How long should you meditate?
The increased popularity and research evidence for mindfulness and meditation has led many people to integrate meditation into their lives. For some people meditation is a way to stay centered and feel sane; for others it’s a way to manage anxiety; for others it’s a way to deal with stress, attention deficits, or other difficulties. Whatever the reason people practice meditation, many ask, “How long should I meditate?” This very simple question, however, does not have a straightforward answer.
Mindfulness-based clinical interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) typically recommend practicing meditation for 40-45 minutes per day. The Transcendental Meditation (TM) tradition often recommends twenty minutes, twice daily. Interventions based on the Relaxation Response (Benson, 1975) also often recommend twenty-minute meditations. Traditionally, shamatha meditation (a breath-focused meditation) was and is practiced by monks in monasteries in Tibet for ten- or fifteen minute stretches, several times a day. However, there is nothing magic about these recommended numbers. There is still good reason to believe that making meditation a regular part of your day is more important than how long you meditate.
However, two recent studies have found some empirical basis for recommending minimum lengths of meditations sessions. Noted cognitive scientist Dr. Amishi Jha recently found that meditation sessions as brief as 12 minutes apparently produced cognitive improvements in a sample of U.S. Marines preparing for deployment. Another study, by different investigators, found significant improvement on GRE test performance in undergraduate students who meditated just ten minutes daily.
Does this mean that we should all meditate for ten to twelve minutes per day? No, but it does suggest that some of the beneficial effects of meditation kick in beginning at the 10-12 minute mark. Ten minutes, evidence suggests, does seem to be a minimum threshold for some of meditation’s benefits to occur, as well as a very doable length of time for many people.