authentic to you. And before you begin, be sure to set yourself up with support and comfort in preparation.

Here is one script idea to follow:

To yourself:
May I be . . . .  (happy)
May I be . . . . (safe)
May I be . . . . (healthy)

Tip: If you struggle with sending loving-kindness to yourself, think of a version of you from another time/age, and send it to yourself that way.

To someone close/someone you love:
May you be . . . .  (happy)
May you be . . . . (safe)
May you be . . . . (healthy)

Tip: Imagine this person is next to you and feel what it feels like to share this loving-kindness with them.

To someone neutral:
May you be . . . (happy)
May you be . . . (safe)
May you be . . . (healthy)

Tip: This person can be someone you interact with but don’t know well, like an acquaintance, neighbor, postal delivery worker, or even a stranger.

To someone you have negative feelings about:
May you be . . . (happy)
May you be . . . (safe)
May you be . . . (healthy)

Tip: This can often be the most challenging. If you are having a hard time, you might imagine them physically further away from you or imagine them as a child.

To all beings everywhere:
May you be . . . (happy)
May you be . . . (safe)
May you be . . . (healthy)

Tip: Envision the whole planet, if you can. I like to imagine the world in the palms of my hands when I do this.

Remember, you can use your imagination and don’t forget to take a few deep breaths in each one.

Cultivating love, kindness, compassion, goodwill, happiness, gratitude, etc. for ourselves and for others is like strength-training our muscles—it takes time and repetition.

Sharon Salzburg, author and teacher of Buddhist meditation, says metta practice requires us to push back against our own assumptions, judgements, prejudices, criticism, and labels toward ourselves and others.

I believe, once you build the fire in your own heart and it is burning bright, you can share that warmth and connection with others. You end up sharing your heart. And that is the magic of this practice.

Guest post by studio BE Facilitator Lynette Suchar

Lynette Suchar has been teaching yoga classes, workshops, retreats, festivals, and trainings for almost 15 years in Mexico and Canada.She did her foundational training with Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini and is a certified restorative yoga teacher with Judith Hanson Lasater, yin with Bernie Clark, and trauma-informed/children/prenatal yoga nidra with Brenda Feuerstein. Most recently she has been studying Traditional Chinese Medicine with Tiffany Cruikshank. She specializes in restoration practices, trainings, and mentorships to help calm and retrain the nervous system.

studio BE Facilitator Lynette Suchar