Meditation is a practice that dates back over 6,000 years, and has its roots in the ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist religions of India and other parts of Asia. Although countless millions of people in these areas have practiced various forms of meditation for thousands of years, it only made its way to the Western world in the latter half of the 1800s – along with the practice of yoga – and has really only become popular in and generally accepted by Western culture in the last 50 or so years.
Meditation is not a single discipline; there are many forms of meditation practiced throughout the world – some tied to religious and spiritual rituals, and others that are not. In the Western world, the most popular types of meditation include Mindfulness, Spiritual, Mantra, Transcendental, and Focused. While each type is believed by their adherents to provide specific benefits, all types are generally designed to help reduce anxiety and stress, promote inner peace and tranquility, and expand consciousness. Meditation techniques will vary in regards to their use of body positioning, ambient noise or sound, essential oils, and focusing techniques, but most types of meditation are designed to allow the individual to achieve a better and more complete understanding of their own minds and emotions, and the energies that surround them.
While meditation has been valued for its spiritual benefits for centuries, in the last 20 years medical science has started to acknowledge that regular meditation also has a number of physical benefits as well – to the point that many doctors now prescribe the practice for patients suffering from a number of conditions. Studies have shown that certain meditation techniques – when used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments – can help to lower blood pressure (which can have a significant impact on heart and cardiovascular health); alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression-related disorders; aid in combating insomnia; help to reduce chronic pain; and increase the overall effectiveness of the body’s natural immune system. Meditation has also been shown to be effective in helping individuals deal with violence and anger-related issues.
Meditation can also have economic benefits as more recent studies have shown that it can help increase productivity in the workplace, lower healthcare costs, decrease employee absenteeism and help to improve communication and worker relations, creating a better, more stress-free work environment. In recent years small and large companies – including Apple, Google, Nike, AstraZeneca, HBO and Proctor & Gamble – have all embraced meditation as a viable workplace practice to the point that they offer free meditation instruction classes, incorporate ‘meditation breaks’ into the work schedule or provide dedicated meditation spaces for employees to use.
What are the Best Times to Meditate?
While there are no hard and fast rules regarding how long or how often a person should meditate, many experts suggest that regular sessions of around 20 minutes three times a week is a good place to start, slowly working up to daily sessions. Since everyone’s schedule tends to be different – as do both the overall and specific benefits a person is looking to achieve from their sessions – the ‘best’ time of day to schedule regular meditation is essentially a matter of personal choice and preference.
It should also be mentioned that as a person becomes more familiar with their chosen type of meditation and more adept when it comes to its techniques, shorter ‘mini’ sessions of less than 5 minutes can help to relax and focus the mind and restore decreasing positive energy. While such sessions will oftentimes not always have all the extras that a normal session would have – the quiet peaceful space or the soothing sounds and aromas – they can be quite beneficial, and there are plenty of online programs and apps available to help guide a person through them if that is required.
Times of Day
As is the case with a regular exercise regimen, many meditation experts believe that establishing a regular schedule for meditation is very beneficial – particularly for beginners – in helping people incorporate it into their daily routine and getting the most out of the practice. As stated before, the best time to meditate will be a matter of personal preference and what kind of person an individual is, as well as when it best fits into their already established schedule. Most people, when first starting out, will need to experiment with different times of day before they find the one that is most conducive to getting the maximum benefit from the practice.
Many people find the early morning – very shortly after they wake up – to be the perfect time of day for meditation, and this is especially true of so-called ‘morning people’. Along with setting the tone for the rest of their day, mornings are a quiet and emotionally peaceful time for many people which allow them to concentrate fully on their meditation before the stresses of life have the chance to present themselves. Doing it shortly after waking up also helps to make meditation a priority, and ensure that it actually gets done.
If a person decides to meditate in the morning, many experts suggest that it be done as soon after waking up as is practical – and before breakfast is seen as being particularly beneficial, as an empty stomach is believed by some to allow for better sessions. If an individual has a particularly hard time walking up – or if there is a lot of activity in the home first thing in the morning (getting kids off to school, etc.) – a later morning session after the house has calmed down and is generally free of distraction is also an option that works well for many people.
While some people make it a habit to set their alarms early to accommodate their meditation sessions, this is not recommended for everyone. If ‘having to get up early to meditate’ causes resentment or irritation and makes meditation feel like a chore, those feelings will spill over into the session and can make it a negative instead of a positive, affirming experience. It is also important that a person not feel rushed by the clock or worried about being late for work. Should these feelings tend to be regular occurrences, a short ‘mini-session’ of just a few minutes might be the way to go in the mornings, and a different time of day chosen for a full, scheduled session.
Many people who lead particularly stress-filled lives (whether at work or at home) find that meditating in the afternoon allows them to better process the events and stresses of the morning, and prepare themselves for what is coming next. A midday session provides a break that helps to recharge the internal batteries and restore internal equilibrium, and allows for greater peace of mind and clarity as a person moves forward through the day. Again, many experts recommend that a midday session be done before eating lunch, although this will largely be a matter of personal preference, as some people find that being hungry can actually be a distraction while meditating.
