How Long Should I Be Meditating?

When you start meditating, the question often comes up, how much time should I be spending in my meditation practice each day?

The short answer is that you should spend the amount of time that is right for you.

To go into a bit more detail, the first thing to consider is what your intent is for your meditation practice. The more difficult your goal with meditation is, the greater will be the level of skill you’ll need to attain your goal.

We think of meditation as non-doing, simply sitting and being; it is not very well-understood that meditation involves certain skills. The more time you spend on meditation, like anything, the greater will be your level of skill at it. As your skill develops, you become capable of practicing meditation for longer periods, and your practice also becomes more skilled.

One thing that happens as your skill and experience with meditation develop further is that the effect on your consciousness happens more quickly. It takes you less time to enter the state of concentration, and then the state of flow, and then the state of unity that is the goal of meditation.

Let’s consider some possible goals you might have for creating a daily meditation practice:

1. To relieve stress.

This is probably the biggest single reason that people turn to meditation. Often there is some symptom of stress in particular that is causing a problem, such as high blood pressure or heart arrhythmia, that acts as an early warning sign.

Daily time commitment: 5-10 minutes

2. To improve some aspect of yourself, such as concentration, or the ability to deal with high-pressure situations, or simply feeling more calm and more peaceful.

This is more difficult than stress relief, because now you have entered the realm of self-improvement; you are actually trying to change something about your self. Meditating for stress relief is like getting a massage to relieve muscle tension, while meditating so that you learn to deal with things in a better way is like relaxing more each moment, so you build up less muscle tension.

Daily time commitment: 10-20 minutes

3. To get through a challenge or crisis.

We all have periods of time where things are very difficult and challenging due to what you could call changes in the structure of life. Losing a job, getting a new job, moving to a new city, having a child, dealing with grief — these are all examples of structural changes in life that are very challenging. Some people are motivated to meditate as a way of coping with these challenges. An example that comes to mind here is my wife, who began meditating each day when she was pregnant. She wanted to get better at breathing techniques to cope with the challenge of giving birth to our first child, which greatly motivated her. (The meditation really seemed to help calm her, and she did an amazing job during her labor and the delivery.)

Daily time commitment: 20-40 minutes

4. To heal emotional trauma.

Many people carry the wounds from emotional trauma endured in early life, which affects nearly every aspect of a person's development and outlook on life. Healing this kind of trauma is possible with meditation, but it is difficult, and requires a greater commitment.

Daily time commitment: 40-60 minutes

5. To understand the true nature of the self, to experience God, and to make progress on the path of unity, toward greater spiritual attainment, and ultimately, enlightenment.

For me, the reason I meditated was always pretty much the same: I wanted to become a master of meditation. I wanted to experience the nature of God, the Universe, and to learn all that I could about the world of spirit. I I come from a family of meditation teachers, and so I started at a young age. This is a great aspiration, and so it requires a much greater daily commitment, especially in the beginning.

Daily time commitment: 60-90 minutes

This is not an exhaustive list -- whatever reason you have for meditating is a good one, even if , but it gives us a basic idea; you can see I’ve sorted these reasons in order of the daily time commitment. Even 5 minutes of meditation per day will have an impact on you, reducing stress. Isn’t that amazing, that doing something 5 minutes a day could have a meaningful impact on you?

Of course, practice tends to develop over time, and when you practice for 5 minutes a day, you may feel other things beginning to happen. You may feel some impact on yourself beyond stress relief, even if that’s the intention you started with. You may begin to see the potential of meditation to help you with other aspects of life, to improve other things about yourself.

In my 26 years of consistent meditation practice, I started out with 20 minutes or so a day, and there were days in there that I meditated for 5 minutes, or even less on some days, though there were not many of these. Over time, I increased my practice, to where I meditated 3 to 4 hours a day consistently for a period of time. The most I have ever done in a day is probably around 18 to 20 hours, while on retreat.

While practicing a lot brings amazing results, I find I need less now. These days I meditate for 60 minutes in a single session in the morning, then add another session later in the day.

In the past (what I call Meditation 1.0), meditation was taught and practiced in isolated communities, or by sages who practiced alone in the wilderness, it is no exaggeration to say that pretty much the sole purpose was spiritual attainment. You did not go into the wilds to meditate in a cave to relieve stress, face a challenge, or even to heal emotional trauma. Being alone in nature is itself stressful, and possibly traumatic. You did it in order to focus all your attention on meditation.

These practitioners put in many thousands of hours of practice. Perhaps the most well-known of these, whose story we recall even 2,500 years later, is Siddartha Gautama, who became the Buddha. Siddartha left his palace life as a young man, leaving his riches and his comfortable life behind, in hopes of solving the great puzzle of why people suffer. His goal was clearly to reach enlightenment, though of course, who can truly understand this goal at the beginning of the journey?

Siddartha learns meditation, and eventually goes into the wild to practice, initially with a small group of other sages, all of whom practice meditation nearly all the time, combined with fasting. Siddartha becomes so adept at fasting and meditation that he becomes as thin as a cadaver; he can grasp hold of his own spine with his hands. Eventually, he meditates for 40 straight days under the Bodhi tree, attaining enlightenment and then traveling Asia teaching, becoming one of the greatest spiritual teachers of humanity.

What would Buddha or his fellow sages say if you asked them what is the daily time commitment for meditation? For them, it was nearly every waking moment.

So our understanding of meditation is inevitably affected by this great story, and we think that this is the kind of commitment that is necessary. How then, can you have a full life with this kind of commitment to meditation? You can’t.

Meditation 1.0 was about sacrificing everything else toward the singular goal of spiritual attainment.

Meditation 2.0 brings a new evolution to humanity — it’s about bringing meditation into modern life, helping you deal with the challenges of daily life in all its complexity. So we no longer seek to meditate every waking moment. That has been done. This evolution is happening in every meditative tradition, all over the world. Nearly every spiritual teacher is essentially dealing with the same problem: how can the power of meditation be applied to ordinary life, to make you happier and more productive, and at the same time exist in continual awareness of your true nature as the Universe.

We are here to be full human beings. We have a barrage of sensory data and various kinds of stress that take us away from our timeless, spiritual nature. But we have only this precious lifetime to learn how to be human. Meditation should help you make the most of it.

I hope this is helpful. Please write a comment and share your experience.