‘How long should I meditate?’ This is a question that many people who are are researching how to get into the practice of meditation find themselves asking. How much is too much and could you meditate for too short a time to see results? In this article we are going to take a look into this and other popular beginner meditation questions such as ‘what are the benefits of meditation?’, ‘What are the effects of meditation on the mind?’, and ‘how long should I meditate to relieve stress’, among others.
What Is Meditation And What Are Its Benefits?
The word meditation stems from the latin word ‘meditatum’, which means ‘to ponder’ (23). Meditation is a relaxation technique. It is defined as a set of techniques that, when practiced continuously, create a heightened state of awareness, redirect and focus your thoughts (3).
A point to note is that this practice does not require you to change who you are. Instead, it requires you to take a deeper look into yourself, analyze your thoughts and feelings without judgment, in hopes of understanding them and yourself better (24). While the earliest documents mentioning this practice go back to India in 1500 BCE, historians believe that meditation was practiced from as early as 3000 BCE.
In 653, a Japanese monk introduced the practice of meditation to his country and since then, it has continued to gain popularity in many western countries (11) due to its numerous benefits.
What Are The Benefits Of Meditation?
One of the things that might have made you wonder ‘how long do I meditate’ would be some of the benefits of this practice. While most people know about the calming effects of meditations, the practice does much more than this.
Here are some benefits of meditation:
Reduces Symptoms Of Stress And Depression
In 2013, a clinical psychology review of over 200 studies revealed that mindful meditation is an especially effective practice to help counter and reduce stress, anxiety and depression (14). A pilot study published in 2012 showed that meditation can help lower levels of depressive symptoms and greatly improved mental health in family caregivers of people with dementia (13).
There is numerous proven research that meditation can help ease anxiety. According to an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, meditation can help those with anxiety as it helps them deal with distracting thoughts. Taking some time to meditate will enable them to distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit (20).
Controls Panic Attacks
For those suffering from panic attacks due to frequent worrying, feelings of nervousness, and negative thinking, this relaxation technique could be the answer for you as it helps slow down your thoughts, let go of stress and open up to deep relaxation (19).
Sadly, about 35% to 50% of adults struggle with regular insomnia symptoms such as difficulty in falling asleep at night or waking up too early or during the night. Insomnia is mostly caused by our daily stresses that never leave us even as we are trying to get some much needed rest at night.
Thankfully studies have shown that meditation can combat the problem of sleep disturbances or a difficulty in falling asleep at night. In 2015 a study done on older adults showed that those who practiced standardized mindful awareness practices showed significant improvements on insomnia and depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity, as compared to those who practiced sleep hygiene education (16).
Controls Chronic Pain
This practice has been found to help improve a wide spectrum of pain-related disorders, including fibromyalgia, migraine, chronic pelvic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and other conditions (18). A study done in 1982 showed that after 10 weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, 65% of the patients showed a reduction in their pain levels (4). Later on in 1985, research showed that this practice can not only help with the self-regulation of chronic pain, but it also helps with negative body image, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology, including anxiety and depression (21).
Helps Ease Symptoms Of Mental Disorders
A 2008 Dutch study examined the impact of mindfulness meditation on a group of 17 university students. The participants were taught techniques such as meditative breathing, body-scan, and mindful daily living, as applied to OCD, over the course of eight one-hour sessions.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that mindfulness meditation had a significant and large effect on OCD symptoms. The practice helped patients specifically on thought-action fusion – the belief that having a thought is the same as acting on the thought-, and the ability to “let go” of unwanted thoughts (22).
May Boost Your Immune System
A review posted online in 2016 looking into the effects of meditation on circulating and stimulated inflammatory proteins, cellular transcription factors and gene expression, immune cell count, immune cell aging, as well as antibody response stated that meditation showed possible effects on specific markers of inflammation, cell‐mediated immunity, and biological aging.
However, more research is needed to further support this research (17). In 2012, a controlled trial revealed that this practice may also help people suffering from the cold of flu recover more quickly from their ailments (12).
Other benefits of meditation include, promoting kindness and compassion towards yourself and others, increasing imagination and creativity, improving focus and attention, relieving headaches, and promoting mindfulness, among others (10).
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How Long Should I Meditate?
When trying to figure out answers to questions such as ‘how long should I meditate daily?’ or ‘how long should I meditate in the morning’ the surprising answer is that there is no specific time for you to do this relaxation technique.
It is unlike a HIIT workout that should be about 30 minute or a weight lifting session that requires a specific number of controlled reps to work. Meditation is all about you. Do what feels the most comfortable and natural to you.
As a beginner the next time you wonder ‘how long should I meditate’ take a minute and think on what you think you might accomplish. Does 10 minutes sound okay to you? Or maybe a 5-minute meditation session is what floats your boat? Do you think that you can only manage to do this for 1 minute a day? There is no right or wrong answer. If you are still unsure about it choose to start small, anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes is a good starting point (1).
How To Decide How Often To Meditate For The Day?
There is no set limit as to how often you can meditate in a day. Once or twice a day, morning and night is enough. In the morning, you can choose to meditate to help set your intentions for the day, and at night you can do the same only this time you can switch out your techniques to help with sleep or gratitude.
What Are The Effects Of Meditation On The Brain?
Through the use of MRI scans, scientists have found out that this practice causes our brains to take a break from and stop processing information as actively as they normally would during other times. Here is what happens to different parts of the brain during meditation (5) (25):
1. Reticular Formation
This part is best known for its role in promoting arousal and consciousness. Meditation puts your feelings of arousal on hold for the duration of the practice (and even for sometime after you are done).
2. The Thalamus
This part relays motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex. As you meditate, the flow of incoming information slows down. The deeper you are in meditation, the less information this part of the brain receives.
