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You should start meditating—here's how to do it

You only need 12 minutes five times a week.

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Meditation as a practice has deep roots, though it's also the subject of contemporary academic research. Meditation has been found to improve cardiovascular health, overall well-being, and even focus. Here’s everything you need to know about how to start meditating—and why you should.

How often should you meditate?

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To see maximum benefits, aim to meditate five times a week for 12 minutes.

You’ll see the greatest meditation benefits and gains if you’re consistent with the practice. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind, found that, “people that did practices five or more days a week benefit. If they did less, they didn't really benefit all that much.”

The good news is that your sessions don’t have to be ultra-long to prove effective. In Jha’s research, participants weren’t meditating as readily or consistently when they were given longer sessions—think 30 minutes. The professor at the University of Miami, who focuses on neuroscience and meditation, later asked research participants to meditate for just 12 minutes. They still saw benefits from the shorter sessions, as long as they were consistent and practiced five days a week.

What time of day should you meditate?

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You should meditate whenever you have time and are most motivated.

Some suggest that meditating in the morning is ideal, but the answer is generally more complicated. The best time to meditate could vary from person to person, and largely depends on your schedule and lifestyle. For busy parents, for example, meditating in the late morning or afternoon when kids are still in school could be more convenient.

“The best time to practice mindfulness is the time of day when you’re going to do it,” Jha says.

How can you make a meditation habit?

a person looks at their phone as they listen to a meditation session.
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Consider building meditation into your daily routine to maximize your chances for success.

For those new to regular meditation, one of the biggest hurdles is recognizing that it takes practice. Results likely won’t be immediate, and patience and consistency will play a role. Fortunately, there are a few things to increase the odds of success at implementing meditation into your day-to-day life.

For instance, try weaving meditation into your regular schedule. “To get a daily practice going, it helps to make it a routine done at the same time each day—perhaps paired with another activity one does daily, such as just before or after having coffee,” says Marvin Belzer, an associate professor who teaches mindfulness and meditation at UCLA.

One study suggests that those new to meditation go one step further to add it to their to-do lists. “Writ[ing] down where and when they plan to meditate could further solidify the commitment to make space and time for practice,” the researchers wrote.

They explain that finding an undisturbed place that’s quiet is likely the most beneficial, and that those looking to get into the practice should plan ahead to maximize results and efficacy. The researchers also encourage people to consider these needs early in meditation training to create the best opportunity for good habit formation.

Are meditation apps an effective tool?

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Meditation apps are widespread, and researchers have found they

If you’re looking to break into meditation but don’t know where to start, don’t fret. Meditation apps are plentiful these days, offering sessions that range from beginner-friendly breathing exercises to wind downs that help you doze off at night.

Research in the area thus far is promising. App-based meditation has proven effective in elderly populations and college students. In the study of app-based meditation for the elderly, participants saw improvements in their positive affect and overall life satisfaction—though the researchers didn’t find a “meaningful change in total mindfulness or perceived stress.”

The study of college students centered on the app Calm and included nearly 90 people divided into a control group and an intervention group. The intervention group used Calm for at least 10 minutes per day for 12 weeks. The researchers concluded that the app improved students’ “stress, mindfulness, and self-compassion.” Several, but not all, of the authors had affiliation with the app or work directly for Calm.

Another study of Headspace found self-reported psychological improvement in those who used 10-minute sessions on the app for 10 to 30 days. (One of the study authors is affiliated with the app.)

Headspace and Calm offer free trials, both of which are at least a week long. UCLA also offers a free mindfulness meditation app, which is great if you want to dip your toes into the practice before fully committing.

Whether you choose a free app or online course, be patient as you begin the practice. And remember to work it into your daily life, as you'll likely see benefits if you stick to it.

What are the benefits of meditation?

a person sits on the couch listening to a meditation app on headphones
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Meditation can improve focus, cardiovascular health, and overall wellness.

“The basics of meditation and mindfulness are relatively simple … almost anyone can do it if they try,” Belzer says. People who practice irregularly may still see some benefits, but it’s unlikely to be the same volume of change. You’re probably wondering what these improvements actually are. Turns out, there’s a lot you might notice.

On a high level, you may be more present. “We're not [meditating] to spend Olympic-level hours practicing. [We’re doing it] so that our actual life benefits from more attention to the unfolding of our [day-to-day],” Jha says. “So … in the middle of scrolling on your phone, [you might] realize, ‘Oh my gosh, why am I doing this?’ … You might realize, ‘Oh, maybe I don't need to just keep doing this. Maybe I can get off TikTok and go do something else.’ ”

It can be hard to find the muster to meditate on top of everything else, but Jha says it’s worth it: “If you care about being attentive, if you want your performance to be as best as it can be, if you want your mood to be regulated, if you want your ability to think and feel and connect with others to be really protected, [meditation is] worth doing.”

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