The Best Meditation Length for Beginners (The Ideal Amount of Time)

New to meditation? You might be wondering how long you should meditate for. But dive more deeply into what’s behind that question, and you’ll find there’s more to consider than 5 versus 20 minutes. Everyone comes to meditation with a different capacity for stillness and quietude. For some, sitting in meditation for just 5 minutes seems like an impossible task. Others find they need 5 minutes as a minimum before a fruitful meditation can begin.

Surprisingly, while researchers have studied the differences between those who have accumulated 10,000 hours of meditation versus 10, very few studies have explored the effects of brief versus longer practice sessions. For every study that correlates practice of 20 minutes or more with positive outcomes, there’s another which demonstrates no such effect. Further, most meditation studies follow participants for a maximum of 8 weeks, offering little insight into the long-term effects of 5 versus 20 minutes daily.

But when we ask ‘how long to meditate for?’ what are we really asking? Below, we break down this question into several variants, contemplating the ideal meditation length for beginners.

How Long Should A Beginner Meditation Last?

Meditating is not easy, but neither should it be tortuous. For beginners, the ideal meditation length is one that’s balanced, allowing some level of comfortable sustainability, while offering some amount of challenge to overcome. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of remaining in the present moment. When we observe we’re no longer present, we return to the task at hand. A beginner might think their meditation is too long if during that time, they cannot hold the mind perfectly still. But actually, the more time we give ourselves to notice distraction and practice the return, the better. Exactly how much time we should spend practicing that is different for everyone.

Is There Such Thing As A Meditation That’s Too Short?

Behind this question typically lies either fear or laziness. We might fear we’re not meditating enough for it to make a difference in our lives. Or as laziness arises (which it does in some form for everyone) we might ask this question in an effort to excuse ourselves from meditation. For example, ‘I only have 5 minutes, so why bother?’

The truth is, there’s no such thing as a meditation that’s too short. Even brief meditations add up, contributing to a lifelong practice. Every mindful breath we take matters. In fact, many advanced meditation teachers recommend meditating frequently for short periods of time. In that way your meditation stays fresh.

Is There Such Thing As A Meditation That’s Too Long?

While it can be beneficial to stretch our meditation muscles, it’s better to do this with gentleness and care. When meditating for a long period of time we may experience some discomfort, but we should not have to struggle with extreme pain, drowsiness, or distraction.

Each of us has a window of tolerance, and while it’s good to push the boundaries on that a little, meditation should never feel like a punishment. For beginners, it’s especially important that our sessions are not only bearable but enjoyable – otherwise, why come back to the practice? This speaks again to the benefits of short sessions, repeated frequently. If you stop when you are still aware and enjoying it, you’ll be giving yourself positive reinforcement to continue.

What’s Better: One Long Session, Or Lots Of Little Ones?

Based on what we know about the brain and how it learns, frequency is more important than duration when it comes to meditation time. If over the course of your week, you only have 30 minutes to spare, 5 minutes each day for 6 days are more beneficial than sitting for 30 minutes one day only.

You can also meditate more than once per day. If a 40 minute session seems impossible, 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night might fit your schedule better, feel more comfortable in your body, and according to research, might even spark more change in your brain.

How Can Beginners Meditate More Deeply?

Meditating more deeply doesn’t always correlate with meditating for a longer period of time. Some may find it easier to let go of the day’s to-do list, knowing the session will be a short one. That said, experience makes shorter, yet deeper, meditations easier to access. Studies find long-term meditators can activate the brain waves of a deep meditative state more quickly. The paradox is – it took them over 10,000 hours of practice to get there!

When Should I Increase My Meditation Time?

When you’re new to meditation, it’s normal to want to do it ‘right.’ Meditating for a certain amount of time is just one of the ways in which we think we’ll earn points. But there’s just no concrete right or wrong way to grow your practice. Some people work best when setting goals. They start with 5 minutes, adding 1 minute to their sessions each week. For others, a longer practice develops organically over time. If your timer goes off and you feel like staying longer, do! Keep in mind, you haven’t failed if you’re a 20 minute meditator, and one day you sit for 12.

How Long Should I Meditate to See Benefits?

Those who’ve practiced know that even a single mindful cycle of breath can make you feel better. But for how long do the benefits of that one breath stay with you? Spend more time in meditation, and you’ll find that over time your meditation practice will become more integrated with your outlook on everything. But to maintain this, we do need a consistent, life-long practice. As you design this lifelong practice, begin with the routine that works best for you. The best meditation length for beginners is the one you’re most likely to do.

With time, you’ll notice consistent meditation leads to several positive benefits. This naturally strengthens trust in the practice, inspiring an increase in both frequency and duration. Ultimately, our own results are the best motivator.