02/14/2012 02:08 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2014

The Health Benefits of Love: A Meditation for Deepening Connections

What's love got to do with it? If you're referring to health and well-being, then just about everything, according to the latest research. The National Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., looked at numerous studies across the U.S., Scandinavia and Japan, all concluding that intimate relationships can add years to one's life. Part of the reason, based on a study out of the State University of New York, is that when people are with their partners, their blood pressure is lower, even in relationships that aren't always happy ones. The landmark book written by three eminent psychiatrists, A General Theory of Love, adds that because we influence each other via our limbic systems, "What we do inside relationships matter more than any other aspect of human life."

So what exactly is love? Is it attachment/intimacy needs, an evolutionary drive to prolong the species, our soul's longing for meaning, hormones gone wild? Ancient philosophers, poets and contemporary psychologists don't always agree, and perhaps it's something about the nature of love itself that escapes a tidy definition. In the classic book, Colorus of Love, J.A. Lee describes six types of love that create partnerships, with the first three being the primary forces:

Eros is romantic love. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov devoted her career studying this experience, and labeled this passionate form limerence. The literal meaning is a love of beauty, and finding someone with the right "chemistry" often trumps other considerations. When we search for an ideal type of partner fueled by the longing for fulfillment, it typifies this type of love.

Ludus is a devious game, characterized by the classic "player." There may be many conquests but no commitment. While many people argue that this shadow side of human behavior has nothing to do with love, it is commonly included due to it's pervasive appearance in relationships encounters.

Storge, or what C.S. Lewis calls "Phileo," is the love between friends, a strong bond that forms when people share common interests, values or activities. While storge can develop a deep level of intimacy, it generally lacks passion.

Pragma is a practical, mutually beneficial relationship where cost/reward ratios are weighed. Pragmatic lovers think rationally about their expectations in a partner, and select them through checking off their list of required attributes. Partners sharing this orientation are often committed to working toward a common goal. In cultures where arranged marriage is practiced, this approach is very common.

• Mania is an obsessive or possessive love, jealous and extreme. Plato also said that love is a mania -- a good kind of madness. Ed Wheat, a physician and marriage counselor, describes this form of love with the Greek term Epithumia. Many times it is associated with lust, coveting and codependency. While epithumia love can draw couples closer together, the danger is an uncontrolled desire to possess or own which can ultimately damage the relationship.

Agape is a gentle, self-sacrificing, spiritual love and is relatively rare. It strives for a quality of unconditional love and sees relationship as a sacred gift. It also manifests in altruistic service to others.

While most relationships share a blend of the characteristics described above, note if there's a particular type of love relationship you value and are drawn to. And the list could go on if we include the subtle flavors of love found in other kinds of relationships: the complex sweetness between a parent and child, the heart-expanding love that arises when we are inspired, the bond between a person and their pet, the loving compassionate response toward suffering.

But what's your fate if you're not currently partnered? What if you're quite happily pursuing life adventures on your own, or recently lost someone close? While connections with others are profoundly impactful, an even deeper foundation for meaningful relationships starts with the one we have with ourselves. There is no scarcity of love: It is as close as your own heart. Whether you're seeking a relationship, deepening an already satisfying one, or simply coming to appreciate yourself more, this meditation can strengthen the love found within.

Instructions for the Meditation

If you've been following the Body/Heart/Soul Wise Meditation Series, you know that the meditation is designed to be about 10 minutes, making it easy to do anytime, anywhere. Allow a little over three minutes for each section: Body Wise, Heart Wise and Soul Wise. While the Body Wise practices are gentle, always modify any instructions to care for your physical needs. You'll need a pen and paper nearby for the Heart Wise section. Feel free to modify any aspect of the meditation, always honoring what feels appropriate in the moment. All of the meditation themes can be explored in depth, so if you happen to have more than 10 minutes, you are invited to linger.

Body Wise: Sit comfortably and bring attention to the center of your chest. Imagine a loving, warm fire glowing in your heart. Let each breath fan the fire, allowing your heart energy to be strong and steady. Now imagine the warmth of your heart traveling down your arms and into the palms of your hands. Gently rub the palms of your hands together, intensifying the sensation of warmth and loving energy found there from your heart.
Place the palms of your hands on your body, transferring your heart energy through loving touch to your forehead, neck, shoulders and arms. Replenish the heart energy into your hands with breath as needed. Now bring the loving energy to your solar plexus, belly, and lower back. Let your loving hands gently hold your thighs, knees, and feet with your heart's embrace. Now sit, letting your hands just rest at your sides, and feel a full body glow, a radiant and loving halo, around your whole body.

Heart Wise: Unfortunately, many of us didn't experience consistent and supportive love growing up. And even if we did receive what psychology would deem "good enough" parenting, as adults there continues to be a deep longing for being seen for whom we are, and being accepted as lovable as we are.

Using your paper and pen, write a letter to yourself that expresses things you wish you would have heard, or heard more often, from your main caregivers. The letter can be free form, or you can use the template below. Go with your first impressions -- it doesn't have to be long or a finished product.

Dear (Your Name),

I so appreciate the ways you _____________________________________________.
I delight in your _______________________________________________________.
I'm so sorry that I ____________________________________________­_________.
I will always remember your wonderful _____________________________________.
May you flourish in your life with loving relationships, fulfilling work, and joyous well being.
Love always,

Now read the letter again to yourself, knowing that it is a mirror of the beautiful being that you are. Be a sponge, taking in the love that is yours.

Soul Wise: Love, in its purest form, does not reside in the marketplace, a product whose size and quantity is there to be bartered. Pure love does not come with a price tag of how one should perform. It is not a chip to be earned for good behavior. Love lives beyond the formula of a "something" to give or receive. Rather, pure love is more like the sun's light that shines on all without pre-determination of worthiness. Or like air that flows in all directions at once, rather than "to" and "from." Or the shade of a tree available to everyone without a security gate that screens access. Look around you and consider that life loves itself by becoming the myriad of forms it takes. Life loves itself by living through you. Life loves itself by living though all beings.

Be open to the unexpected appearances of love in your life, and know that love is most easily recognized when we pay attention with fresh eyes and an open heart. Perhaps it will come in the form of a stranger holding open a door when your arms are full of packages, an appreciative glance from the love of your life, the sound of laughter brightening your day, or the smell of coffee in the early morning hours. And as your heart fills with these love gifts, you may find love naturally flowing outward as well from the generous nature of your heart.

Leslie Davenport is the author of the classic book on self-healing "Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery." A pioneer in the health care revolution that recognizes psychospiritual dimensions as an integral part of health, she is a founding member of the Institute for Health & Healing at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, serves on the faculty of John F. Kennedy University and is a clinical supervisor with the California Institute of Integral Studies. Visit Leslie on Red Room, where you can buy her books.

For more by Leslie Davenport, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.