This article was last updated January 2018.
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One of our most frequently asked questions is a version of this:
What's better, (a.) meditating 5-10 minutes every day, or (b.) meditating an hour in one sitting when you can find the time?
First, we'll answer the question.
There's a quote that states "Consistency is better than rare moments of greatness."
This applies to meditating. If you meditate "now and then" for an hour but don't do anything else, you probably won't receive a lot of benefit. It's far better to build a consistent practice where you meditate 5-10 minutes every day. It's even better to build a consistent practice where you meditate 5-10 minutes several times a day, every day.
Next, we'll explain why the question is irrelevant and usually indicates a misunderstanding of why you should meditate.
The dedicated exercise of meditating is meaningless if you don't strive to be mindful when you aren't meditating. Mindfulness is the application of the skills you develop when you meditate.
When you meditate, you learn to watch thoughts, emotions, and other mental activity come and go; you learn to observe it all without getting caught up in it. And, by watching it all continually come and go, you'll begin to recognize its temporary nature. If you don't give any of it fuel to persist by grasping after what you label "positive/pleasant" or pushing away what you label "negative/unpleasant," it simply arises and passes in your awareness.
As Thich Nhat Hanh states,
"An emotion comes, stays for a while, and goes away, just like a storm. If you’re aware of that, you won’t be afraid."
This is the essence of meditation - strengthening awareness of your mind-made activity as it arises and passes. But, in order to benefit from your practice, you need to apply the awareness you strengthen to your daily life when you aren't meditating. Put another way,
You need to be mindful.
How can you be mindful?
Throughout the day, check to see where you attention is at. Is it dwelling on something from the past, leading to regret and depression? Is it ruminating on something that might happen in the future, leading to stress and anxiety? Or, is it in an alternate reality, escaping the present moment by indulging in fantasies and day-dreams?
As you check, if you find that you aren't grounded in the present moment, simply move your attention back to what's happening right here and now.
To help you remember to do this, you can utilize what we call "mindfulness cues." Mindfulness cues are audio or visual prompts, and some examples include
In conclusion, consistency trumps infrequent, longer sessions when it comes to meditating. But, what's critical is applying the skills you develop while meditating to your "non-meditating" time.
There's what's happening, and there's the story your mind tells you about what's happening - the two rarely match (click here to read more...)
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