Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why bother to time your meditations?

You’re welcome to experiment with sitting down to meditate when you feel like it and getting up when you’re done. But there are some excellent reasons for deciding when and how long before you begin meditating and then sticking to your plan:
  • Your mind is seductive. If you don’t make a commitment to stay put for a certain period of time, your mind will find all kinds of compelling reasons for you to get up and do other things. Instead, you can watch your mind go through its gyrations, without being seduced.
  • You can forget about the clock. When you decide how long you’re going to sit, you don’t have to obsess about the time anymore —and you can relax and concentrate on your practice instead.
  • You can develop regularity. Like building a muscle, you can begin with 5 minutes and gradually work up to 15 or 20 minutes. In the same way, sitting at the same time every day creates a natural circadian rhythm to your meditation, which makes it easier to keep going.

How Long to Meditate: From Quickies to the Long Haul

Meditation resembles sex in a number of ways, and this is one of them: You may prefer it short and quick or long and slow. But whatever your predilections, you would probably agree that some sexual contact with your beloved is better than no sex at all.
Well, apply this dictum to meditation, and you’ll get the drift. If you can’t schedule a half-hour, then meditate for a few minutes. Sitting for five or ten minutes every day is much better than sitting for an hour once a week — though you may want to do both. Experiment with the different options until you find the one that suits you best. Digital alarm watches provide an accurate and inexpensive way to time your meditations precisely without watching the clock. Also, you may want to signal the beginning and end of your meditation with the sound of a small bell, as is done in many traditional cultures.

Five minutes
If you’re a beginner, a few minutes can seem like an eternity, so start off slowly and increase the length of your sittings as your interest and enjoyment dictate. You may find that, by the time you settle your body and start to focus on your breath, your time is up. If the session seems too short, you can always sit a little longer next time. As your practice develops, you’ll find that even five minutes can be immeasurably refreshing.

10 to 15 minutes
If you’re like most people, you need several minutes at the start of meditation to get settled, a few more minutes to become engaged in the process, and several minutes at the end to reorient — which means that 10 or 15 minutes leaves you a little in the middle to deepen your concentration or expand your awareness.
When you’ve made it this far, try leveling off at 15 minutes a day for several weeks, and watch how your powers of concentration build.

20 minutes to an hour
The longer you sit, the more time you’ll have between preliminaries and endings to settle into a focused and relaxed state of mind. If you have the motivation and can carve out the time, by all means devote 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or an hour to meditation each day. You’ll notice the difference — and you’ll understand why most meditation teachers recommend sitting this long at a stretch. Perhaps it’s the human attention span — look at the proverbial 50-minute hour of psychotherapy or the optimal length for most TV shows. Keeping your practice steady and regular is better than splurging one day and abstaining for the rest of the week.

When to Meditate: Any Time’s the Right Time

If you’re incredibly busy, pencil in formal periods of meditation whenever you can find the time. But if you have the luxury of choosing or would like to meditate as often as you can, I fill you in on some of the best times to sit in the following sections.
Ultimately, every moment and every activity can provide an opportunity to be mindful.

First thing in the morning
Traditionally, the hour or two right after you wake up — preferably around sunrise — is considered the best time to meditate. Your mind and body are refreshed and energized by deep sleep, and you haven’t yet started to obsess about your usual worries and concerns. As a result, you may find it easier to focus and stay present. By meditating first thing, you also set the tone for the rest of the day and can extend whatever peace of mind you generate to your other activities.

Before bed
Some people take an hour or two to wake up from the dreamy fog of sleep, and others have just enough time to roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and rush out to join the morning commute. If you’re groggy when you get up or have to switch to high gear the moment your feet hit the floor, try meditating in the evening before bed. It’s a great way to prepare for sleep, because it allows your mind to settle down and shift naturally and with ease from waking to slumber. In fact, meditators who sit at bedtime often report that their sleep is more restful and they need less of it. Of course, the downside is that you may feel as though you’re too tired or stressed out to meditate at the end of the day — and you may wind up taking a hot bath or watching TV instead. But when you get into the habit, you’ll find that evening meditations are an excellent option with some distinct advantages of their own.

Right after work
Though not as reliable as mornings or bedtimes because it’s often usurped by errands, early dinners, or family emergencies, the transition between work and home can be a fitting moment to take a few deep breaths and let your body and mind settle — instead of reaching for the paper or flipping on the tube.

Lunch hours and coffee breaks
If you have an office of your own and a time set aside for lunch or coffee —a big if, because more and more people eat on the fly these days — plan on bringing your food or scoring your java in advance and spending the rest of the time meditating. You might even set aside a special space in your office —including an altar, if you’re so inclined.

While waiting for your kids and at other predictable downtimes
If you’re like many parents, you may spend hours each week shuttling your kids from one activity or playdate to another — and sitting in the car or running errands while you wait for them to finish. Instead of picking up a magazine or listening to the news, try meditating. (You can take the same approach to waiting for your doctor or dentist.) It may not be the best environment and your posture may not be ideal, but look — it’s a stretch of precious idle time. Use it wisely.