Question:

Hello Andy,

I hope you are well and first let me say I’m really enjoying using Headspace.

I started getting into mindfulness after going through a period of chronic stress and anxiety, and I’m currently coming out on the other side of it. I’m hoping that mindfulness can have a preventative effect in the future, but also just give me a little more daily peace of mind.

As such, I find the meditations really relaxing and I feel as if they really provide me with a “safe space” in my day. The question is, is it possible to meditate too much?

For example, if I have a particularly challenging morning where I feel overwhelmed by unpleasant thoughts and difficult emotions, I’ll meditate. It may not necessarily have an immediate effect, but I reason that it will always be doing me some good even if I can’t feel it straightaway.

Is this a sensible approach?

Thanks for your help.

Andy’s answer:

Hi, great to hear you’re enjoying Headspace and thanks for getting in touch. Sorry to hear you’ve been through such a tough time recently, but good to know you’ve found a way to get some peace of mind each day.

In answer to your question, if we are talking about the length of a session, then yes, it is possible to meditate too much. When we are learning it is important to begin little and often, sitting for just 10 or 15 minutes a time. This way it becomes more about quality (of attention and awareness) than quantity (of time). I guess we might compare it to beginning an exercise program. We wouldn’t begin by running 10K everyday, but we’d build up to it over a longer period of time.

But if the question is whether we can meditate too many times in the week, then the answer is no. In fact consistency has been shown to be an important factor in developing a stable and sustainable meditation practice. When it becomes part of our everyday routine, it really begins to impact our entire life. So I would encourage you to meditate everyday if you can, no matter how you are feeling and no matter how the mind appears.

And this brings us to the final thought which is why we meditate in the first place. Strange as it may sound, meditation is not really about trying to feel good. I would say feeling good is more of a side effect of the practice. At its heart, meditation is about understanding the mind, seeing it clearly and cultivating perspective. We could even take it one step further and say that, ultimately, it is about compassion; understanding our mind to such an extent that we are able to better understand those around us and be of more help to them.

With this in mind, we do not need to wait for the mind to be calm and happy in order to sit and meditate. Instead, we just need to show up each day. We sit and we observe. It’s like looking through the same window everyday. Sometimes it will appear busy, at other times quiet, sometimes it will appear hectic, at other times peaceful. What we see is actually not so important – it’s how we respond to it. Over time, we become more confident in being at ease with what we discover, no matter how the mind is behaving that day. And this is what it means to have true peace of mind, to be free, when we are no longer overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions but can instead rest, perfectly at ease, with the mind just as it is.

Warm wishes,

Andy