Question:

During the Foundation course, I increased my session time from 10 to 15 minutes for Foundation Level 2, and then up to 20 minutes for Foundation Level 3. Well, I found that it was much more difficult for me to sit still for 20 minutes. You wouldn’t think five minutes would matter, but boy did it make me feel anxious. This leads me to my question – does the length of time matter? Should I do 20 minutes because it’s so much harder for me, or should I do 15 minutes because 10 seems easy and 15 seems like a good balance?

Andy’s answer:

Hi, thanks for your question and it raises several great points: How much is too much? What is the optimal amount of time to sit for? And does a harder session mean we are getting better results?

Let’s take one at a time…

If it feels like too much, it probably is. It’s best to approach meditation much like anything else in life: start small, build up slowly and find your own personal sweet spot. For some people, this sweet spot is 10 minutes and for others it’s 60 minutes. To begin with, the most important thing is finding a time length which feels achievable and keeps us feeling motivated. Without this, it will never become part of an established daily routine. Also important to remember is that when it comes to awareness and compassion, quality always trumps quantity, so it’s much better to be actively cultivating those qualities than sitting still like a statue wondering when the session will end. (We’ve all been there!)

So what is the optimal amount? Well, science is still working that equation out. Many of the recent findings seem to be pointing at frequency rather than duration. So for example, 10 minutes a day, every day of the week, is likely to be far more beneficial than 70 minutes on one day of the week. This also reflects the traditional teachings of meditation, which obviously respect the value of long sessions in certain environments and for those very experienced, but which more often than not encourage an attitude of “little and often.” This bite-size approach helps us to discover stability of awareness in our everyday lives, rather than just an isolated practice that we do and then leave behind.

As for the final question: without wanting to sit on the fence, everything is about balance. If the session feels unbearable and continues to feel unbearable, and we are unable to discover the source of that resistance, then that is not time well spent. At the same time, it is often in those more challenging sessions that we discover the most about ourselves. But time alone is unlikely to be a good judge of this, so it would be my recommendation that you stick with your sweet spot, 15 minutes – a little longer than 10 minutes so it feels challenging, but not as long as 20 minutes so that it feels unhelpful or demotivating. Sound like a plan?

Let us know how you get on and we’ll be sure to take a look at how we can better give guidance on duration for those starting out on the Headspace Journey.

Warm wishes,

Andy