When Do You Meditate?

Pick a moment when you'll be most alert and least busy.

Many people meditate first thing in the morning. When they get home from work or college, certain people have a meditation practice. Others do meditation before going to bed or later in the evening. Any of our students like to meditate when they are at class. Nothing beats shutting your door (if you have one) and practicing mindfulness for five to ten minutes in the middle of the day to relax and de-stress. Some parents say that they have their most productive sessions while waiting to pick up a child from an after-school program. They put a meditation CD in the car's CD player and start meditating.

The main thing is to figure out what works best for you, rather than having your own preconceived notions of when you can meditate. You'll play with various times of day over time to see what works best for you. In the end, what matters is that you establish a routine everyday schedule that you stick to.

Duration of Time

We advocate beginning small—say, with five minutes of meditation per day—because so many people feel exhausted by life's busyness, as if there is never enough time to do anything that needs to be accomplished. While many people find it difficult to integrate a new habit into their daily routine, most of us can spare five minutes. You will gradually increase the time to twenty to forty minutes or even more. Don't claim to be able to meditate for an hour; you'll be discouraged if you find it too difficult. If you set the bar too high, you will get overwhelmed and give up too fast. If you meditate for a few weeks at five minutes per day and discover that it isn't long enough, you should gradually extend your period until you find a length that feels beneficial but still fitting into your schedule.

Place an alarm clock or a kitchen timer in front of you to keep track of the time. A meditation timer with a bell that chimes a variety of sounds is also available (see resources section). You may also use a clock or watch to monitor it by opening your eyes from time to time. Another choice is to use a guided CD to meditate on, which will provide you with a simple stopping point and specific guidance. (Free meditations can be downloaded from our MARC website, www.marc.ucla.edu.) While some people have used the same tapes for years, you may find that you choose to meditate without the recording over time. It is all up to you. Experiment to see what feels comfortable and helps the operation go smoothly.

There are many different ways to meditate, many different postures, many different eye and hand configurations, and many different locations and times to do so. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to meditation, but you will be given several tips based on what has worked for others in the past.

Mindfulness is about discovering who you are and what blends with your life. So leave yourself plenty of room to experiment and discover, don't set unrealistic goals that would lead to disappointment, and approach meditation with a scientific mindset—try it out to see what works for you. It may take several weeks or even months for you to settle into a routine that you enjoy. You'll quickly realize that your everyday practice is both a means to an end—one that improves your well-being, brings pleasure, and encourages self-reflection—and a basis for practicing mindfulness during the day in all facets of your life. So, to get started, consider the following exercise to help you ease into your stance right now.

You may also want to read more about Mindfulness Meditation and Healing here.