How Long to Meditate

One of the most frequent questions meditation experts and instructors are asked by people who are just starting out with practice is ‘How long should I meditate?’ While this is certainly a pretty straightforward type of question there is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all answer. The answer will vary depending on the person who is asking the question and the benefits they hope to gain from their meditation practice; their physical and emotional status and limitations; their schedule and time constraints; and their ability to find a quiet, peaceful meditation space. Most importantly, however, the answer will depend largely on what the individual asking the question feels the most comfortable with.

Why We Meditate

Some people meditate to achieve a heightened spiritual awareness or enlightenment and tap into the positive energies of life that surround them, while some of us use the practice to help us relax and better deal with the stress and anxiety caused by our everyday existence. In large part – and this particularly true in the Western world – people meditate to feel better about themselves, better about the world around them, and better physically.

There are many centuries of anecdotal and practical evidence showing that regular meditation will help improve the quality of most individuals’ lives, and in the last 50 years or so medical and scientific evidence has begun to show up indicating that the practice can also help to improve our physical and mental health and stability. Study after study indicates that a regular meditation practice can help to significantly lower stress and anxiety levels, which in turn lower blood pressure and help to promote improved heart and general cardiovascular health. Meditation has also been shown to be effective in helping individuals:

  • cope with anxiety and panic-related disorders;
  • deal with anger-related issues, which can help to improve interpersonal relationships (both in and outside of the work place);
  • improve focus, which can, in turn, allow for more efficient and productive cognitive function;
  • aid the immune system is working properly, which can help to reduce the length and severity of certain types of illness;
  • and promote a feeling of calm and well-being, which serves to improve the overall quality of life.

It should be pointed out that meditation is not some sort of magic bullet that will instantly completely change a person’s life the first time they do it. Meditation is a discipline that must be learned and then practiced on a regular basis for a person to get the most benefits from it. In the same way that an individual can gain better health and strength through establishing a regular exercise schedule than they would by just jumping on the treadmill or elliptical once every couple of weeks for a minute or two, so establishing a regular meditation schedule allows a person to become more comfortable with the practice, and derive more physical, mental and emotional benefits from it.

How Long Should a Person Meditate?

As stated before, the length of time for which a person should meditate will vary depending on a number of factors, each of which will, in turn, vary based on the individual. There is no definitive rule book that states “You must meditate XX minutes XX times per day, every day.” There are, however, a number of factors that should be taken into consideration when designing a personal meditation schedule.


As is the case with most things in this life, the more a person does something they better at it they get – and this certainly holds true for meditation. Going back to the example of physical exercise, the individual just beginning to get into an exercise regimen cannot expect to be able to handle as long or as intense a session as a person who has been working out regularly every day for the last 20 years. The beginner’s session will normally be shorter and as they gain experience (and develop their muscles) they are able to increase both the length and intensity of their workout.

The same is true – for the most part – when it comes to meditation. Generally speaking, the person just starting out in meditation practice will not be able to meditate as long or as often as the individual who has been doing it for years. Many people just starting out find it difficult to maintain focus for a prolonged period of time – they get distracted, their mind wanders, or they just plain get bored – because they have yet to train themselves to do it. Additionally, some individuals have trouble finding and then maintaining a comfortable position in which to sit for their sessions at first. Both of these conditions can cause frustration and stress – two of the very states that meditation is supposed to alleviate.

While it will vary from person to person, many meditation instructors suggest that individuals just beginning their practice start with sessions of between 5 and 10 minutes, 3 or 4 times per week, with a goal to work their way up to daily sessions of around 20 to 30 minutes or longer. Just as with exercise, the more familiar and comfortable a person becomes with the discipline, the more natural it will feel to them and the longer they will be able to practice.

Divided Sessions

While the optimal meditation schedule for most people will involve a single ‘main’ session of 20 to 30 minutes every day, this will just not be possible for some people. Individuals with certain emotional or personality disorders – or those with physical limitations that will not allow them to sit for extended periods – may simply not be able to maintain focus, or even sit still, for that period of time.  And the fact is that some of us might find it difficult to carve that amount of time out of our busy lives on a daily basis.

For individuals facing these issues, some experts suggest using regular ‘divided’ sessions of 10, and even 5, minutes at a time multiple times a day, either on a set schedule or fitting these sessions into their day when and where they can. The goal here is to ensure that the individual remains comfortable, is able to maintain focus throughout the session, and does not feel that they are a slave to the clock. Establishing a habit of multiple shorter sessions on a regular basis will, in most cases, effectively yield the same benefits as a more traditional regimen of longer sessions over time. As previously stated, there are no hard and fast rules about how long or how often a person should meditate; it is all about doing the practice in a way that works best for the individual.

‘Mini’ Sessions

Very short or ‘mini’ meditation sessions of a minute or less are used by many people – particularly in very stressful times or situations – to help them relax, restore calm, and maintain focus. Some experts suggest that even as few as 10 deep, mindful breaths at the desk or even in the bathroom at work can have a calming effect on the mind and body and help a person to move forward with their day. Once an individual has established their normal practice and have become comfortable with meditation techniques, these mini sessions become quite easy to do, are available pretty much any time, and offer a quick, beneficial ‘recharging’ of the mental and emotional batteries.

Over Meditating

While it may seem counter-intuitive, meditating for too long or too often can be a problem for some people, particularly those just starting out in a practice. When an individual finds something that they like or enjoy, our basic human nature is to want as much of it as possible. In meditation – as is the case with so many other things in our lives – it is quality and not quantity that will determine the extent of the benefits we derive from the practice.

For example, a gung-ho type of individual just starting out with practice may decide that they are going to meditate for a solid hour a day no matter what. However, having not trained themselves sufficiently, their mind may start to wander, they may become distracted, or they may even fall asleep. In other cases, while the intent is to get in an hour of meditation, they find that they are interrupted three or four times during the session – breaking their concentration and upsetting the balance they are trying to achieve. This can cause irritation, resentment and even anger which will largely counterfeit the entire session – whereas a solid 20-minute session without interruption in which they were able to maintain focus would go much further towards achieving the desired calming, centering effect.

Mixing Things Up

Though not applicable to everyone, some people find that establishing and then sticking to a regular meditation routine can become somewhat dull and boring over time, which will consequently cause the quality of the sessions to suffer. Some experts suggest that mixing things up a bit – alternating longer sessions with shorter ones; changing positions or locations; or using a variety of different ambient noises, music, and essential oils – can help pump the vitality back into a person’s meditation. For example, if a person decides that they are going to meditate for exactly 25 minutes every day at exactly 6:00 PM in exactly the same place, they run the risk of their sessions becoming less of a joy and more of a chore. Meditation shouldn’t be a drag – it should be a consistently positive and uplifting experience. Mixing things up a bit – regardless of how a person chooses to do it – can help to infuse new life and vigor into a practice that might be fading, and restore the positive energy meditation is designed to tap into.

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