Do I have to meditate every day? For how long? Is five minutes enough? These are questions I get all the time. The reason this is such a pervasive question is that the answer is different for everyone. I’ll try to break it down.
Below I’ve listed out some thoughts on what would be best for you, based on why it is you’ve decided to practice meditation. (For this post, I won’t be talking at all about HOW to meditate. If you’re just getting started and are in need of some basic instruction, check out my meditations for writers on Insight Timer or join us at A Very Important Meeting.)
Okay, here goes…
You Need To Focus
Most of the teaching I do falls under this heading. At A Very Important Meeting and through my coaching, I lead meditations to help writers focus their minds. Generally, I have found that 10 minutes is enough time to let go of all the other thoughts clamoring for attention and really bring the focus. Then, if you’ve set yourself up for success (meaning you put your writing in front of you before you closed your eyes to meditate) the transition to writing is seamless.
If you haven’t tried this yet, you should. I hear ALL THE TIME from first-timers who are shocked at how much writing they can get done in 45 minutes when they take 10 minutes to focus their minds first.
Focus In Times Of Trouble
If you’re looking to find some focus after something has knocked you off balance (say an argument with a boss or spouse), you will need more time. When we get upset, there are physiological changes that take place in our body. Adrenal glands are stimulated. Our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate increase. We are primed for a fight or flight responses. Those things don’t go away simply because we decide we’re not going to be angry any more.
It takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to calm down AFTER we’ve decided to be calm. And that’s only if we’re really intentional about our efforts to be chill. So you decide to meditate. You sit quietly, notice the angry thoughts, let them go. You do this for what feels like a LONG time, and gradually (after about 20 minutes) you will start to notice a genuine feeling of calm as the adrenaline gets processed and your body settles.
Meditate for Better Sleep
If you’re looking to sleep better, you might try scheduling a ten-minute sit before bed. Or if you wake up in the night and have trouble falling back to sleep, consider making yourself a cozy spot to crawl to where you have your phone queued up to one of Calm’s Sleep Stories. (I’m a big fan of Faith Adiele, who writes for Calm AND is one of our meeting leaders at A Very Important Meeting.)
Sleep meditations can be used on an as-needed basis, but keep in mind that one of the benefits of regular meditation is better sleep, so if you can make a habit of it in your daily life, you might find you don’t need that middle of the night meditation any more.
Improved Overall Well-Being
If you’re looking to support your health over all, you’ll want to aim for consistency over duration. If you can carve out just 10 minutes a day, you will create for yourself a sort of shield against chronic stress. This, in turn helps support your sleep, cognitive abilities, immune system, digestive system, and so much more. 15 minutes is even better. Do as much as you can regularly carve out time for.
But even if you can’t carve out 10 minutes, think about where you might be able to quiet your mind for just a few minutes. I had one student who simply could NOT consistently carve out 10 minutes a day, so she started meditating while her coffee brewed. Instead of scrolling through social media, she rested her hands on the counter, closed her eyes and just breathed, listening to and smelling the coffee as it brewed. It was maybe three minutes, but after a few weeks, she noticed she was calmer and happier the rest of her day when she took the time.
If you’re looking for deep truths, you best settle in. I don’t usually go into the Buddhist aspects of mindfulness here on the blog (though I love to – drop questions below if you want to get into it), but if what you’re hoping to find is some deep understanding of the universe and yourself in it, you’re going to have to embrace both consistency and quality. Start with an hour a day.
Do some searching on Insight Timer to get started. Find yourself a teacher you like. Check out Ajahn Sona’s lessons on YouTube and listen to talks by Josh Korda of the Dharma Punx in NYC. Plan to sit extended retreats.
No matter what your goal is with meditation, you will need a community. This is something that gets lost in the westernized version of mindfulness meditation. We love to do things all on our own, and meditation seems like just the kind of thing that should be done in isolation, but it’s not.
You will have questions. You will want to quit. You will learn things as you go that you can share with people who are likewise trying to find their way. Once again I will plug A Very Important Meeting as a great place for mindful writers (it really is a great group of people), but it doesn’t matter where you find your community so long as you find it.
Best of luck to you and, as always, feel free to leave questions or comments below.