I've been teaching meditation for 30 years, and I've found that the most powerful tool for healing and living a happier life is compassion.
Compassion isn't about feeling sorry for people. To truly empathize with someone else, you must develop a deep connection — no matter who they are or where they're from.
Think of it as the act of moving from judgement to caring, from isolation to connection, from indifference or dislike to understanding.
Typically, our telomeres (or DNA markers of aging) are expected to shorten throughout our lives. Their length, and the rate at which that length reduces, gives scientists a highly accurate indication of how old someone is, as well as how fast they're aging.
In 2019, scientists and psychologists at the University of North Carolina compared the length of telomeres in people who practiced "loving-kindness compassion meditations" versus those who didn't.
Incredibly, while telomere length was reduced for non-meditators, it didn't shorten at all in the loving-kindness meditation group.
Researchers have also found that meditations centered around compassion can enhance optimism and positivity, heighten stress immunity, increased activation in brain regions associated with bonding, and reduce PTSD symptoms.
Another nice benefit: It can increase your attraction levels. Studies have shown that people rate others as more desirable if they embody compassionate traits — kindness, selflessness, mindfulness, empathy — to some degree.
It makes sense, explains Eva C. Klohnen, a professor of social psychology at the University of Iowa: We're biologically wired to be drawn to people who are compassionate. We all want to be loved and understood, to be around people who have the ability to make us feel that way.
From a spiritual approach, you can train your brain to be kinder and more compassionate through meditation.
I teach a popular six-step method to help people get started. It will take a bit of practice, and it might feel weird or silly at first. But once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature.
Step 1: Bring a loved one to mind.
Take a deep breath, and on your exhale, see a loved one in front of you in the most vivid detail possible. If you're not a visual person, just sense their presence.
Internalize the feeling of compassion by tuning into the love they inspire within you. Bring awareness to your heart space, and give those feelings of love a color.
It could be pink, light blue, green — whatever comes to mind. Allow your heart to marinate in that color.
Step 2: Let the compassion encompass your body.
Let yourself go from feeling compassion for your loved one in your heart to feeling the sensations all over your body.
Feel it forming a comforting bubble around you. Try your best to find compassion for yourself. As a good friend of mine once put it: "Fill your cup first ... only then can you serve from your overflow."
Step 3: Expand compassion into the room you're in.
Take another deep breath, and as you exhale, see that bubble of compassion expanding. Imagine it growing and covering everything in the room, including people, plants, pets — no boundaries needed.
For me, it feels really good to do this while sitting up in bed next to a sleeping partner. There's something really wholesome about it.
Step 4: Send your compassion to the streets.
Now that you've got the hang of expanding compassion through a small space, you're ready to go further afield into your neighborhood.
Imagine your bubble of compassion spreading throughout your entire home first, touching anyone who lives there. Next, imagine it expanding to engulf your entire neighborhood.
Step 5: Allow compassion to encompass your city and country.
Start with your city, then expand to your entire country. For this part, I like to see a map of my city in my mind's eye that zooms out into a map of my country.
See the space beneath you as if you're flying over it in a helicopter or viewing a drone shot of it.
Step 6: Allow your compassion to envelop the Earth.
This is where things get interesting. Take a deep breath. From your country, you're going to keep sending this compassion out into your continent on the exhale.
Then make your way through every continent for each new exhale. This is the final stage of the practice that connects us not just to those closest to us, but to all of life on Earth.
If you get lost at any point, return to step one. See your loved one in front of you again, charge yourself up with love, and spread it outward again.
Vishen Lakhiani is the founder and CEO of Mindvalley, a personal growth education platform with more than two million students. He is also the author of "The 6 Phase Meditation Method," "The Buddha and the Badass: The Secret Spiritual Art of Succeeding at Work" and "The Code of the Extraordinary Mind." Follow Vishen on Twitter and Instagram.
- A Harvard nutritionist shares the No. 1 vitamin that keeps her brain 'young and healthy'—and foods she eats 'every day'
- Longevity expert shares the diet, exercise and sleep rules he lives by for a longer, stronger life: These are 'non-negotiable'
- Too much free time won't make you happier,' says psychologist—how many hours you really need in a day