A good number of new meditators begin sitting with the hope that the holistic benefits of meditation will make themselves felt in a matter of days. They expect meditation to act as a quick fix – like swallowing a pain relief tablet. It isn’t a reasonable expectation. Most genuine meditation teachers say that while a fortunate few newbies experience benefits very quickly, for the rest of us, meditation has to be practiced regularly over time before its beneficial effects can be appreciated. Our advice for new practitioners is to try meditation daily for a month, then weigh the pros and cons. Even if you’re tempted to give up sooner than that, keep going for five or ten minutes every day. Meditation offers a wide spectrum of benefits, all of which can be achieved over time. Don’t short-change yourself.
Short term effects and long term benefits
Some of the positive effects of meditation become apparent after a few weeks. The most noticeable change is a calmer, more stable mind. As you train your mind to settle on a particular object (often the breath) during meditation, you gradually, gently learn how to stay focused. And as your practice paves the way to a clear, uncluttered mind, your jumpy mind and its distracting thoughts become less and less of a problem. Eventually, you may even stop wondering how long meditation takes to work!
Meditation is about accepting who we are and how we function, not about immediately morphing into Super Meditator. The benefits of meditation often arrive through the back door: after some time, we notice that we’ve changed, our mood is a bit lighter, and we don’t react with negativity so quickly. Those who are close to us may notice various effects and improvements as well and wonder how they came about. When this happens, we realize that the benefits of our practice are truly being incorporated into our psyche.
Clarity, calmness, and improved focus are some of the potential psychological benefits of meditation that come to light relatively quickly. In addition, there are numerous mental effects of meditation that occur over the long run. These long-term meditation benefits include:
- Improved communication
- Enhanced memory and cognition
- Heightened motivation
Neuroscientists have researched how meditation affects the brain. According to results currently available, consistent meditation rewires the brain by increasing the density of those regions responsible for concentration, self-awareness, compassion, and memory. By the same token, the sections of the brain associated with anxiety and stress tend to become less dense.
When will meditation work?
The issue of how long it’s going to take for our practice to “work” becomes irrelevant once we’ve realized that meditation is a life-long commitment. Admittedly, the early stages of practice can be a tad frustrating – the mind flutters and wanders about, the slightest disturbance throws us off, and unwelcome thoughts pester us annoyingly. But with time, we stop struggling with these issues and start looking forward to our daily meditation. As Lama Jampa Thaye – a master meditator who contributes to Mindworks – puts it, meditation offers us a refreshing sense of the present moment. Distractions fade away and we find ourselves immersed in a space of self-awareness and peace. This really is one of the great joys in life, and it’s one that doesn’t depend on anything or anybody else.
Physically as well, there are some distinctive benefits that meditation can produce early on. They include:
- Improved sense of wellbeing
- Enhanced relaxation
- Reduced levels of tension and stress
- Improved quality of sleep
- Increased energy and stamina
Other physical benefits may be enjoyed after years of practice. For instance, your overall health may improve, your circulation may get better, and your body can heal more quickly. This is why experts always seem to be encouraging people to meditate nowadays. You can choose to start with five-minute sessions and then work your way up. What’s important isn’t the length of your meditation, but your commitment to practicing daily. That’s what makes all the difference.
Emotional effects & benefits
Meditation also offers a variety of short- and long-term emotional benefits. These include a sense of:
- Enhanced well-being
Everyone is different, and we all have pre-conceived notions about what it means for meditation to “work,” that is, what we hope meditation will do for us and how soon. “Short-term” for some may be “long-term” for others. For many meditators, long-term emotional benefits include increased confidence, patience, and self-esteem. There can be feelings of empowerment, self-awareness, and contentment.
Because your entire being – awareness, active mind, and body – is the basis for your practice, you can experience a profound sense of wholeness that you’d never felt before. All of this takes patience, a mental muscle your meditation is fortifying each and every time you sit.
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Now that we’ve put the question “how long does meditation take to work?” into perspective, it’s time you tried it yourself. There are numerous meditation techniques you could try, but focusing on mindfulness of the breath is a great place to start.