How long should you meditate each day? This is a commonly asked question, and the answer may surprise you. But before I get to the actual answer, here is the short version: 30 minutes per day.
However, let’s deconstruct the question a little in order to give a deeper, more nuanced, answer.
What is going on when someone asks this question?
I believe what they are really asking is what is the amount of effort needed in order to gain real and lasting benefits for their efforts.
This is a great question because it goes to the heart of the problem. And when asked in this way, the answer to the above question is not 30 minutes but rather as long as it needs to be in order to create the habit of meditating daily.
For it is through a daily meditation practice that real change is made. And it is only through creating the habit of daily meditation that the benefits of meditation you’re looking for, and what motivated you to seek the answer, will come.
So a better answer to the above question is: as long as it needs to be for where you are right now.
To understand why this is true, we need to understand what I like to call the compound effect of meditation.
The Importance of Daily Meditation Practice
The compound effect is the strategy that garners large rewards from small actions.
When we talk about the compound effect in regards to meditation we are talking about a practice whereby the benefits accrue over time by the simple fact of showing up each day.
The power of taking this approach is found in the fact that each day you are not starting at zero. That is, you are not learning meditation all over again.
So a formula for this might look something like this ((((1 + 2 ) + 3) + 4) + 5 = 15
The practice will compound over time such that 5 days of daily meditation can have the effect of 15 days of meditation that is not daily. If you extend that out to 30 days of consecutive meditation this equals over 456 days of meditation that is not daily. Amazing right!
We can see from the compound effect of meditation that the amount of time spent meditating at first, is less important than momentum created from showing up each day.
Creating the Habit of Daily Meditation
The science of habit creation makes it clear: the one thing you need to focus on to turn a decision to meditate into a habit is to show up each day.
How to do that? Make it easy and fun!
One thing I’ve found to be extremely useful in my own personal practice is to not focus on the quality of my practice as a means of gauging progress but rather to focus on creating momentum and allowing the compound effect of meditation to take care of progress.
When you track the momentum rather than quality you place yourself in a better position to show up each day.
So how do you make certain you show up each day?
There are two main strategies:
- The Seinfeld Method
You can use the same strategy as Jerry Seinfeld used to create the habit of writing daily. Simply print out a yearly calendar and pin it on a wall. Then, after you meditate mark that day on the calendar with a big red cross. Then try and build a chain of red crosses.
- Accountability Partners
Or you can find a partner to help you stay on track. Either method is fine.
Once you get the flywheel of a daily meditation practice spinning you can expect benefits to come naturally, which is whole point.
The Health Benefits of a Daily Meditation Practice
The standard benefits of meditation listed below are not exhaustive:
Physiological Benefits of Meditation
As meditation deepens and stability arises from within consciousness itself, a warm, smooth, and deep sense of bliss begin to pervade the body. This starts subtly and becomes more obvious over time.
What’s happening here is that the body, your physiology, is beginning to balance itself out. Here is a list of benefits:
- Lowers stress
- Improves digestion
- Reduces respiratory conditions by increasing CO2 levels in the blood
- Reduces insomnia
- Reduces heart rate
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves blood PH (acid/alkaline)
Psychological Benefits of Meditation
As with the physiological benefits, the psychological benefits arise over time and out of the deepening of one’s practice. It is, therefore, imperative your practice be consistent.
From a phenomenological perspective, the experience of the psychological benefits arise because of the opening or expansion of consciousness.
Through this expansion of consciousness the benefits listed above are a natural effect.
- Reduce Anxiety and overwhelm
- Increases emotional stability
- Increases mental clarity
- Increases attention and focus
- Increases creativity
- Decreases fear of uncertainty
- Increases confidence and self-esteem
Spiritual Benefits of Meditation
The word spiritual is a loaded term, to be sure. Some people react positively, seeing “spiritual” as an umbrella term for all things deeply meaningful and yet wholly unseen.
For others, the opposite effect rings true, and for the very same reason. For these people, the term “spiritual” is just a little woo-woo.
I use the word spiritual here to refer to something that is not wholly physical nor wholly psychological. It might be best understood in the phrase, “he/she seems in good spirit today.”
But I’m not talking about cheerfulness but rather the underlying energy that animates us.
This is the spirit, in spiritual.
As with the list above, so with this. The three benefits are:
- Increases energy
- Increases vibrancy
- Increases longevity
All three come from contact with the thing that is not wholly psychological nor wholly physiological but transcends both and consumes both.
Touching the transcendent is not an easy subject to write about, for the very reason that it is a subtle phenomenon, and in citing energy, vibrance, and longevity as the three main spiritual benefits of meditation, I am, to some extent, falling into the problem of woo-woo.
To get around this problem, I simply ask you to meditate and see for yourself.
So Why is 30 Minutes the Right Length of Time?
It’s not. The number is more or less an arbitrary number, and as you can see from the points I made in this article above, the amount of time you spend meditating each day has little to no bearing on change.
That said, there has been enough scientific research now to determine that at least twenty minutes per day is enough to change your neurophysiology.
But research studies have shown that focusing on your breathing for even one minute has positive affect on your autonomic nervous system.
So why thirty then? Because it is a nice round number and fits into our modern culture that divides a day in such a way that 30 works well. Yes, that is a surprising answer I know!