Much has been written on how to meditate, but is there a recommendation of how much and how often we should meditate? Is daily practice recommended? Can we gain more benefits by doing more meditation?
As a general rule of thumb, starting off with two 10 minute spells of meditation, morning and evening, is a great place for beginners to start. You can then build up to two 20 minute spells and beyond as you get into the practice more. The more quality, focused meditation a person can do, the more pronounced the benefits usually are.
In addition though, we should not feel constrained by a perceived “need” to do a certain amount of meditation, and if we don’t reach this, we have failed, or conversely we stop as soon as we reach this limit and don’t do any more.
We should try and avoid seeing meditation in this rigid way, and be as flexible and fluid as possible in how we meditate. Doing something every day is definitely beneficial, but we shouldn’t feel constrained to a certain time block and should carry on meditating whenever we feel our focus, calmness and insight growing.
We should also look to insert mindfulness practice into our daily lives and routines, and not see it only as something we do in set time blocks each day. Lets look in more detail at how long and how frequently we should meditate for best results.
Just 11 Hours of Meditation Can Change The Brain
The first thing mention here is that it has now been shown that meditation can indeed change the structure of the brain if it is done for long enough. See this study from 2011 which found that as little as 11 hours of meditation practice can induce positive changes in the brain.
This also incorporates the relatively new concept of neuroplasticity, which finds that our brains are not necessarily set from adulthood onwards but can in fact be moulded and shaped by our environment. Regular mindfulness practice has the power to rewire the brain for the better, and this has implications for things like anxiety, addiction, ADHD and so forth.
Over a month, 11 hours only works out to around just over 20 minutes a day. Plenty of people can easily manage two 10 minute blocks of meditation, morning and evening. If you can manage two blocks of 20 minutes, you are doubling this lower limit. Consistently do this, and you can be well on the way to bringing positive changes about in your brain, provided you are meditating correctly.
Benefits of Meditation Are Proportional to the Amount of Quality Practice
“Meditation is not how many minutes you do, it’s how many moments you are aware”
It is fair to say that the benefits meditation can provide are for many people proportional to the amount of practice, with the important caveat that the meditation is being done correctly. More is usually better, as long as we are staying truly present and not just going through the motions.
This has been my personal experience – moving up to do more meditation each day and from two blocks to three delivered more noticeable results – and many people find the same thing.
That said, we should try to avoid setting a fixed time on our daily meditation and stop whenever we reach this every day. Straight away this turns the meditation into a chore, a routine task that we feel we have to do, and once we’ve hit our “recommended” quota, we stop. The daily chore is “done”.
This straight away sets us off looking at the meditation the wrong way. We stop being free and spontaneous with the meditation and instead see it as just something else we do for a certain amount of time a day.
It is far better to go with the flow a bit more, and do whatever feels right each day. If we aim for 20 minutes, but when we reach 20 minutes, we want to do more, then we should do more. Maybe we reach 40 minutes and then feel happy to stop. Maybe another day we feel good after 10 minutes. This is fine too. We should avoid locking our meditation down too much into routine time blocks.
As we do more meditation and start to see the benefits it can bring, many of us also naturally want to do more. We should not resist this desire, since benefits do tend to be proportional to the amount practiced, as long as we are meditating correctly.
We start to value the meditation for itself, and not see it as another thing we have to do in the day. We now want to do more of it, whenever we can, now we see the value it brings.
Do as Much Quality Meditation as You Can
With the caveat that the quality of the meditation is at least as important as the quantity, we should still try and do as much quality meditation as we can in our daily life to see the most benefits. As long as we continue to stay present and focused on meditating correctly, it will continue to deliver more calmness, more insight and more self awareness.
Here are some quick pointers for ensuring the quality as well as the quantity of your meditation is at a level where it will continue to deliver benefits:
- It is often better to build up slowly with meditation. Don’t go straight for an hour if you are a beginner; try 10 or 20 minutes and slowly build up the time you meditate.
