You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. (Zen Saying)
Meditation practice spans thousands of years, going back further even than the teachings of Buddha. And since the very beginning, students have asked their teachers – how long should I spend meditating? We approach meditation today for the same reasons we did long ago – to develop inner peace, understanding, and wisdom. And beginners encounter similar questions – how much, how long, and how often should we practice?
Because meditation is a slow process of realizing freedom within oneself, there are no firm rules about how much time per day one should practice. However, there are a few basic guidelines that can help organize the beginner’s approach towards meditation.
1. Start Small
When beginning meditation, 15 minutes per day is plenty of time to explore the mechanics of practice. The idea should not be immediate progress, but rather a gentle accommodation of the mind and body to this new state – concentrating on good posture, relaxing the limbs, and developing an awareness of one’s breathing.
2. Build Gradually
Once the physical part of meditation becomes familiar, students can begin to explore concepts such as Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation or Loving Kindness Meditation. These concepts give structure to each session, and beginners can build on that structure by adding 5 minutes per day, as they grow more comfortable, with an eventual goal of perhaps reaching 45 minutes per day of practice.
3. Quality Over Quantity
With time, many people discover that significant personal growth comes from the quality of their meditation practice, rather than the amount of it. For those who feel a greater benefit during shorter meditations, two separate morning and evening sessions of 20 minutes can be more helpful than one longer session, in which the mind grows tired. Longer does not always mean better!
4. Persistence, Persistence, Persistence
Reaching a timed goal each day can be invigorating and rewarding. But equally vital is simply making sure that one practices meditation each day, regardless of the clock. Many beginners and intermediates discover that holding themselves rigidly to a minute count is far less effective than returning to the same space day after day, carving out positive mental space where thought is free and we become neutral observers within the mind.
Closing Advice: Beginning meditation (or any new practice, for that matter) is always a bit like entering the water. Far better to wade in, growing used to one’s surroundings, than to dive into the deep end unprepared. Go at your own pace – take whatever time you need