Writer: Erin Lee
This question probably first came up for you when you were introduced to mindfulness meditation. You might have wondered how you should be integrating this practice with your daily life, and whether the duration of practice actually mattered.
Does it make a difference if we were to meditate for 30 minutes, as opposed to merely ten?
After all, life gets incredibly busy, we know that meditation takes time, and we all want to see results if we were to invest time and effort in it. We are curious whether an optimal duration of practice would yield the most desirable outcomes for ourselves.
And the short answer I usually offer is:
Yes, it does matter how long we meditate.
It helps to understand why.
If we wanted to master any skill, say play the piano, would our progress be different if we were to practice for a full hour a day versus just five minutes?
To become good at anything, we must be willing to dedicate attention and time.
But meditation practice is not so much about becoming really good at it, nor is it about trying to get ourselves to some advanced, expert level.
Meditation is a form of cultivation for the mind, that takes a great deal of patience and discipline.
There is a reason why practitioners meditate for hours every day, or choose to set aside city life and retreat to somewhere more secluded for a year-long practice.
The more time you spend on meditation, the more moments you have for cultivating the mind.
The more moments you have for cultivating the mind, the more opportunities you get to observe and understand yourself.
The more opportunities you get to observe and understand yourself, the more likely you are to gain valuable insights into your habitual tendencies, and change the way you navigate your life.
But this is also not a simple linear equation - that the longer we practice, the more at peace we become.
We need to consider how effectively we are practicing, as well as other conditions that support or hinder our practice, such as how we are designing our way of life.
For example, we can't just sit for one hour a day, and in each sitting allow the mind to dwell in planning, evaluating, or fantasising, and then expect things to change for the better.
We can't only observe our breath for thirty minutes in the morning, thirty minutes in the evening, and not pay attention to ourselves for the rest of the day, and expect to be able to handle crises more calmly when they come.
Our commitment to meditation should come with a radical shift in the way we carry out all aspects of our daily life. In other words, we should consciously bring our practice "off the cushion" and into every waking moment of every single day, as much as we can.
At this point meditation might sound like a feat. And it is.
So I encourage learners to "Think Big and Start Small" with their practice.
"Think Big" by envisioning how mindfulness meditation can help you become a healthier and wiser person. Remind yourself of the kind of life you desire to live. Thinking big serves to inspire and motivate.
And then "Start Small", by meeting yourself where you are. Starting small is a pragmatic approach that eases you into sustaining a daily practice and committing to longer durations over time.
Is ten minutes every morning all the time that you can spare right now? Does 15 minutes in the evening sound feasible for you? If it does, start here, and persevere until you get into the momentum of practicing every day.
And then re-evaluate. If you can spare 20 minutes now, why stay at 15? If you can nudge yourself to meditate for 30 minutes, why settle for 20?
Last but not least, I recommend valuing consistency over duration. For beginners, meditating for 10 minutes every day would be better than meditating for one hour once a week.