How long should we meditate per day? One minute, three minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20-minute meditations, or more? There are different opinions, but there is one school of thought that suggests as long as we are taking time out to sit with our mind, then we are looking after our mental health. The truth is that you can experience the many benefits of meditation in just a few minutes a day.
You may have noticed that many of the meditations in the Headspace app include options for you to choose the length of your meditation. So, how much time should you meditate? The answer: whatever feels right for you. There are no hard and fast rules. There is no good or bad. What matters is that we meditate regularly and consistently.
Still, there may be a good reason to aim for that 20-minute meditation, according to research done by Tom Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.” Corley interviewed some of the world’s most successful people and discovered they each had developed healthy habits that helped shape their paths. Through his research, Corley said he found that anyone could hone a habit by applying just 20 minutes a day to any repeated activity for 30 days — whether that habit is a morning run or a morning meditation routine.
Now, that is not to say one should force themselves to stick out a 15-minute or 20-minute meditation session all month long, if it seems too challenging for you or your schedule. “If it feels like too much, it probably is,” writes Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe. “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.”
20-minute happiness meditation
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20-minute guided meditation
By now it’s clear: anyone, no matter how experienced, can benefit from a more extended session of meditation. It gives the body even more time to settle in and focus.
“There's that old saying, if you can't find 10 minutes in the day to meditate, you probably need 20 minutes,” says Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe. Andy’s practice includes a decade of studying meditation and mindfulness as a Buddhist monk, so when he became a father, he took additional steps to be sure to fit meditation into his day. For example, he wakes up earlier to fit meditation into his schedule. Check out his tips for making it work for you:
You don’t have to be a neurologist or a monk to understand something is going on in our brain during meditation. But a 2009 study by scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Sydney University revealed just that — with brain scans to prove it. Participants were fitted with special electroencephalography hats that measured alpha, beta, theta, and delta levels during a 20-minute guided meditation and 20 minutes of closed-eye resting, in random order.
During the 20-minute meditation, theta waves, associated with awareness and visualization, were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain — the areas that govern cognition and senses, respectively. "These types of waves likely originate from a relaxed attention that monitors our inner experiences,” according to Sydney University Australia Professor Jim Lagopoulos, the study’s principal researcher. “Here lies a significant difference between meditation and relaxing without any specific technique. Previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners.”
In just 20 minutes, participating meditators (who were not highly experienced) were already expressing those levels and enjoying higher levels of alpha activity, characteristic of wakeful rest.
Researchers also saw the alpha rays to be more prevalent in the meditators’ posterior brain regions, the parts involved in mind wandering. The subjects were getting a mental workout while noting distractions and focusing on their mind and body connection. Whereas during quiet rest, they were simply using their senses and thinking.
Meanwhile, both groups experienced few waves of beta, which display during goal-oriented tasks. There was reduced prefrontal cortex activity, which would be lit up during planning, analyzing, and categorizing tasks. In other words, 20 minutes of rest or meditation can calm our monkey mind’s chatter.
But that didn’t mean the brain was so relaxed it was falling asleep. Scans showed little delta, the waves that would display during dreamless slumber. They were working to equanimity below the surface.
What’s more: science shows that using Headspace for 30 days increases resilience (by 11%) and satisfaction with life (by 14.5%). Another study showed that medical students practicing meditation for 30 days decreased stress by 12%.
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