You’re likely hearing more and more about the many reasons to practice meditation.
From relaxation to spiritual connection, the benefits of meditation practice seem to be endless.
At the same time, so are the different ways to practice. How do you know whether you’re reaping the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in your life?
Should you squeeze in a quick practice before your morning shower or go for a marathon session on the weekend?
This piece digs into the research to uncover the ideal length of time to sit on your cushion so you can make the most of your meditation.
Overall, researchers have identified five characteristics that determine the effectiveness of meditation practice:
- instance or frequency of practice sessions
- duration or length of time of practice
- adherence to practice instructions
- competence, cultural relevance, and understanding the context of why you practice
Another 2017 study found significant connections between duration of meditation practice and positive emotions.
A 2018 study of inexperienced meditators found that 8 but not 4 weeks of 13-minute daily meditation decreased negative mood, enhanced attention, improved memory, and decreased anxiety.
This implies that repetition matters.
According to another 2018 study of Indian practitioners in the Brahma Kumaris Rajayoga (BKRY) tradition, researchers found that it was competence, not duration of practice, that determined whether meditation resulted in improved well-being.
Still, they did find some correlation of length of practice to measures of well-being.
The bottom line
Meditating regularly for 8 weeks for 13 minutes a day has been shown to be enough to benefit from your practice.
It’s important to note that competence or skill in meditation is by nature difficult to define.
In the study mentioned above of Indian practitioners, the researchers defined “proficiency” as how steeped the practitioners were in their particular school of thought.
In other words, understanding the context of what you’re practicing and why will improve meditation outcomes. The same is true when it comes to a sense of cultural or spiritual significance.
These characteristics aren’t usually what we consider being “skilled” at something. This may be fitting, because many meditation experts point to “beginner’s mind” as the way to be truly skilled at meditation.
In Zen Buddhism, the word shoshin, or beginner’s mind in Chinese, involves approaching a subject with openness, enthusiasm, and without preconceptions or judgments. This is the recommended way to approach meditation, even as an experienced practitioner.
In bringing “beginner’s mind” to every practice, you empty yourself of hoops to jump through or feelings of pride or unworthiness and simply sit in the present moment.
This “being with what is” is the essence of skillful meditation.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
— Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
So what does this all mean when it comes to the ideal length of time to meditate?
The above research implies that 13 minutes of meditation per session is enough to reap benefits. Still, regularity may be just as important.
Practicing for 13 minutes once every few months isn’t likely to yield as many benefits as practicing daily for 5 minutes.
In the end, there’s no “magic number” for how long to meditate.
What’s most important is that you choose a length of time that’s:
A 2020 study of novice meditators found that when participants experienced positive emotions during their first exposure to meditation, their frequency and length of practice increased.
In other words, you’re more likely to stick with your practice if you enjoy your meditation and associate it with positive feelings.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a common misconception that meditation should be strenuous or hyperfocused to be of benefit. The truth is that finding the edge between discomfort and relaxation is where the meditation magic happens.
If you’re forcing yourself to sit but all you can think about is what you’re going to have for lunch that day or the fact that your leg is asleep, you’ve probably past the threshold of discomfort and are getting into strenuous territory.
Remember to take it easy. Meditation isn’t a marathon. It’s more about surrendering than conquering the clock.
When in doubt, keep this formula in mind:
Enjoyment x Frequency x Duration = Optimal Meditation Practice
A 2017 study found that in a sample of 55 mildly stressed adults ages 50 to 80 years old, body scan, sitting meditation, and breathing exercises were the most popular practices.
No matter what kind of meditation you choose, it’s important that you enjoy it.
Here are few of the many types of meditation:
- metta, or loving-kindness meditation
- mantra meditation
- spiritual meditation
- focused meditation
- walking meditation
- transcendental meditation
- visualization meditation
Finding what types of meditation practice work best for you is a matter of trial and error.
Start with a guided meditation video on YouTube or Spotify. Refine your search by getting specific with which type of meditation you’d like to try.
There are also plenty of meditation teachers on Instagram that you can check out.
Try Meditation & Mindfulness or Transcendental Meditation to find a teacher in your area.
In the end, the most important step you’ll take in your practice is beginning. Be realistic and start where you are.
If you have a busy schedule, start with just 3 minutes a day to sit in silence, listen to your breath, and just be. Once you’ve got that down, bump it up to 5 minutes.
You may find that over time you begin to look forward to your practice the way you look forward to a tall drink of water on a hot day. Some days you may even forget to look at the clock altogether.
Like many things that are worth doing, there’s no formula to define the perfect meditation practice.
While studies have shown that 13 minutes may be a great starting point to shoot for, there are a variety of other factors that affect how beneficial your practice will be. These include frequency, duration, and cultural relevance.
Whether your practice is 5 minutes or 45, remember that regularity is likely just as important as length. On top of that, enjoying your practice is an important part of the journey toward presence.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses. You can find her on Instagram.