Loving kindness is a precept of yoga that teaches us how to resonate and be compassionate with others.[sup]1,2[/sup] By cultivating loving kindness and resonating with others—including family, friends, strangers, and even adversaries—we begin to see that we are all essentially the same, with the same desires, fears and hopes.
Understanding this, we can cope better with the ravages of stress and the chaos in our lives.[sup]3[/sup] We feel less isolated from others. On the other hand, lack of compassion, stress, and isolation are major risk factors known to increase the mortality rate and exacerbate the symptoms of many chronic illnesses, such as coronary heart disease.[sup]4[/sup]
But, how do we cultivate kindness and compassion? Some learn it from those who lack it;[sup]5[/sup] others from those who practice it; others from books or audio CDs;[sup]6[/sup] and others by participating in yoga classes that embrace the humanistic principles of yoga more than its physical aspects. Yoga comprises a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to strengthen the body, clarify the mind, and to cultivate empathy.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is another modality for reducing our risk of disease. The MBSR program was established at the University of Massachusetts in 1997.[sup]7[/sup] Extensively researched, MBSR and loving kindness have been shown to reduce stress by inducing beneficial changes in the structure and function of the brain—changes that enhance attentiveness, information processing, and control of emotions.[sup]8[/sup] Such changes are analogous to the effects of physical workouts that increase muscle mass and strength.
Given its healthful effect in preventing, reversing, or ameliorating the symptoms of many stress-related conditions,[sup]9[/sup] MBSR classes are now offered in over 200 sites around the world. MBSR encompasses mindfulness meditation and yoga.
What keeps individuals from embracing mindfulness and loving kindness meditation? Yoga and other Eastern practices are suffused with Hindu, Buddhist, and Sanskrit terminology—terminology that may be confusing or frightening to some. Others associate yoga with a religious practice that may defile their form of worship. This is not the case.
There is no doubt that loving kindness and MBSR, when practiced in tandem with each other, are well-documented, adjunct modalities for the treatment of many stress-related illnesses. They are practices now recognized by the medical community that can help not only those suffering from stress-related conditions, but also those striving to live a happier and healthier life.
Jaime Carlo-Casellas, Ph.D. is a Stress Management Specialist, a Certified Life Coach, a Registered Yoga Instructor, and founding director of the Stress Management & Prevention Center in Rancho Mirage. For more information, visit www.stressprevention.org.
Resource: 1) Carlo-Casellas, Jaime: Pratyaahvaya Yoga – The Yoga of Resonance and Compassion. LA Yoga, Feb. 2010. 2) Hartranft, Chip: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Shambhala, Boston, 2003. 3) Carlo-Casellas, Jaime: Chaos & Bliss—A Journey to Happiness. BookSurge, Charleston, 2008. 4) Brummett, Beverly H, et al: Characteristics of Socially Isolated Patients with Coronary Artery Disease Who are at Elevated Risk for Mortality, Psychosomatic Medicine 63 (2): 63:267–272. 5) Phillips, Christopher: Socrates in Love. New York and London, 2007. 6) Carnegie, Dale: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1937. 7) Jonas, W, ed: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: A meditation technique that promotes relaxation through the nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment sensations, experiences, and reactions. In Mosby’s Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Elsevier. Amsterdam, 2005. 8) Begley, Sharon: Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. Ballantine, New York, 2007. 9) McGonical, Kelly: Healing the Whole Person. Shambhala Sun, Jan. 2011.