Meditation is a fantastic tool for managing anxiety and stress, overcoming negative emotions, and becoming a more focused, productive individual. Research has shown that meditation improves your attention, memory, focus, and creativity, in addition to relieving stress and anxiety. However, many people who start practising mindfulness meditation expect that they’ll feel magically cured of any problems within just a few short weeks. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
While it can be very helpful in the long term, meditating for five minutes each day for a week or two isn’t going to help you immediately alleviate all symptoms of anxiety or depression. Going in with those kinds of lofty expectations is setting yourself up for failure. In general, most meditation teachers agree that while some people may immediately feel the positive effects of meditation, it will often take a long time for results to start appearing.
So how long should meditators expect to wait before the sessions start getting easier and the skills you’re learning start creeping into your daily life? Crucially, how do you know if you are making progress in your meditation journey? In this article, we’ll tackle the question of how long it takes for meditation to start paying off.
What the Science Says
Research concerning this topic has led to varied results. One study indicates that it takes up to 8 weeks for your brain to start seeing benefits from meditation. These benefits include improved focus, enhanced emotional regulation and control, and better decision-making. Meanwhile, another study claims that 11 hours of meditation split into 30-minute sessions over the course of a month can rewire your brain. Long story short, there are many theories out there regarding the “magic number” of hours or days at which meditation truly takes effect.
However, one thing that the majority of studies in this area have in common is that regular and frequent practice is essential if you want to reap the benefits of meditation. Most studies in this area focus on the long-lasting impacts of regular meditation practice, hence the importance of consistent practice. This is also emphasised in many meditation programs and courses, including our own online membership plan. On the other hand, one 10-minute meditation session can still provide participants with some instant short-term benefits such as stress relief and increased calmness.
How do the Benefits of Meditation Vary?
One important thing we haven’t mentioned is that the results you see will depend massively on the type of meditation you’re practising. There are a wide range of different practices out there, including Loving-Kindness Meditation, noting and concentration-based practices, breathing exercises, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, to name a few. We’ll focus more on the specific benefits of different types of session shortly, but it’s worth noting early on that each type of meditation brings with it a different set of principles, techniques, and effects, each of which will impact the time it takes for the practice to “work”. To find out more about the different types of exercise available, check out our article on the six main types of meditation.
Now, the question “how long does it take for meditation to work?” obviously refers to the long-term physical and psychological benefits. However, it is also important to understand the short and mid-term benefits, which can often act as stepping stones that can lead towards longer-lasting benefits. Let’s spend some time explaining how the results of these practices can vary.
Immediate benefits of meditation
You can expect to feel these benefits immediately after a meditation session:
- A clear and quiet mind
- Reduced/normal heartbeat
- A more relaxed body and mind
- Reduced stress levels
Mid-term benefits of meditation
These are more advanced benefits that start to appear after a sustained period of consistent daily meditation practice:
- Enhanced ability to deal with stressful situations
- Increased levels of patience
- Better sleep
- Increased productivity and concentration
- Increased awareness of the body and surroundings
Long-term benefits of meditation
Experienced meditators will start to see more consistent instances of the short and mid-term benefits, as well as the following benefits:
- Enhanced ability to live in the present moment
- Increased self-control
- Increased levels of compassion
- Increased mindfulness in everyday life
- Increased self-confidence
- Good mind-body connection
How Often Should You Meditate?
As discussed above, the benefits of meditation practices are rarely accessed without meditators developing some consistent, regular habits. As a result, the most common answer to the question of how often you should meditate is at least once a day. In order to see the real benefits of meditation in the long term, consistency is key, so the best way to maintain consistency is to ensure you make time for meditation every day and make daily meditation practice a part of your routine.