3. The Parietal Lobe
When meditating, this part slows down. This lobe is located at the upper back area in the skull and it processes sensory information mainly relating to touch, taste, and temperature.
4. The Frontal Lobe
This part of the brain is important for voluntary movement, expressive language and for managing higher level executive functions. These executive functions include the capacity to plan, organize, initiate, and self-monitor. During this exercise, the frontal lobe ‘goes offline’.
What Is A Meditation Frequency?
Meditation frequencies are also known as binaural beats. They are considered as auditory illusions. These are two beats that are less than than 1000 Hz, and a difference of no more than 30 Hz. In the past, these beats were mostly used in music but in recent times, they have been associated with some health benefits.
Some claim that these beats work in the same way as meditation and reduce anxiety, increase focus and concentration, increase relaxation, foster positive moods, lower stress, promote creativity, and help manage pain. There are four kinds of meditation frequencies namely delta, theta, alpha, and beta. All these frequencies are sleep, relaxation, positivity, decreased anxiety, increased concentration and alertness, problem solving, and improved memory (6).
Are 10 Minutes Of Meditation For The Day Enough?
If you are wondering ‘how long should I meditate to see results,’ or ‘ how long should I meditate to be productive?’ The answer is that a simple 10-minute meditation a day is enough for you to start seeing results.
Research done by University of Waterloo in 2017 revealed that 10 minutes of meditation a day can help anxious people as it keeps their minds from wandering to repetitive and anxiety-inducing thoughts (9).
Some more research done in conjunction with Osnabrück University in Germany showed that doing this exercise for ten minutes a day can help improve cognitive function. At the end of the study, participants noticed positive changes in concentration and the ability to keep information active in one’s mind, a function known as “working memory” (15).
While you may be tempted to push your meditation time past 10 minutes, please note that many have complained about being unable to sit still past the 20-minute mark. While you can certainly meditate for more than 10 or 15 minutes a day, it takes a lot of patience, mental fortitude and dedication (8).
How Long Should I Meditate To Relieve Stress?
If you are a beginner, start small. Just five minutes of meditation a day can do wonders for your stress levels. Once you have mastered this, you can try and push the time limit to 10 or even 20 minutes every day to sit calmly and destress (7). Doing this for longer as you try to be better at it or achieve greater results could take a toll on you, making it hard for you to be consistent in the practice.
If you’ve dipped your toes in meditation before but couldn’t sit through a session because of all the thoughts buzzing in your head, impulses snatching away control or all the overwhelming feelings that start bubbling up the minute you sink into the silence, it’s only because you didn’t have the right guidance. Start using BetterMe: Meditation & Sleep app and watch your life transform!
Meditate For Health: Does This Practice Offer Any Health Benefits?
Yes, it does. Here is how (2):
1. It Can Improve The Quality Of Life For Cancer Sufferers
The Society for Integrative Oncology has recommended meditation to those who suffer from cancer symptoms and treatment side effects as it improves their quality of life by helping relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances.
2. May Help Reduce HBP (High Blood Pressure)
The American Heart Association has suggested the use of Transcendental Meditation in conjunction with other medication to help patients with hypertension.
3. May Help With Menstrual Problems
In 2010 a scientific review stated that this practice, as well as yoga and tai chi could help reduce hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress, and muscle and joint pain caused by periods.
4. May Help Reduce Symptoms Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
In 2013, a scientific review showed that this practice may improve the quality of life of IBS patients. However, more research is needed on the matter.
5. May help ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) And Help Others To Quit Smoking
While there have been some studies into these two matters, the studies and results are too small to be considered as fact. More research needs to be done to ascertain if this is true.
The Bottom Line: How Long Should I Meditate To Get All The Benefits Of Meditation?
While monks may meditate up to an hour, you do not need to do this. Taking ten minutes out of your day to sit in silence and mediate is enough for you to see results in the long term. A point to note is that you should never compare your time to someone else’s.
If they can comfortably sit or lie in silence for ten minutes while you find it hard to manage the same for 5 minutes, that’s okay. Not only is this not a competition, but also mediation requires us to practice patience and be kind to ourselves and others.
If you cannot do ten minutes a day, take a step back and try meditating for about a minute a day, or every morning and night. Once you have mastered this, push for 2 minutes, then five and so on. Pacing yourself keeps you consistent and on track while pushing yourself looking for perfection will only lead to your detriment.
Please note that if you are unable to mediate by yourself, there are numerous apps that offer guided meditation in varying time limits. You could also join a group, where meditation sessions last longer and you can foster a sense of community and a support system.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Meditation Tips for Beginners (2013, psychologytoday.com)
- 8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health (n.d., nccih.nih.gov)
- 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation (2020, healthline.com)
- An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results (1982, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Brain areas and their functions (2011, m.health24.com)
- Do Binaural Beats Have Health Benefits? (2020, healthline.com)
- How to Practice Basic Meditation for Stress Management (2020, verywellmind.com)
- Is 10, 15 or 20 minutes better? (2015, headspace.com)
- Just 10 minutes of meditation helps anxious people have better focus (2017, sciencedaily.com)
- Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Meditation History (2018, news-medical.net)
- Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Family Caregivers: A Randomized Controlled Trial (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis (2013, sciencedirect.com)
- Mindfulness meditation: 10 minutes a day improves cognitive function (2013, medicalxpress.com)
- Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness meditation–based pain relief: a mechanistic account (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness Meditation for Panic Disorder (2020, verywellmind.com)
- Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress (2014, health.harvard.edu)
- The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain (1985, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effects of a mindfulness intervention on obsessive-compulsive symptoms in a non-clinical student population (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The History and Origin of Meditation (2020, positivepsychology.com)
- What is meditation? (n.d., headspace.com)
- What is Meditation and How It Affects Our Brains (2013, buffer.com)