Chances are you keep hearing about meditation. That’s because it increases relaxation and for some, it supplies a “spiritual” connection. There are lots of ways to implement meditation as well but rarely are we told how much meditating we should be doing.
What the science says about meditation
There are several factors that researches look at to determine if mediation is proving helpful.
- How often it is practiced
- How long a ‘session’ lasts
- Compliance with practice instructions
- The meditator’s competence
- The level of enjoyment experienced by the practitioner
Repetition and competence matter. At least that’s what several studies from 2017-2018 suggest. One showed an increased mindfulness among subjects on days they meditated. It also found better results for those that kept at it and/or meditated for longer periods of time.1 Another discovered a strong link among emotions of happiness and meditation.2
Another study, which used people who did not previously meditate, found that meditation improved mood, attention span, memory and feelings of anxiety. Meditation was only 13 minutes a day. But the interesting thing is that it only worked for those that did it for 8 weeks. Participants who only followed this regimen for 4 weeks did not have the same positive results!3
One more study worth mentioning also took place in 2018. It involved expert meditatots of the Brahma Kumanris Tajayoga tradition and found their well-being results were superior to those that had not meditated before. This suggests that not only is repetition important, but also being good at it.4
So what does it means to be competent (good at it) meditation
It certainly isn’t easy to define proficiency in an abstract idea such as meditation but we’ll try. The study mentioned above ranked proficiency as a measure of the level of devotion the practitioners showed toward their particular form of mediation. It seems, from the studies, that having an understanding of the form of mediation one practices, improves the results.
Normally, understanding the how or why of something, doesn’t necessarily make you skilled at it. Think of playing soccer, changing your oil or baking a cake. You may understand the how and why but that doesn’t make you an athlete, mechanic or cook. But with meditation, understanding equates with skill.
Chinese Buddhists speak of a ‘beginners mind’ as the best way to proceed toward mediation. This means being open, excited and entering with no pre-existing conclusions. This is the best way to approach meditation, even for the experienced. By doing this, you are able to simply take advantage of the moment.
How long should each session last?
The studies above suggest that 13 minutes is enough time to see the positive results of mediation. But don’t forget, frequency is just as important. In other words, 13 minutes seems to be a sort of ‘magic’ number but even a few minutes a day is probably more effective than 13 minutes once a week. That being said, choose an amount of time for you that is sensible, repeatable and gratifying.
Finding what is right for you is important, as a 2020 study suggests. It found that people that had a good experience their first time meditating, were more likely to keep doing it.4 Really, that’s no a big surprise, right? After all, you’d only expect that people would stick with something that went well.
But there’s another angle here to consider. Folks commonly misperceive meditation as an activity that needs to be laborious and requires super-human focus to be beneficial. The truth is, settling on the edge of distress and relaxation, but slightly on the relaxation side, is where the profits lie. After all, if you are making yourself relax, but thinking about other things, you’re on the distress side. Just chill and give in to the relaxation, not the clock. The best mediation results come from a combination of the right amounts of enjoyment, frequency and duration.
It’s impossible to define mediation perfection, in general. For you, it will look different than it does for someone else. However, whatever perfection is, it will be a unique combination of frequency and duration. Perhaps perfect for a busy mom is 5 minutes a day, 4 days a week, because that’s the amount that she can do while still enjoying it and thus reaping the benefits. For grandma, it may be 20 minutes a day, every day. It’s up to you to find your perfection.