How Much Time Should You Practice Meditation For Daily?

There is a famous story of a Kundalini Yoga Master who was desperate to increase the amount of time he spent doing his daily meditation practice.  The story says that the Yogi nailed his pony tail to the wall so that when he would start to dose off he would be rudely awakened by his contraption, and that this technique allowed him to successfully meditate for 22 hours daily.  Are you ready for that :-)?  Luckily, 22 hours of daily meditation is not a prerequisite for spiritual growth or enlightenment, but the point of the story is that the ask is not cheap either.  So how long should one meditate for daily?

Before we go into the numbers it is important to clarify exactly what type of meditation we are talking about here.  There are many schools of meditation, each with their own techniques and methods.  Here, we are referring to the meditations that are done being mostly physically still.  So this would include zen meditation (zazen), vipassana, insight meditation, jyana yoga, the Silent Mind (SM) Meditations, and meditations that utilize an object for concentration (3rd eye meditation, mantra meditation, visualization, sound, trataka (candle flame gazing), 3 step rhythmic breath (3srb) meditation or similar variation of breath meditation, etc).  The other types of meditations involving dance (shiva tandava – dance of death), Osho’s meditations (kundalini, dynamic, etc), laya yoga meditations, and other such meditations have specific time requirements to work their magic and I am not referring to them in this discussion.  So, now on to the numbers.

The minimum time one should aim to set aside for daily meditation is 20 minutes.  Let me tell you a true story.  In my post graduate years I was studying cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, looking to actually do empirical studies on meditative states of consciousness.  One of my philosophy professor’s told me to join a Zen meditation club which practiced zazen regularly on campus.  Till then, I had only meditated on my back lying down or during long walks, but I decided to attended their zazen session.  It was meant to be two 20 minute sessions and let me tell you I ran away after the first 20 minutes.  I still to this day remember the sensei saying “I guess he is leaving,” as I snuck out the back door.  Only later, after luckily coming across Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen: Love and Work, did I really start to established a strong, regular zazen practice.  The point here is that 20 minutes initially, if you have not done formal sitting meditation before, is much harder than you might think.  So, if it takes you some time to get to 20 minutes of daily meditation, that is perfectly fine.  Start with less, but aim at building up your meditation to this amount of time.  Read The Golden Rule to Stop Excuses and Start Meditation Now for more guidance to get your practice started if you need it.

Why 20 minutes of meditation?  From my experience I can say that 20 minutes daily proved to be very effective.  On its own everything just start to transform.  Others, over time, have also probably found that this amount of time has worked well for bringing about positive changes in themselves and so the number has become the de facto standard for a starting practice.

The next stage is 30 minutes, 2 times daily.  On my trip to Zen Mountain Monastery for their Zazen Training program, 30 minutes was the minimum time requirement for any zazen session.  I could relate to the difficulties some of the first timers were having with this length of time and unfortunately for them there was no back door to escape from either ;-).  Also, interestingly at Zen Mountain Monastery, you could request to be struck with a cane on your shoulders (at special acupressure points) to help you stay awake, drain emotional junk out of your system or as an aid to go deeper.  This is called keisaku and it can work as an alternative technique for you if you don’t have long hair like our Yogi friend above :-).  So work your way up to 30 minutes of meditation, and try to do that twice daily if possible.

Finally, you should build up to 1 hour of steady meditation practice everyday.  For extracting the maximum benefit from a meditation program this is the golden number.  To get to the experience of “Big Mind” as Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki describes the detached state, or the “Big Self” as described by the Advaita Vedanta teachers, or to get to the explosion of insight as put forth by J. Krishnamurti and the Silent Mind Meditations, 1 hour of meditation is usually needed.  This is primarily because it takes some time for the thinking process to slow down and for us to extract ourselves out of the daily drama of our little egos.  So there you have it.  Start and aim for 20 minutes of daily meditation and then build up to 1 hour.  You will find everything you are looking for, as you will discover that everything is you.

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13 replies
  1. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hi Pablo,

    1. It is ok to use these beats and soothing music in general for relaxation and self healing. It can also be uplifting, but for advanced meditation you should not use music. Insight meditation and other mind meditation techniques require awareness and high concentration and for them music is not appropriate.

    2. You should wait after eating a big meal. For yoga you need to wait 2-3 hours, for meditation less time is ok. Water is ok.

    Best,
    Anmol

    Reply
  2. pablo
    pablo says:

    I have two questions
    1-It really helps to hear binaureal beats like holosync or emisync to help no thinking? I am using it and it helps me but I do not know if it is reccomendable or not. Sometimes I play a track with rain sound just to cover the street noise and it also helps to not to distract.
    2-What about meals. Meditate after 1 hour at least of meals or it is not necesary and I can meditate after eating? And what about meditating after drinking water?
    Best regards,
    Pablo.-

    Reply
  3. daniel
    daniel says:

    it took me a lot of time to increase from 20min to 25, still it took only a week to increase from 25 to 30 and tomorow i increse to 35 because i feel i can do more. i do not do zazen twice a day but i a do meditate daily and i also do mantra japa meditation 108 mantra repetition daily.
    is it a good ideea to combine this two type of practices?
    i also have another question:now that i became better with zazen should i change zazen with a more powerful meditation? if yes mabe you can tell me if is there any?
    and about the meditation time the 1 hour per sitting can be increased? others say that maximum time is 2 hours per sitting.

    Reply
  4. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hey Anthony,

    Zen Meditation had undoubtedly been the greatest boon in my life. Just stick to it, it works quietly but thoroughly.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Best,
    Anmol

    Reply
  5. anthony
    anthony says:

    wonderful story anmol
    im a beginner and i seem to mess up in zen meditation alot, but i seem to be getting better everyday

    Reply

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  1. Hatha Yoga Blog » Blog Archive » Meditation Practice in Spiritual Communities and Ashrams says:

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  5. […] In the article, How Long You Should Meditate For, I indicated that building up to 20 minutes of meditation, for a single session was a great goal for beginning meditators and that I found the 20 minute sessions to give great results.  Internal imbalances, personality issues, weaknesses, etc, automatically started to resolve themselves with consistent twice a day 20 minute sessions, and also joy, peace and greater awareness simply began to flow.  From 20 minute sessions, you can then build up to 30 minutes, twice a day, and then work your way up to 1 hour.   For stilling the mind of thoughts, I have found that the longer sessions generally help and also, consistent practice helps you master this profound art as well. […]

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