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How long should I meditate for?

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A question I’m often asked is ‘how long should I meditate for?’ It is a good question that has no simple answer. After a good year of trying to develop a succinct and compelling response to this million dollar question, I have found something that I’d love to share. A big thanks to this article which I’ll summarise below for helping me to develop this blog post.

Firstly, doing 5 – 10 minutes of meditation practice each day is better than no practice at all.

Why do longer than 5- 10 minutes each day?

  • While it can be helpful to do 5 minutes each day, most people find they need at least 20 minutes at a time to begin to develop some degree of concentration or slowing down of the mind
  • People often report 45 minutes as being ideal as it allows the mind to settle but it is not so long that the body becomes uncomfortable (although that’s not always the case!)
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the pioneers and founders of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course) highlights the importance of undertaking a formal meditation practice of 40 minutes each day in order to experience the full effects of the MBSR course.

Why 40 minutes of meditation each day?

People undertaking the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course are required to meditate 40 minutes each day throughout the 8 weeks of the course. People frequently challenge this request, questioning the value of sitting in meditation for a 40 minute period. This is how Jon Kabat-Zinn responds to this question:

“40 minutes seems long enough to settle into stillness and to perhaps experience at least tastes of a deepening relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.

40 minutes also seems long enough to allow ample opportunity to engage the more challenging mind states than we ordinarily hope to avoid because they take over our lives and severely tax our ability to remain calm and mindful. The usual suspects are boredom, anxiety, impatience, frustration, fantasy, memories, anger, pain, grief and fatigue.”

What does the evidence and science say?

  • The effects of meditation practices tend to be ‘dose’ related meaning the more time you dedicate to them, the more profound their effects. For instance, the longer bouts of formal seated practice tend to deliver more tangible outcomes.
  • According to Dan Siegel: “Longer sessions are more effective for forming good daily mindfulness practice habits because the greater benefits we will inevitably experience from longer formal sitting will pull us through the periods of lower motivation. In this way, we will form a natural appetite for mindfulness practice which will reframe it as something we look forward to rather than a daunting experience.”
  • MBSR and other mindfulness based interventions that require you to meditate for 40 minutes per day throughout the duration of the course (8 weeks) can affect specific regions in the brain, positively influence at least certain immune functions, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and assist people experiencing anxiety and depression to better relate to their symptoms, regulate emotion under stress, reduce pain, and improve a wide range of health indicators across many different medical diagnostic categories.

If you are just starting out:

Start with 5 minutes of formal meditation practice each day. After a month or three, you might like to build up to 7 – 10 minutes each day.

If you have been practicing meditation for a while:

See if you can build up to 20 minutes each day, with a view to meditating for 30 minutes daily after a period of 6 months.

You can’t experience the benefits of a meditation practice unless you put in the regular meditation practice!

It is not uncommon for people to expect to experience the full benefits of meditation and mindfulness without doing the work!

One of the most helpful analogies is the gym – the more you go to the gym and the longer each gym session, the fitter you’ll get. Meditation and mindfulness is no different – the more you meditate and the longer each session, the more mindful you’ll become. You’ll also be more likely to experience the myriad of benefits a regular meditation and mindfulness offers.

You can learn more about how long you should meditate for at one of our upcoming courses!

8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course – upcoming courses commence on 26 February and in early May 2017.

5 week Learn to Meditate course – next course commences 1 May.

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