There are a lot of different recommendations for how long you should meditate, as well as for how often you should meditate. Some sources say to do an hour every day, but you may not have that much time. Below you’ll find research-based recommendations for how long — and how often — to meditate.
Meditation can help us improve our mental and physical health, and it has become increasingly popular in recent years. In fact, 14.2% of people in the U.S. had tried meditation as of 2017. Research has shown that regular meditation can help us manage anxiety, stress, and can help us manage our emotions. More and more people have come to feel reliant on their meditation practice to help them feel centered and calm.
But what happens when the demands of life limit the time we have to meditate? If you miss a day, how big a deal is that? Is five minutes a day sufficient to experience the benefits of meditation? Does it need to be ten? Twenty? Thirty? There is not one simple answer, unfortunately, but there are several helpful clues around about how long to meditate and how often.
How Long Should You Meditate For?
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 20 minutes, twice daily. Interventions based on the Relaxation Response (Benson, 1975) also often recommend 20-minute meditations. Traditionally, shamatha meditation (a breath-focused meditation) was and is practiced by monks and nuns in Tibetan monasteries for ten- or fifteen-minute stretches. The monks and nuns did this several times a day. However, there is nothing magical about these recommended numbers.
Meditation appears to be similar to physical exercise in this way. There is no optimal length of time you should exercise, and there is no perfect number of minutes to meditate, either. With either physical exercise or meditation, it’s important that the amount of time you do it be sufficient to challenge you a bit, but not so much as to leave you feeling demoralized or exhausted.
Making meditation a regular part of your day is more important than how long you meditate. For that reason, the length of time you meditate should be sustainable for you. It won’t do you much good to meditate for 90 minutes one day when you happen to have the time, and then feel guilty the rest of the week when you can’t replicate that.
Similar to exercise, there seems to be benefit in even a small amount of meditation if your schedule doesn’t allow you to do your usual amount. Consider this example: let’s say you go jogging for two miles a day. One day, you’re busy and can only do half a mile. Are you better off doing this than sitting on the couch? Yes. Will it benefit you as much as doing two miles? It’s unlikely. Meditation is similar – there does not appear to be a magical minutes threshold that, should you fall short, you’re wasting your time.
What Does Science Say About It?
Having said that, three recent studies do offer some scientific guidance as to how long to meditate. Cognitive scientist Dr. Amishi Jha’s research found that in a sample of U.S. Marines preparing for deployment, meditation sessions as brief as 12 minutes produced cognitive improvements. A 2018 study found that 12 minutes a day of Kirtan Kriya meditation was sufficient to produce significant positive changes in predictors of dementia found in the blood. A third study found that 10 minutes of daily meditation improved GRE test performance in undergraduate students.
Does this mean that we should all meditate for 10 to 12 minutes per day? No, but it does suggest that some of the effects of meditation kick in beginning around the 10-minute mark. Ten minutes, evidence suggests, does seem to be a minimum threshold for some of meditation’s benefits to occur. It also happens to be a very doable length of time for many people.
How Often Should You Meditate?
Meditation is similar to physical exercise in that we are practicing a skill. The more we practice the skill, the more capable we get at using it. For that reason, it’s best to meditate daily if you can. Unlike with exercise, you won’t feel sore afterward, so there is no need for days off. Having said that, if you’re not able to meditate daily it’s important to be gentle with yourself and not beat yourself up for having “inadequate discipline.”
Meditation works best when we commit to doing it regularly, whether that’s daily or less frequently. (Again, like physical exercise!) Maintaining that regularity over long periods allows us to gain a more intimate familiarity with our mind than we could otherwise.
How Long and How Often Should You Meditate: Summary Recommendations
If you have 10 minutes a day to devote to meditation, it’s reasonable to expect it to be helpful. 20 minutes would probably be more helpful, it’s true. But remember if you resolve to meditate for 10 minutes, on any given day once you hit 10 minutes, you can always continue to 20 if you’re so inclined.
For most of us, it’s about how often we sit down to meditate, not how long. To help create a regular meditation habit, remember the following tips:
- Keep track of how often you meditate. Mark calendar dates with a checkmark, or use a tracking app. This will help you hold yourself accountable without too much extra work.
- Remember, if you miss a day, it’s ok! Part of becoming a meditator is having some self-compassion. Focus on how many times you’re able to meditate this week — or this month, rather than on the one day when you couldn’t.
- If you’re falling short of your goals for consistency, reduce your daily target number of minutes of meditation. This will take off some of the pressure.
In deciding how long to meditate or how often, keep these principles in mind. If you do, you’ll maximize your chances of establishing and maintaining a regular and valuable meditation practice.
Updated: December 5th, 2020
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