How long before meditation works?
It’s a common question.
Many people, upon beginning contemplative practice, question the meditation benefits timeline.
My synopsis here will be based on my own experience and your mileage may vary massively.
Having said that, let’s take a look.
How long before meditation works?
In short, the benefits of meditation can often be experienced within 8 weeks.
But it really depends on your aims.
Perhaps the ultimate paradox of meditation is that it teaches us that desire is the root of suffering and of the dangers of seeking specific outcomes.
It’s a practice, therefore, that should be engaged in for its own sake, rather than the reward at the end of a spiritual journey.
In reality, rather than seeking enlightenment, many people initially begin meditating because they just want some form of respite. This was true for me, at least.
So when we consider the meditation benefits timeline, it will be in regard to common complaints like overthinking, anxiety and stress.
Many of us seek out meditation in response to chronic emotional issues which have been present for years.
Most of these psychological triggers begin in childhood and continue firing throughout our adult lives.
I personally sought out meditation as a salve for overthinking and indecision, which I’ve experienced for as long as I can remember.
For this reason, it’s worth pointing out that meditation isn’t always a quick fix.
Just like when you’re weak or overweight and join the gym, it’s sensible not to expect immediate results. The same is true of our meditative exercise.
Just as one or two physical strength sessions won’t magically make you Arnie, a couple of mindfulness sessions won’t transform you into you the Dalai Lama.
Although you can experience changes relatively quickly, especially with techniques like direct path meditation which can yield immediate insights, you shouldn’t expect to hit any arbitrary deadlines.
When I started the practice, it wasn’t because I thought I’d reverse a lifetime of emotional patterns in one or two sessions.
Rather, I’d done my due diligence on the technique, including the science supporting the practice, and was prepared to invest in training my mind over the long term.
The patience problem
And herein lies the main problem that people face.
Meditation can feel like a completely foreign exercise when we first start.
Often we follow what seem like counterintuitively simple instructions.
- Sit down – check
- Focus attention on your breath – check
- Maintain for as long as possible – DOH!
Although meditation is simple, it’s by no means easy and instead of the serene monk-like stereotype of sitting cross-legged in a state of bliss, our minds race out of control.
In our world of instant gratification, we’ve become accustomed to instant results and when we can barely keep our attention on our breath, seemingly the most straightforward exercise, we get frustrated and quit.
This is because we often approach the practice with flawed notions.
As opposed to the blank mind that’s often touted as the aim of meditation, intrusive thoughts are a normal part of the process, welcomed by experienced mediators.
It’s what we do with these thoughts that count.
Befriending them as guides or teachers, we can notice when they arise, before gently bringing our attention back to the breath and the present moment.
And it’s never-ending practice. If there is any aim, it’s training the ability to observe our thoughts arise and fall away of their own accord, which you’ll likely be able to do in your first few sessions.
It might only be for a few seconds at a time, but the realisation that we are not the sum total of our thoughts is profound.
Even if you were only to continue with focusing on the breath forever, over an extended timeline, you’d undoubtedly experience incredible benefits.
So why 8 weeks?
Well, for me, this was the length of time it took to complete the course from the book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, which introduces different techniques over 8 weeks.
The book’s based on a meditation framework which has been adopted by the National Health Service in the UK, demonstrating promising clinical results.
Personally, I found the benefits of meditation almost as soon as I internalised the initial teachings in the book and began putting them into practice.
However, at the end of the 8 weeks, I found I had meditation tools to equip me well whatever the situation.
Even today I regularly cycle through the different techniques I learned in my initial introduction to the practice.
Struggling to see progress?
Although there shouldn’t be an end goal in mind with meditation, if you’re struggling to justify continued practice, try meditating more.
That might seem like an unhelpful suggestion, especially as for many of us, finding uninterrupted time to sit still every day and observe our thoughts is an intimidating prospect.
Wait though, because whilst the formal sitting practice is hugely beneficial (even if it’s just 5-10 minutes to habitualise your practice), I’ve found that incorporating the techniques into my daily routine accelerated my understanding of the teachings.
By staying present and becoming aware of my breath and body while washing up, for example, I was able to transform even the most mundane activities into meditation sessions.
Infusing mini bouts of meditation throughout our days in this way, we can increase our quantity of practice and adoption of rewarding mindful routines.
How long should I meditate to see results?
Don’t worry too much about timelines.
Just as the positive effects of physical exercise are clear, so too the benefits of meditation will become apparent given sufficient time.
Rather than chasing specific outcomes, become the type of person who invests in both body and mind.
Play the long game, by adopting nourishing habits like meditation that will pay dividends for years to come.