- As a general rule, more meditation is better, as long as you are meditating correctly and staying present. Look for moments of awareness rather than minutes of practice.
- Many people set up a routine of at least twice a day, morning and evening, with whatever else they have time for in between. After you get up and before you go to bed are two good times to meditate.
- If we are focusing too much on hitting a certain time, our thoughts will get distracted by this (eg. “I’ve done 5 minutes”, “I’ve got 10 minutes left” etc). This takes away from the moment to moment awareness and defeats the object of the meditation.
- “Any moment that you’re learning is a moment of meditation” – see the embedded video.
- Yutthadhammo: “Even just sitting with the breath and really being mindful of it a few times, is better than an hour of trying to force the breath and being frustrated” Quality is more important than quantity in this sense.
Applying Mindfulness Meditation to Your Daily Life
You should also try as much as possible to work and weave mindfulness into your daily life, and not just see it as something you set aside 20 minutes a day for in set time blocks. Ideally, and in it’s purest form, meditation needs to be something we do constantly, every waking moment, being present and attentive to thoughts, feelings, sensations etc.
For those of us in the West that live hectic and busy lives, this is easier said than done. However, there are some ways you can integrate mindfulness into even small little daily chores.
- Try to be mindful when doing small chores and tasks you may normally “zone out” to, like even washing dishes or fruit. Try to “check in” and pay attention to the feelings of the warm water, sounds of the water hitting, and so on.
- Any time you find yourself waiting for something unavoidably (eg. queues, traffic jams, appointment rooms) try to turn on your mindfulness. Try not to ruminate or daydream but instead be present to sensations, sounds, thoughts etc.
- Try the same thing when you are walking somewhere. Instead of getting lost in your thoughts, try tuning in to the feeling of your feet on the ground, noises like cars going past, wind blowing on your skin etc.
- For the above points, try seeing it like this: “These things are taking this time out of your day anyway, you may as well use this time efficiently to further train your mind to be present and aware”
- Try to find time every month to be around nature and animals, again paying mindful attention to sights, sounds, or completely natural things (eg. running water, wind blowing, trees rustling etc).
- Regular meditation will also help you more quickly spot when you are not in this mindful state in daily life, when your mind has wandered off into thoughts, memories, daydreams etc. You can quickly bring yourself back into the present moment.
- It is difficult to constantly do this unless we are living in a monastery, but whatever we can do each day alongside our formal practice will be helpful.
- Formal practice is great in the early stages for training ourselves in moment to moment awareness, so we can more easily switch it on in daily life.
Tips For Meditating Properly For Best Results
Here are some quick tips for meditating properly, to ensure you get the best out of the time you do spend. The quantity of the meditation can be important, but even more so is the quality of the meditation you do.
Let’s look at some quick tips for meditating effectively:
- Find a quiet, comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted.
- Turn off all phones, TVs, computers etc. Remove all distractions.
- Make sure you understand the difference between Samatha (calmness) meditation and Vipassana (insight) meditation. See our article on this.
- Focus on really observing reality as it is, tuning into breathing, sensations, rising/falling abdomen etc. Try to stay constantly present in the moment, not just “riding out” the 20 minutes you plan to do but not really being present.
- Try not to “force” the breath but just let it breathe itself. Try to simply observe what’s there, even if it’s nothing sometimes.
- Whenever the mind wanders, don’t see this as a mistake, because this is what minds will always do, but simply notice it has wandered and bring it back to the central anchor point (breath, sensations etc).
- It’s not the wandering that’s important for mindfulness, it’s noticing it and bringing attention back into the moment that builds the “muscle” of mindfulness and attentiveness.
- There are some times for some people when they are simply too agitated or their minds too restless to meditate. Acknowledge this and come back to the meditation another time.
- See our mindfulness resources page for an excellent seris of introductory meditations to get started with.