When starting out, short daily meditation sessions (eg. 5 minutes per day of meditation time) can ease you into the habit of regular practice and allow you to pick up some tips and tricks without too much effort. This provides a consistent routine that will help to make meditation a habit and a regular part of your daily life. Also, shorter sessions make the idea of starting meditation much less daunting. For beginners it can be difficult to maintain focus for long periods, so doing 5 – 10 minutes per day can be a good way of easing yourself into regular meditation. A great time to do this could be during your morning shower — this is often a time of quiet reflection before starting the day, so why not incorporate some mindfulness into it? Check out our article on meditation in the shower for more guidance on this.
Once you have gotten to grips with meditation you may find that longer and less frequent sessions (eg. 30 minutes of meditation every other day) work better for you. As always, there is no one size fits all solution. However, here at MindOwl, we would recommend starting with short meditation sessions that fit around your daily schedules and tailoring your routine to your preferences as you become a more seasoned meditator.
How do you know meditation is working?
Having all of this information on meditation is very useful; however, what people often struggle with is knowing if their meditation practice is working or not. If you aren’t sure whether meditation is working for you, you’re not alone — it is quite common in the early days, weeks, and months of meditation and mindfulness training. Initially, the benefits of meditation can be very subtle changes that are hard to notice if you don’t know what you are looking for. Along with the benefits we discussed above, and the meditation skills you’ll grow as you go, look out for these advantages too:
- You’re More Aware of Your Body – Awareness is a pivotal component of meditation and becoming more aware of your body and your surroundings is a good indicator that your meditation practice is taking effect. This sign is particularly prominent in mindful meditation. Simple things such as noticing your heartbeat or correcting your poor posture as you sit at your desk are key signs.
- You’re More Aware of Changes in Your Mood – You’ll start to notice when you’re in a bad mood a lot earlier, which can allow you to get on with your day without being overly effected by negative emotions. It is not a case of ignoring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, but simply being aware of them in a non-judgemental and non-reactive way. You’ll recognise your bad mood, acknowledge it, and let it go, rather than holding onto it and making your mood even worse.
- You Become Less Irritable – Meditation teaches you to accept minor disturbances and maintain focus on the present moment. Similar to the previous sign, you will become more patient and tolerant of minor inconveniences that previously would have driven you crazy.
- No More Going Through the Motions – You’ll become more conscious and aware throughout your daily life, and you’ll start to notice the mindlessness of certain activities. A good example of such an activity is scrolling through social media sites on your phone. You’ll catch yourself and suddenly question why you are doing it and why you are wasting your time. Breaking those kinds of habits is really healthy.
The impact of mindfulness meditation on your mental and physical health can be significant, both in the short and long term. A single meditation session can reduce stress for a couple of hours; however, consistent meditation practice is required to reap the long-lasting positive effects of meditation. Unfortunately, there is no specific time when you will start to feel these benefits. The amount of time it takes for practitioners to start seeing results depends not only on the individual and their commitment to regular meditation, but also on the type of meditation practice they’re using. Beginners should start with short daily meditation sessions and adapt their routine to their preferences as they become more experienced. Watch out for signs such as increased awareness of your body, decreased irritability, enhanced attention, more mindful communication, and an ability to shift your mood or pull away from negative emotions.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why doesn’t meditation work for me?
It can be super frustrating when you fail to experience the supposed amazing benefits of meditation. If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably wondered why meditation isn’t working for you. Ultimately, there can be a number of factors involved; for more guidance, check out our informative article, ‘Meditation doesn’t work for me’.
Is meditation good for tackling stress?
One of the core skills meditation gives you is an increased ability to manage stress and anxiety. By shifting the way you think and teaching you how to view negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings in a non-judgemental, non-reactive way, mindfulness meditation stops you from rising to your stresses and making them worse. Check out our article on meditation for stress for more information.
What are the 9 attitudes of mindfulness?
As you continue to embark on your meditation journey, one of the terms you’re likely to come across is the idea of the 9 attitudes of mindfulness. These are; non-judging, acceptance, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, letting go, gratitude, and generosity. You can find out more about this concept in our article on the 9 attitudes of mindfulness.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.