There’s no doubt that meditation is beneficial – and, if you’ve already decided that you want to give it a try, but are now wondering ‘how long should I meditate for?’ we understand.
We’ve also wondered how much meditation is required to get its benefits, so we decided to have a look at the science, and ask the experts, – how long should you meditate for?
And here’s what they told us…
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What is Meditation?
While there are different types of practise, meditation is basically sitting quietly and using breathwork, and/or a few mental techniques, to try and stay, quietly in the present.
When you’re meditating, you’re not worrying about what you’ve got to do next, or things that you should have done this month (or that went wrong three weeks last Wednesday), you’re just ‘here’.
It’s often described as switching off your thoughts, but in reality your mind is always thinking and so instead, it’s more a case of not focusing on those thoughts for a while.
If you’re a meditation beginner, that sounds a bit complex, so one of the easiest ways to explain what it can mean to be ‘meditating’ is to look at how you use one of the many meditation techiques out there that help beginner meditators get started.
Known as body scanning, it sees you just sitting with eyes closed and focusing just on how each part of your body feels in a factual sense – light, heavy, hot, cold – for a little while.
One part at a time you move your thoughts, part by part, from head to toe just focusing on those simple facts.
Other thoughts, including why you feel hot, cold, light or heavy, are tossed aside, you just think about that one body part and how it feels right here, right now.
This technique is particularly suggested for beginners as it helps you learn to be in the present and redirect unwanted thoughts, but once you get more practised at meditation, you might not need to use any kind of focusing technique, you just sit, in the moment – and chill.
‘Meditation comes in many forms, for some it is while running or reading a book or sitting quietly and listening to music. The key is the ability to quieten the mind and be fully present in the moment, that in essence is what is meditation is,’ says Sarah-Jane Lewis, Holistic Energy Practitioner and expert meditator.
The meditative state has some powerful effects on the body slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety and generally giving your body some time to rest physically and mentally. But how much meditation do you need to do to get those benefits?
That’s what we’re going to find out …
How Long Should You Meditate For?
Here’s some good news – it’s probably not as long as you might think!
‘My general reply to this question is for as long as you are comfortable,’ says Sarah-Jane. ‘For people that are completely stressed and have never meditated before, even just taking one minute to close your eyes and focus on your breath can be deeply beneficial.
But I usually recommend to new clients to start at aiming for between five and eight minutes.
This is long enough to switch off from day to day life, to centre your thoughts and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which helps reduce stress and anxiety and calm the body.’
Admittedly, when you first start meditation, 5-8 minutes can seem like an age so Sarah-Jane suggests starting off using a guided meditation.
‘A guided meditation gives you something to focus on and allows you to switch off easier.
There is nothing worse than trying to conjure a blank empty space in your mind, failing to do so than giving up.
But it’s actually virtually impossible to empty your mind because you are always technically ‘thinking’.
This is why most people fail to take up meditation and see the benefits; they feel they are doing it wrong.
A short guided meditation with a voice that soothes you rather than irritate you is the way to get yourself started.’
There’s plenty of guided meditations online, or, check out the Headspace meditation app which aims to help make meditation easier (even for those of us whose mind does not want to shut up!)
What About Meditating For Specific Benefits
Of course the other question about length of meditation is how long you need to meditate to create a specific result.
Is there a perfect amount of meditation practise that reduces anxiety or lower your levels stress for example?
And for that, you can look at some of the trials into the benefits of meditation.
These all clearly define an amount of time that people in the study are asked to meditate for and if that then shows positive results, it’s probably a good guideline to aim for in real life too.
Yes, you might get results with less time, or want to stay in your chilled out state for a bit longer, but, as a general guide….
Research from the Canada’s University of Waterloo found that ten minutes of meditation a day was enough to help reduce the amount people ruminated on negative thoughts.
For Mental Health
One US trial found that 13 minutes of meditation a day, for eight weeks, led to a number of effects on mental health like improved mood, lowered levels of anxiety and improved focus and memory.
When it came to fighting pain, experts at Leeds Becket University in the UK found that ten minutes of mindful meditation a day helped people control their pain more effectively.
For Heart Health
And for heart health and lowering of blood pressure, 20 minutes a day was the magic number in one US trial on people with heart disease.
How Long Does it Take to Get Results?
So, as you can see, you don’t need to commit hours a day to meditation to get some kind of benefit, but what you do need to do is practise consistently.
With all of these trials, the more consistently people practised, and the longer they kept things up the more likely they were to show results.
In the 13-minute trial, for example, when the researchers looked at what was happening to the volunteers four weeks into the trial they hadn’t yet seen the same benefits that were achieved eight weeks in.-
So, if you’re looking to practise meditation to say, improve anxiety, expect to see measurable results after about two months of practise.
That doesn’t mean you won’t feel better faster than that, it’s just when benefits can clearly be shown.
‘Meditation needs to be built as a habit, and being very consistent with it will help you achieve great results quickly,’ says meditation coach Thibo David.
‘Unfortunately, turning every day to do something we haven’t yet mastered is often doomed to fail.’
For this reason, Thibo suggests that you give yourself some room to breathe: start meditating for, say four or six mins for at least two consecutive days, then aim to increase to ten minutes over the next days.
This approach is more likely to help you achieve your goals than just trying to do a long session out of the gate.
So, the moral of this story is, don’t give up too fast. But also….
Don’t Stress About the Numbers Too Much
We now live in a world where we like to track our health stats. We know how many steps we’ve done, how long we’ve stood up for, how many minutes we’ve spent in REM sleep and so at this point you might be wondering if you should be tracking your meditation minutes in some way too?
