In this post I will try to answer two questions.
- How often do you need to meditate? Do you only meditate when you don’t feel good (stressed, anxious, worried or sad)? Or you need to do it regularly no matter how you feel?
- When you do meditate, how long do you need to do it?
Let’s begin with question #1.
How often to meditate?
Question: How often do you need to meditate? Can you meditate only on a per need basis?
You can choose to meditate only when you feel not so good.
One of the immediate effect of meditation is that of relaxation. Although not always guaranteed, meditation tends to induce relaxation. In fact, some scientists, won’t name the practice ‘meditation’. They would rather call it ‘relaxation response’.
You are familiar with stress response. When you feel stressed, the physical response is that of increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and overall increased excitation or agitation.
When you meditate, the physical response is exactly opposite of the stress response. Your heart rate reduces, your blood pressure and your metabolic rate reduce. You feel relaxed!
If you are having trouble relaxing or you find yourself tensing up, you can definitely use meditation as needed basis.
But that is not the main benefit of meditation. Relaxation is just a side benefit of meditation.
The main benefit of meditation is achieved through re-wiring the brain. With meditation, some neural pathways in the brain are strengthened and others are weakened.
And re-wiring of the brain can only be achieved through a repetitive process. You have to repeatedly engage your brain in a particular way in order to change the structure of the brain. And you have to sustain the repetitions if you want to sustain the change!
Which is why in order to get the most benefits of meditation, it has to be done repeatedly and regularly.
The obvious next question is how much of repetition or how frequently do you need to meditate?
When it comes to meditation the research is still in its beginning stages. There aren’t a lot of data available to answer these questions with a very high degree of confidence.
But based on the research available so far there are some indications that are available to answer this question.
In general, more you can repeat meditation practice better it is. But I understand we all have a finite amount of time available so that is not a helpful answer.
It is very helpful to meditate at least 6 times a week. Which means you can probably skip a day here or there, but otherwise the recommendation is to meditate pretty much every day.
More times you can meditate each day, the better it is, but try to do it at least once.
Let us talk about the question #2.
How long to meditate?
Question: When you actually meditate, how long should the session be.
Before we go there, let me mention that there are two ways you can practice meditation.
- Formal practices.
- Informal practices.
These two ways are not mutually exclusive. They are actually complementary. Either of them is a valid way on its own.
But here, I am referring to formal meditation practice. In a separate article we will cover informal practices.
When you look at the available scientific data, in order to have the most amount of benefits like
- Improved immunity.
- Faster healing response.
- Improved working memory.
- Improved problem solving skills.
- Slowed aging.
- Reduced stress, anxiety and improved concentration,
…you need to meditate for 45 minutes a stretch!
Too long, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But meditation works by dose response More you do more benefits you get.
There are some scientific trials, where even as short as 10 minutes of daily meditation reduced stress and improved concentration.
Given all this there are two ways to approach this question of how long should you try to meditate each day.
- Go for the moonshot.
- Take a gradual approach.
Going for the moonshot
It is understandable you don’t have any extra time in your life. None of us have. Anything you want to do, you have to make time.
If you look back at your life, what you really value and prioritize you make time for that.
You are always crunched for time. But if you really believe in something or if you really prioritize something you will make time for that.
If you are new to meditation, you may not believe so much in meditation. You may have plenty of doubts. That is completely normal.
I suggest you have a healthy amount of skepticism. You just don’t want to be completely closed nor credulous.
If you want to experience the most benefits of meditation, you have to reach to a level of 45 minutes per session. And if you give it a try from the get go you might be able to just do it.
That is the moonshot way. Just aim for the max amount right from the get go. Don’t think you can’t do. Unless you try it you don’t know.
Let’s say you gave it a sincere try and found that you just couldn’t do it, then you can go for the gradual approach.
The gradual approach
Remember, it is not quite black and white. It is not as if you didn’t practice 45 minute session you won’t experience the benefits. But 45 minutes is the reference that was used in many clinical trials where people experienced the above listed benefits.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who ran the pain clinic at UMass and the Center for Mindfulness worked with thousands of patients with a variety of problems for over 35 years.
They experimented with various combinations of numbers of days and meditation session lengths and this is the recommendation they came up with, as it was the most effective.
45 minute long single meditation done daily, at least 6 times a week.
Whatever meditative path you choose, this should be your ultimate goal.
Now if this recommendation completely turns you off, or makes you want to run away from meditation, I would suggest you consider the gradual path.
Remember, in some cases as short as 10 minutes of meditation was found to be beneficial.
With gradual path, the recommendation is to start with 15 minute daily sessions.
Why 15 minutes? I’ve found that to be something large number of people are able to start at and quickly reach to 30 minute session.
If you sit for 15 minutes you think that’s too much start with 10 minutes or 5 minutes or even 1 minute!! Yes, what’s more important is that you get started. If you are able to get a regular practice going, even with 1 minute that counts.
Sound like a defeatist attitude? It is not. Meditation is a very forgiving and practical practice, as long as you are patient with it.
You are used to quick fixes. Quick fixes are appealing. That’s how modern medicine works. You take Advil and your headache is cured in 20 minutes.
But that’s not how meditation works. Meditation takes time. But if you stick with it, it can change your life.
As I alluded earlier, so far we have been talking about the formal practice where you make time for a fixed amount and you choose your favorite spot, posture and the object of attention and actually meditate. If what I am talking here doesn’t make sense to you, please let me know in a comment.
You can start with as small as 1 minute meditation per day! But your goal should be to increase that amount to 45 minutes eventually. Meditate at least 6 times a week.
Download a free ‘How Often to Meditate and How Long?’ video by clicking image below.