Beginner meditators often wonder how long they should meditate. Some well-known traditions recommend anywhere from 10 – 45 minutes of meditation a day. But how many days, weeks, or months do you need to meditate to experience the benefits?
One 2018 study reported that inexperienced meditators felt significant benefits with only 13 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks, but not four weeks. Such benefits included decreases in mood disturbance, anxiety, and fatigue as well as increased attention, working memory, and recognition memory.¹
In light of this research, should you start meditating for 13 minutes a day and not expect results for two months? I don’t think so. Research informs us of studies conducted using particular methods and under certain circumstances. Future research may show us that longer meditation sessions over a long period of time achieve certain results, and that shorter meditation periods may achieve others. Many people will tell you from personal experience that 5 minutes of meditation helped them calm the mind, reduce negative thoughts, or generate creative solutions. For this reason, I believe the most important goal when you start a meditation practice is to find a way to be CONSISTENT.
Too often our expectations around how long the practice should be become a barrier to practicing at all. For instance, if you feel irritable or restless during meditation, negative self-talk may set in. “I’m not disciplined enough.” “I’m not spiritual enough.” “I just can’t meditate.” You’re more likely to experience benefits if you practice. And if you don’t practice, the benefit will be ZERO.
Developing a consistent practice of any kind is first about showing up. Pick a time of day when you’re less likely to be distracted. First thing in the morning works for many people because they’re more likely to be well rested and willpower is at its highest.
Pick a technique you can consistently practice each day for 2-3 minutes. The consensus is that sitting is preferable to reclining but there is no reason why you must sit on the floor. Many traditions recommend focusing on the breath, but for some that is too subtle. You can instead try focusing on a sound in the room such as a ticking clock or the hum of air conditioning. You could also pick a silent mantra or affirmation to repeat to yourself. You could also visualize a symbol from nature that resonates with you such as a tree or the ocean. Although it’s fine to experiment with different methods at first, sticking with one approach will help you establish a rhythm and attune to the practice. To track your progress, mark a calendar or use a meditation app with a timer.
Once meditating for 2-3 minutes becomes easy, you can slowly increase the duration. If the practice feels strenuous, drop the timing back. Remember, when you plant a seed you don’t rush out the next day to see if it has grown into a full-grown plant. Cultivating a meditation practice can take time.
If these self-guided approaches just aren’t working for you, try a guided meditation. There are lots of free options to choose from online. It may require a bit of exploration to find a recording that
works for you. But once you find it, it can make all the difference.
In my opinion there is no “right” way to meditate and no perfect duration. The best way to meditate is to meditate in a way that works FOR YOU.
If you ever feel like you’re going in circles it may be helpful to develop your meditation practice with the help of a guide or yoga therapist. I’d love to work with you through in-person yoga therapy sessions in the Fredericksburg, VA area or online on Zoom. Just let me know how I can help!
Basso, Julia C., et al. “Brief, Daily Meditation Enhances Attention, Memory, Mood, and Emotional Regulation in Non-Experienced Meditators.” Behavioural Brain Research, Elsevier, 25 Aug. 2018, accessed June 30, 2022. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016643281830322X?via%3Dihub