Finding the time for a full midday meditation session can be quite challenging for many people – and this is particularly true for those who work outside the home. If it can’t be conveniently fit into the lunch hour or some other part of the workday, it will probably be best to find another time for regular sessions. Additionally, unless a person works for a company that encourages meditation in the workplace, finding an actual physical space for a full session can also pose difficulties. While a mini-session can be done virtually anywhere – at the desk or in the car, an empty conference room, or even the bathroom – the benefits of a full session will be greatly diminished if the person is continually interrupted or distracted. All of these things should be taken into consideration before making the choice to schedule full meditation sessions in the middle of the day.
For many of us, evenings are the best time of day; work is over, we have accomplished (or failed to accomplish) everything we wanted to get done, and many of our major stresses are gone until we wake up and face them all again tomorrow. Evening meditation helps many people transition from their work to their home lives, creating a clear boundary between the two; allows for thoughtful reflection on the day’s events and letting go of the stresses caused by them; and helps to restore balance and tranquility to the mind and spirit. It is also believed to be a natural transitional time – from light to darkness, busy to calm, active to inactive. And, of course, for many people, it is the only part of the day when they are able to conveniently block out a stretch of time on a regular basis in which to meditate in their preferred space.
Many experts suggest that the best part of the evening to meditate is immediately (or as close to immediately as is practical) after a person walks in their door after work or whatever else occupies their time during the day. Not only does this make the separation from work completed as quickly as possible, but it also helps to immediately expunge the stresses and negative energy many people carry home with them and allows for greater enjoyment of their off-hours. It will also help a person to be more completely ‘present’ for friends and family members who need them and accepting of their needs.
Before Bed Meditation
Meditating right before bed can be problematic. Many people find that meditation energizes the mind and spirit, and so doing so just prior to slipping in between the sheets can actually disrupt their natural sleep patterns. Others find that meditating just before going to bed will actually cause them to fall asleep, diminishing the positive effects derived from the session. Generally speaking, most experts suggest that individuals who want to make meditation among the last things they do in their day leave at least one hour between the end of their session and actually heading off to bed.
It should be noted that some people who suffer from insomnia – either staying asleep or falling asleep in the first place – utilize guided meditation programs, designed specifically to aid in falling asleep after they have gone to bed. Various programs are widely available on the internet, and as apps for smartphones. Generally speaking, these are purpose-built programs, and will not provide the overall benefits of regular full meditation sessions.
While establishing – and sticking to – a regular meditation schedule is great, there is no rule against meditating more often, or utilizing the practice on an as-needed basis. Both internal and external influences can interrupt the balance of our lives, and many people find that extra meditation at such times can help them to deal with these situations in a more mindful, positive manner, and deal with the various curveballs that life in general sometimes throws at us.
Whether it is caused by work, situations with family and friends, economic factors, or local, national or world affairs, it is virtually impossible to escape stress in the modern world. Particularly stressful times can increase a person’s blood pressure, interfere with clear thinking and decision-making (which serves to increase the stress), and lead to both mental and physical exhaustion. Meditating at these times helps many individuals step away from the actual cause of the stress, gain perspective, and clear their mind and spirit of negative energy, which helps them better process and deal with the stressful influences around them. By turning their minds inward in a peaceful and relaxed way, many people are able to restore balance and harmony within themselves, and better cope with the stressful environment around them.
Anxious / Grieving Times
Worry and grief are major sources of negative energy and, unlike many of the causes of general stress, will often arise from things over which an individual has little or no control or even influence. Meditation at times of anxiety and grief is often not as much about clearing the mind to aid in combating a specific situation and making correct decisions as it is about reaching a point of accepting things as they are and, in some cases, letting go of things that cannot be undone. While this can be very challenging even for people who have made meditation a central focus of their lives for decades, at the very least meditating at times like these will help to bring a person more fully in touch with their own feelings, and can help to re-direct their focus to more positive energy sources such as gratitude and love.
Times of Illness
Meditating when ill – whether with a cold, the flu or something more serious – can help people effectively deal with both the emotional and physical manifestations of the illness. Most people tend to be cranky and unpleasant when they are sick, and meditation can help restore balance and harmony to the mind, even while the body itself is out of whack. Additionally, some research indicates that the reduction of stress and anxiety (along with the attendant reduction in blood pressure), feeling of calm and general relaxation brought about by meditation can help to strengthen the body’s natural immune system and aid it in more efficiently fighting the illness. When used in conjunction with traditional medical procedures and pharmaceutical treatments, there is some evidence to suggest that meditating during an illness can help to promote faster healing and recovery times, lessen the overall effects of the illness, and simply make feeling lousy far easier to deal with.