Thursday, July 30, 2009

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.

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