How Long Should You Meditate? Finding the Right Balance for Your Practice
Meditators of all experience levels wonder the same thing: Am I meditating for long enough?
This question is often motivated by a desire to meditate the "right" way. It's common to worry that a short meditation session won't do anything, or that longer periods of meditating might be more beneficial.
But the truth is that the perfect meditation duration doesn't exist. How long you should meditate depends on, well, you. While that answer might not seem as straightforward as a simple number or formula, it does mean that meditation can and should adapt to your needs and schedule.
Hopefully, that reduces stress and is encouraging for your meditation practice, but if you still want an exact number, understanding how and why meditation works can help. Read on for the science behind the incredible benefits of meditation and tips for picking the right amount of minutes of meditation for you.
The Benefits of Consistent Meditation
When it comes to meditation, consistency is key. Even just a few minutes of daily meditation can deliver powerful results.
Here are the proven benefits of a consistent practice:
- Improved self-esteem: Daily meditation can create measurable changes in the areas of the brain associated with sense of self and empathy.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: Meditation can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Regulated sleep: Meditation can enhance sleep quality and increase the number of sleep cycles across all age groups.
- Enhanced attention: Meditation can help reduce distractions and improve concentration when working on a task.
- Improved relationships: Meditation fosters compassion and increases prosocial behaviors like resolving conflicts and making connections.
While you can experience some of the above benefits from a single session of meditation, the best way to see long-lasting improvements is by making meditation a part of your daily life.
Understanding What Makes Meditation Work
Practicing meditation is a lot like practicing a musical instrument or sport. Every time you sit down (or lie down or stand up) to meditate, you're training your mind, from shifting the way you process thoughts to improving your connection with your body.
And like with any sort of practice, it requires a little patience to practice mindfulness meditation. You wouldn't take the stage after one guitar practice or be your team's star athlete after one day of football practice.
But consistently practicing actually changes your brain. One study showed that meditation thickens the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of your brain that manages higher-order functions like self-awareness, decision-making, and compassion.
Meditation for Different Purposes
Many people choose the durations of their meditations based on their goals. For example, if you need to quickly reduce stress and find calm after a chaotic event, a few minutes of deep breathing can be enough to decrease your heart rate and help yourself feel more relaxed. If you want to meditate during a meal, 20 minutes might be the right choice. And if you're tossing and turning in the middle of the night, an hour-long meditation might be just what you need to settle your mind and body for sleep.
The Balance app can help you take out a lot of the guesswork of choosing a meditation type and duration. Check out a few favorites:
- Breathe: An animated breathing exercises as short as 1 minute
- Wake Up: A quick meditation to start your day on the right side of the bed
- Daily Meditation: A 10-minute meditation based on your current mood
- Walking: A movement meditation customized to how long you have to walk
- Sleep: Expert sleep guidance as long as 1 hour
Deciding How Long to Meditate
While there are several factors to take into account when deciding how long you should meditate, meditation teachers agree that the most important one is this: What amount of time are you comfortable with right now? Pushing yourself to meditate for longer than you enjoy isn't sustainable, especially when keeping in mind that the goal is to create a consistent routine.
Other factors that can help you determine how long to meditate are your schedule, lifestyle, and health. Consider your current daily routine. When do you have time to prioritize meditation? When could you make more time?
As you build a consistent meditation routine, your experience level is another factor that will help you decide how long to meditate. Generally speaking, more advanced meditators are more comfortable meditating for longer periods of time. But that's not true for everyone. Only you know what's best for you.
The Benefits of Short Meditation Sessions
Nervous about meditating for even a few minutes at a time? Try 30 seconds. Simply find somewhere comfortable, close your eyes if that feels okay, and take a few deep breaths, settling your attention on how the air feels as it flows in and out of your nose or mouth.
Even a session as short as this can lead to a calmer state of mind. And by taking this quick pause, you're prioritizing your mental well-being and giving yourself a chance to reset and refocus on what's important.
The other benefit of a short meditation session is that it can effectively lay the foundation for a consistent routine. Daily meditation might seem intimidating when you're just getting started, but 30 seconds of mindful breathing is all it takes. From there, you can gradually increase the amount of time you meditate when it feels right for you.
How to Experiment and Adjust Your Routine
Finding your ideal meditation duration is all about experimentation. Remember that meditation doesn't have to look a certain way. You can meditate while you're showering, waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting on a park bench, or lounging on your couch. And nothing is set in stone: You might feel comfortable meditating for 30 minutes one week, but then go back to 10 minutes the next week. It all "counts" as meditation.
Balance makes this type of experimentation easy—and fun. The app's extensive library of Singles offers meditations designed to be done while enjoying a cup of coffee, taking a midday break, or preparing for bed. It also includes meditations you can do with others, from a lunchtime buddy to a romantic partner. And it's all designed to build your confidence with meditation, from teaching you different skills to helping you gradually meditate for longer periods of time (if you're interested in that). After Balance's five-part Foundations series that starts with just 3-minute sessions, the Advanced series guides members to meditate for up to 30 minutes a day.
And remember, if you start a meditation that feels too long, you can stop anytime. And if you feel a bit unsatisfied after a quick session, check out another one. Let your comfort and curiosity guide you. If something feels wrong, change it up. There are no rules.
Finding Your Meditation Sweet Spot
Worrying about how long you should meditate is completely normal, but not necessary. Even the shortest meditation sessions can deliver long-lasting benefits, like reduced stress and improved mood. So rather than getting hung up about the time spent, try aiming for consistency instead. You want to find an amount of time that feels sustainable to commit to in your daily life.
The Balance app can help you explore all the different ways to meditate daily, from mindful eating to midday walking meditations. Balance also has 10-day Plans designed to gradually lengthen your sessions and build your confidence with meditation by creating a consistent routine that works for you. Download the Balance app on iOS or Android now, and get your entire first year for free!