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This question leads on from the comments on this post

What is the minimum amount of time that one could productively sit in meditation? For instance if I only had five minutes to sit should I do it or would the time be so short that I should just not delude myself with the pretense of a 5 minute meditation. What about 10 minutes does this change it? Or the other extreme could I sit for a minute - would it be worth it?

I would be interested if anyone could give references from established teachers past or present on recommended guidelines, practices around this.

  • I think meditation of any duration will help. Sometimes I close my eyes in the middle of my work and do a really short meditation of eleven breaths. It helps me come back to a state of 'mindfulness in action'. HTH – Parag Jul 7 '15 at 5:46
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My answer is based on oral transmission from Vajrayana teachers and thus I am unable to provide references.

I've been told that every meditation, however short, will bring about positive results and the only worthless meditation is the one you never did. Imagine that over a period of a month one could sit only for one minute a day but never did thinking that it is worthless. If they actually sat down, they would have done 30 minutes of meditation in total, which, admittedly, is nothing particular, but they would also form a great habit by doing one thing 30 days in a row. It means that 30 times they stopped doing their worldly activities and sat down to change something in their life.

Keeping a meditation session short is actually a common advice for beginners. Meditation should not be perceived as a difficult duty but rather as the best gift one can give to oneself. If one starts off too ambitiously, after a week they would connect 'meditation' with 'sore back', 'confusion', 'uncontrollable thoughts', 'drowsiness' etc. To prevent this, it's better to sit for a few minutes and finish the session while still feeling fresh. Then one will form positive connotations about meditation and will willingly sit down next time and possibly won't be bothered too much with prolonging the sessions step by step.

In Buddhism, one is not interested in immediate results as following Buddha's teachings is a long journey and many lifetimes might pass before one reaches enlightenment. One should do whatever is possible in the current situation and everything that is done with the motivation to follow Buddha's path should be considered productive.

Practising meditation is a very individual issue and coming up with a universal minimum value wouldn't help anyone. Everyone meditates as much as they can and want. If one can only do one minute a day due to a busy schedule, all they can do is to possibly make wishes that soon their conditions will change and they will be able to find more time. There are cases, however, that the reason why people meditate only a little lies elsewhere. They are again busy, but this time with things like browsing Internet, meaningless chatting, gossiping, napping etc. My point is that there is no use making a hard rule about meditation time, rather one might reflect on why they meditate that amount of time and not any more. Checking one's motivation and contemplating on impermanence might help in deciding whether one wants to meditate more.

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One minute of mindfulness is better than none. Just remembering to sit and be mindful IS being mindful. I once read from Sharon Salzberg that she knew a man who always sat on his mat at least once a day. Even if he did not have the time for sitting meditation he at least sat down on his cushion daily if even just for a minute. Forgetfulness can be a hindrance to practicing mindfulness. The act of remembering to be mindful of the present moment IS mindfulness.

Personally I sit in zazen for 30 minutes at a time. However if I have 10 minutes or less to spare I will often sit for less. For instance, I was microwaving a baked potato at home, and went and sat in zazen and focused on my breathing. It sure beat standing in front of a microwave just waiting for the "ding".

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Longer the better as more you rub two sticks together then you can get fire. But for people to watch out for is if you are putting too much effort. So if you feel mentally or physically wore out or tired after a session you are doing it too long and perhaps you should reduce the time.

Generally 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening / night is good enough.

This little plant of Dhamma requires service now. Protect it from the criticism of others by making a distinction between the theory, to which some might object, and the practice, which is acceptable to all. Don’t allow such criticism to stop your practice. Meditate one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. This regular, daily practice is essential. At first it may seem a heavy burden to devote two hours a day to meditation, but you will soon find that much time will be saved that was wasted in the past. Firstly, you will need less time for sleep. Secondly, you will be able to complete your work more quickly, because your capacity for work will increase. When a problem arises you will remain balanced, and will be able immediately to find the correct solution. As you become established in the technique, you will find that having meditated in the morning, you are full of energy throughout the day, without any agitation.

...

When you go to bed at night, for five minutes be aware of sensations anywhere in the body before you fall asleep. Next morning, as soon as you wake up, again observe sensations within for five minutes. These few minutes of meditation immediately before falling asleep and after waking up will prove very helpful.

...

Daily meditation of two hours and yearly retreats of ten days are only the minimum necessary to maintain the practice. If you have more free time, you should use it for meditation. You may do short courses of a week, or a few days, even one day. In such short courses, devote the first one third of your time to the practice of Anapana, and the rest to Vipassana.

Source: The Discourse Summaries by S.N.Goenka

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There’s a lot of vague opinion here. Several studies have shown at as little as 20 mins (two 10 minute sittings) a day is sufficient to receive benefits. In fact this level of practice is the basis of one of the most popular book-based Mindfulness courses in the world (Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World).

This book is supported by scientific research conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn at University of Massachusetts Medical School and Mark Williams at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

The quality of your practice probably has more to do with benefits than the quantity.

On an anecdotal level, I’ve personally received some benefits from one 10 minute practice a day over a period of months, but not as much as two. On the lower end, I saw no benefit from several one minute practices a day (as prompted by my Apple Watch).

Finally, everybody can find 10 minutes in a day, even it means falling asleep 10 minutes later. 10 minutes, or even 20, may seem like an impossible amount of time to find, but one of the first things you learn, when you force yourself to make time to practice, is how much time you have to spare without realising it. Really. You’ll be amazed.

You probably spend 10 mins a day on Facebook without giving it a second thought. It’s the practice of slowing down that makes it seem so difficult. Our mind resists at first.

Good luck!

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Aside from the meditative benefits of short sits -- i.e. even if there weren't any, which I don't think is the case -- one other benefit is that they can help build a habit of regular meditation eventually leading to longer sits. See here for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdKUJxjn-R8

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To cultivate rapture on the level of neighbourhood concentration - 90 minutues - per sitting.

  • DD, check out your email inbox. – Val Apr 1 '18 at 6:10

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