Thibo says that’s not the best idea, ‘setting up any kind of timer can defeat the purpose of meditation. You’ll be trying to quiet the mind knowing you will be in a race against time to silence your thoughts as quickly as possible.’
If you do want an idea of how you’re doing, Thibo suggests setting a timer to see how long you meditate for rather than trying to reach a goal.
‘The most important thing to focus on is not so much the time but more the quality of the time spent observing your thoughts,’ he says.
‘My first hurdle in terms of time was 10 min, the second one was 30min. It took me a long time to go past 30 min comfortably without breaking my stance or starting to feel distracted.’
Any Other Tips to Make it Easier
‘To understand why we find it hard to meditate, we need to look into the mechanism of the vagus nerve and its role in the regulation of the flight, freeze or fight modes,’ says Thibo.
‘The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the heart and gut, establishing a connection between the two “brains” of the body.
It is really where the expression “gut feeling” comes from. The stomach produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, potent mood regulators.
When we’re stuck in a constant state of stress or anxiety, the body high on dopamine is looking for a quick fix, and dopamine rapidly feeds this need by rewarding distraction,’ says Thibo.
What that means it’s hard for us to just sit and be still.
But Thibo says one powerful way to reset everything back to zero is by starting your meditation practice with some breathwork exercises.
‘I see breathwork as the gateway to meditation.,’ he told us
‘Breathwork will stimulate the vagus nerve and positively impact your nervous system by allowing it to switch back to a more parasympathetic system.’
This creates a calmer state in the body so it’s not seeking out distraction, giving you the chance to relax.
So, start your meditation by slowing your breathing and focusing just on the pattern and sensation of inhaling and exhaling.
‘Slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing is perfect for that, as is alternate nostril breathing followed by mindful breathing,’ says Thibo.
‘Synchronizing the breath to the mind is the idea behind all of this. This type of result can be achieved in as little as five minutes. Following that, let the mind wander, mindful of where it goes, and another five minutes can fly by very quickly.’
IF you find it really hard, you might want to book in with a meditation teachers like Thibo. See more about that here.
So, now you know how long you might want to meditate for, you might be wondering about a few other things
Should You Meditate Every Day?
‘A daily practice is ideal, but we do not live in an ideal world. Life gets in the way and we find the day has disappeared before we know it,’ says Sarah-Jane.
‘So, I would always aim for a regular practice say 3 to 4 times a week rather than not at all. Something is better than nothing.
Over time you will feel the benefits and you will be naturally inclined to continue and increase your practice rather than give up completely because it ‘did not work.’
The Headspace team agree saying that 10 minutes of meditation, seven days a week is better than trying to do 70-minute session once a week.
Is There a Best Time of Day to Meditate?
There are benefits to meditating at both morning and evening.
Benefits of Morning Meditation
In the morning, your cortisol levels are high to wake you up and get you moving. Meditating now, can help lower those before the stresses of the day kick in.
It can be easier to make time to meditate first thing in the morning – it’s less likely to be crowded out by other things to do and you’re more likely to get into the habit.
Have a look at our post on how to create a morning routine if you need a little more help in making this work for you.
Benefits of Evening Meditation
Meditating in the evening though, gives you a chance to switch off for the day and start to remove thoughts that might interfere with sleep.
On top of this, Thibo says ‘meditating before sleeping increases the quality of your sleep and your dreams by improving the quality and duration of deep sleep phases.’
If you need some extra help with sleep, check out this post on how to fall asleep faster.
But it’s more important to be consistent and try and choose roughly the same time each day.
‘A consistent time would be greatly beneficial as it becomes part of your routine and you know at 7am/9pm is your meditation time,’ says Sarah-Jane.
‘Also if you live with others, say a busy family house it allows others to know that this your time and hopefully they will respect this. Routine and consistency are key.’
So, the answer to that question is, the best time of day to meditate is whenever you can best make it work for you.
Can You Meditate for Too Long?
‘I personally do not believe you can meditate for too long,’ says Sarah-Jane.
‘But for the average person the thought of a meditation being unlimited is most probably more off putting than encouraging.
If you do have time and over a period of time have increased your practice to the point where you are comfortable to stay in meditation for longer then knock yourself out.’
Should You Meditate on an Empty Stomach?
It’s a common question and, it makes sense when you think that more meditative forms of exercise, like yoga, are best done on an empty stomach, but Sarah-Jane says it’s not essential to get results.
‘Personally I wouldn’t meditate on an empty stomach, as I will be thinking about what I will be eating afterwards especially if I was starving hungry.
Similarly I wouldn’t do it on a full stomach as you are likely to be a bit snoozy and fall asleep.
Again this comes back to routine and consistency. To stress there is no wrong or right way to meditate, the only way is your way.’
Do You Need a Special Corner or Anything?
Pinterest is full of pretty pictures of meditation spaces, but you don’t really need any fancy place to meditate.
Just find somewhere quiet and cosy where you can sit uninterrupted for as long as you’d like to practice for.
And despite the posture of our bendy zen couple way up at the start of this piece, you also don’t need to sit cross legged, or contort yourself into some kind of lotus-pretzel shape to meditate.
If the way you sit is going to cause you aches and pains. You’ll be too busy focusing on those to fully let your mind relax. So, just find a position in which you can relax.
So there you have it, a quick guide of how much meditation you need to get results and the answer to the question how long you should meditate for. So what do you think?
Do you have a set amount of meditation that gives you the most benefits or any tips to make it easier if you’re a meditation beginner – if so, let us know in the comments.
Also shout out If you have any further questions about all things meditation.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.