As with food and movement, meditation has become an essential part of health and wellness routines for millions. That’s no surprise. The benefits of daily meditation range from psychological to physiological. Meditation relieves stress, increases mindfulness and focus, and generally provides a sense of happiness. Meditation has also been shown to boost the immune system. But this resurgence of meditation as daily mindfulness practice leaves many asking questions. For instance, “How long should I meditate to achieve the best benefit?”
Consider your meditation goals.
Many of those unfamiliar with meditation may first think of the deep, trance-like states of traditional religious ceremonies. But such lofty expectations often lead to failure. For someone new to the practice, even sitting still for 20 minutes can prove challenging.
How long you should meditate depends in part on the time you have available. But even if you can clear an hour for daily meditation, that does not necessarily mean you should. That’s because time spent meditating has a lot to do with the goals you want to achieve. Let’s look at some common ones.
Meditation for deep breathing
Deep, measured breathing is a part of the best meditation routine. But it stands on its own as a best mindful practice too. For instance, breath exercises can help you manage stress and relieve anxiety. Deep breathing can also help you recover from a panic attack. An accompanying mantra focuses the mind and helps you breathe more deeply, evenly, and fully.
The benefits of a deep breathing exercises include:
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved focus
- Overall reduction in hypertension and potential weight loss
A deep breathing meditation can last as little as a minute and up to five or more. Whether experiencing anxiety before a presentation or simply feeling daily stress, step back and take several measured breaths. It can help you build resilience and recenter your thoughts.
Meditation to prepare for your busy day
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all woke up feeling refreshed? Well rested and ready to tackle the day?
The reality is, we often wake up filled with worries. Coming out of even a good night’s sleep, our minds often go into overdrive with concerns, worries, self-doubt, and needless fear. None of these things are productive. Worse, they decrease focus and mindfulness. No wonder we forget if we locked the door or turned off the coffee pot with so many worries on our minds!
A simple morning meditation can help ease this transition from complete rest to a more mindful “go mode.” A morning meditation can take as little as five minutes. Whether your morning routine includes early exercise, catching up on emails, or simply a shower and coffee, find five- to ten-minutes to recenter yourself through meditation. Your mind will feel as refreshed as your body!
Deeper meditation to build resilience and improve well-being
Practiced regularly, deeper meditations can have long lasting effects. They can build resilience, increase happiness, improve focus, and elevate mood. They even provide your body a much needed break from tension. These sessions can last an hour or even longer. Practiced routinely, however, just 20 minutes provides most of the mindfulness and health benefits of meditation.
These meditations may be guided or unguided. They typically focus first on relaxing the body and breathing more deeply and fully. Don’t become frustrated when you first attempt these longer sessions. It is normal to feel restless and fidgety. In fact, your first attempts at deeper meditation may seem pointless. Be sure you find a quiet place free from distraction and try again the next day. As with any skill, it will take time to learn.
Many of us struggle to turn our brain volume down to sleep better. This is where sleep meditations can help greatly. There is no set time limit. In fact, peaceful music, ambient nature sounds, or even white noise may be set on a loop to last for an hour or even through the entire night. Use the breathing and relaxation skills learned in other forms of meditation, but reclined in bed or wherever you sleep. The soft sounds will help carry you from your relaxed, quiet state to a full state of deep, sound slumber.
Meditation apps make timed meditation easy.
The best meditation and sleep apps provide wonderful tools to help you learn how to meditate. Apps such as Aura, Breethe, Calm, and Headspace feature guided meditation audio of varying lengths. These include brief morning meditations and longer afternoon and evening sessions.
Meditation apps also help you build positive health and mindfulness habits by providing specific, guided meditations at the time of day you choose. Added benefits include timed, interactive breathing exercises, and an array of sleep aids such as sleep meditations, sounds, and even stories. By simply following the meditation tracks, you no longer become distracted by wondering what time it is or if you should be finished. Instead, the meditations state clearly their length, and you simply follow your meditation coach to the track’s end. Try meditation apps for free at Google Play and the Apple App store.
Photo by @unforbiddenyet/Twenty20