How Often to Meditate and How Long?

Woman sitting on floor at home doing yoga meditation

In this post I will try to answer two questions.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

Answer:

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.

Answer:

Before we go there, let me mention that there are two ways you can practice meditation.

  1. Formal practices.
  2. 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.

  1. Go for the moonshot.
  2. 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.

Conclusion

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.


 

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  • P.S. Please leave a comment!!

  • Nice one. I definitely need the gradual route.

    Any recommendations on meditation apps? Headspace?

    • Thanks Pete!

      The gradual route is a realistic choice for many of us. There’s a joke, “Reducing stress can be stressful!” as you need to spend additional time and effort in trying to reduce the stress.

      Yes, Headspace free version is a good choice for beginners. Those animations can be useful in grasping the concepts.

      If you like to personalize your meditation and are used to guidance/nudges during the sessions, you may find ‘The Mindfulness App’ interesting. Its free version has enough features to get you going.

  • Shuchi Chawla

    Thank you!

    Gradual route for me too! Haven’t gotten to 45 minutes as yet, but aiming to get there.

    But I also try and take time out whenever I can to meditate – a few minutes at a time, whenever I can…while waiting for an appointment etc. Even if it is few minutes at a time.

    Question: Would one feel the effects of meditation more strongly and sooner the more trauma or low point one started from? For example, if one was depressed or had severe chronic pain, would that person experience the positive effects more intensely and would they be more apparent, as opposed to, in a person who was’t experience those intense negative conditions?

    • ranparas

      Hi Shuchi,

      Thanks for your comment and the question. Let me try to answer that.

      In general effects of meditation depend upon the amount of time you spend doing the meditation. More you do it, more you will feel the effects.

      And the effects of meditation are not dependent upon the initial condition, if that is what you are asking. Although I don’t have any hard scientific data to support this.

      In the example you mentioned here is what is likely to happen. If my suffering is intense, my desire to relieve that suffering might be more intense as well. And in the scenario even a small amount of reduction in my suffering could mean a whole lot to me because of the initial intensity of my suffering.

      So yes, if I am starting out lot worse, any solution that reduces/removes my problems, I might attribute higher apparent value to that solution. This phenomena is going to influence the comparative study of all types of different solutions to your problems including mindfulness and meditation.

      It may end up demoralizing you as well, because when you read/learned about someone having experienced great benefits you set expectations accordingly and that may not pan out because you start out differently.

      What do you think?

  • Ginny

    After a bit of a hiatus I’m back to daily mediation for 20-30 minutes–it took prioritizing in my schedule a little bit to do it at a time where it wasn’t competing with other things. I’d like to move toward 45 min. Do you have recommendations for recordings for guided mediation for 45 min? When I try to use a timer that doesn’t have any prompts, I drift away a lot more easily. I find that it’s really helpful to have the periodic nudge back to awareness.

    • ranparas

      Hi Ginny,

      How have you been? Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, I can give you some app suggestions.

      Are you okay with a simple bell being the periodic nudge? If so there a free app called ‘The Mindfulness App’, which has a section called ‘Personalized Meditation’.

      There you can choose the overall session length as well as the interval length for periodic bell. It also has an option to turn on/off guided start for 8 minutes.

      I would also reiterate that there is nothing wrong with drifting away a lot. But at the same time, nothing wrong with using a periodic nudge either.

      I am hoping to have a thorough app review sometime soon here!

      You mentioned that you were able to prioritize meditation into your routine! What do you think allowed for it to happen? The reason I ask is many people want to be able to incorporate meditation in their daily schedule, but are not able to. Hence I ask. Let me know if I am not clear.

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