How Long Should You Meditate For?

yogaMeditation has been heralded as a great healer through the ages, and scientists are finally starting to understand why it works.

One scientific study found that the relaxation response elicited through meditation, especially in long-term practitioners, is very effective at reducing stress disorders, such as hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, and aging.

Meditation has also been described as Metacognition; the ability to think about your own thinking. It’s not about getting rid of your thoughts. It’s about watching them as they come and go. From this seat of the watcher you can notice things you don’t notice from the seat of the thinker.

For all its benefits, some meditation experts are concerned about the long-term effects of meditation and question whether meditation can have a dark side.

I personally would not have been able to find my way out of depression, grief, and ten years on antidepressants if it wasn’t for meditation.

The way I’ve been able to answer the question of how long to meditate is by asking myself another question:

Why do I meditate?

Knowing why you meditate can help you find a practice that’s best suited for you, as there’s no end to the practices and suggestions out there. Do you meditate to relax? To regroup? To heal? To find yourself? To let go of yourself? As a spiritual journey? It’s often recommended to find a practice you like and stick to it, not to jump around from one style to another.

Meditation is like going on a roadtrip to yourself. You don’t know what you’ll encounter on the way or what you’ll find when you get there.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of wonderful practices, from visualizations to mindfulness meditations to month-long meditations for each chakra. These have all been helpful to a point, but recently I’ve started simplifying my practice.

I start with the breath.

I end with the breath.

It’s that simple. It might not be the best approach for you, but it’s what’s working for me these days.

I bring my attention to my breath.
My mind wanders. What am I going to eat for lunch?
I bring my attention back to the breath.
My mind wanders. Has the baby been sleeping too long?
I bring my attention back to the breath.
My mind wanders. That fire truck siren is definitely going to wake him up and I won’t be able to finish my meditation. Wait a minute, I’m not even meditating, I’m still thinking.
I bring my attention back to the breath.

Eventually the thoughts start to space out. It’s like I can actually see the space. When the space between thoughts becomes long enough, I notice my breath comes to the center of my attention. Naturally. Without me having to force it. It’s like it just rises to the surface.

Ah, hello breath. Thank you for waiting for me.

I stay here, in this conscious place for as long as I can.

That’s how long I meditate. Until only the breath remains.

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