How Long Does it Take to See the Benefits of Meditation?

Published by Olivier Devroede on

We all want to see the results of our efforts. However, the meditation instructions often include to not worry about the results. These two are reconciled by not thinking about results while doing the practice but assessing our progress once a week or once a month while we are off the cushion.

Many people see dramatic results on their first attempt at meditation. Other take months to years so notice changes. However, research in MBCT and MBSR proves that after 8 weeks of training, many people do see marked improvements.

Now, let’s unpack and see what you might expect.

Aeonium close up again - B&W
The benefits of meditation are said to unfold like the petals of a lotus flower. Photo courtesy of Chris

What are the benefits you can expect of meditation.

It all depends on what you call benefits of meditation. It also depends on your expectations. What is the problem you want to solve via meditation? And how sensitive are you two changes in your mood or personality.

Meditation has a whole range of benefits that are both mental and physical. Research has shown that meditation helps to improve your well-being, but can also improve your immunity. Scientists also found that meditation he’s a great help to reduce substance abuse and can have a stabilising effect on our blood pressure person

The most interesting result researches got from mindfulness, and that eventually made meditation go mainstream, is the fact that it is very helpful in the treatment of depression. It was seen that people who had there turrets Relapse of depression, were helped as well by mindfulness meditation as by meditation. This result alone made that almost everybody that has a depression nowadays, receives mindfulness exercises as part of the treatment.

Now, we do not all have depression. Most of us who are starting the meditation journey, are suffering from some kind of consequence of leaving a very stressful life and not been able to cope with its results.

Meditation has shown over and over again that it is able to reduce the stress in our lives. Many of the other benefits, like the improved immune system, are a direct result of this reduction in stress.

This is why this seemingly simple practice can have such a wide variety of benefits.

It also makes clear why why it is so difficult to answer the question on how long it takes to see the true results of meditation. The result you are after is to cure yourself from depression, you will need more patience then if you want to be a little more relaxed.

Halong Bay islands with sunset tint
When you are waiting for something, every second looks like eternity. Photo courtesy of Piktour UK

How long does it takes to see the benefits of the meditation?

As you can see from the previous paragraph, the results we can get from our meditation very widely.

So when looking at the benefits that we are getting personally out of our practice, we should look at the broader picture and go from the small to the ultimate result we desire.

The most immediate result from meditation

Very often, people will get very relaxed during meditation. Even to the point of falling asleep.

This might not seem much, but it is actually very significant. People are often so stressed out that they resort to unhealthy means like alcohol for immediate stress relief.

Choosing meditation instead of alcohol is a constructive choice that will pay of for years to come. Whereas drinking is a band aid that eventually destroys your liver. Now, I do not have anything against drinking for festive occasions, it’s just that many people seem to be unable to unwind and have fun unless they have some amount of alcohol in their system.

The fact that you can start to feel this relaxing effect is even more significant as this relaxation is often accompanied by a sense of joy or happiness. Isn’t this wonderful that by just watching your breath, you can feel joy and happiness

Caveat: not all people feel joy or well-being when they first meditate. Some poeple feel discomfort. And that is perfectly ok. If you are like that, practice concentration meditation rather than mindfulness meditation. See this article for more info about which meditation is best for you.
Another danger is that, once you felt the soothing effect of meditation, you will start to expect it to happen every time. Unfortunatelly, in this regards, meditation is like everything in life. Some times it is just not what you had hoped for.

This rather immediate sense of joy is something that deepens as you progress in your journey.

The other importance of this observation, is that it is exactly this phenomenon that will give you all the benefits that come later on.

Mid term benefits of meditation

Emerging from darkness
The benefits of meditation are not always apparent. Just like a lotus flower rising from the water, you sometimes need to have patience before you see the good it has done in your life. Photo courtesy of Wayne S. Grazio

By mid-term, I am talking about 6 to 8 weeks of doing daily meditation.

This is the time frame that has been most researched since the original MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) is an eight week program.

People report that they have better sleep and are able to cope better with stress by now.

Some people see a reduction in their anxiety symptoms and are also to cope better with the pain they experience.

MBSR was designed to help people cope with the reality of a terminal disease and to handle the stress that often accompanies such a dire outcome.

But in only 8 weeks of meditation, participants report all the benefits above. To me, this looks amazing since 8 weeks is a really short period of time. If you consider that benefits of traditional psychology treatments take 12 to 16 weeks to see results, I’d say this is fantastic.

Obviously, it is difficult to compare both approaches, since MBSR requires you to practice daily. Oftentimes, psychological interventions are less intensive.

Long term benefits of meditation

What is meant here by long term is at least one year of doing regular meditation. But most of the people in the cited research meditated for much longer than that.

Research on long-time meditators suggests that in fact their brains are altered in a fundamental way compared to people who do not meditate. And the alteration is more pronounced the longer they have been practicing.

Their brain waves suggest that the brain has greater coherence. Meaning that the different parts of the brain work together in better, more harmonious way.

Another study suggests that it even shows that you have been meditating for a long period. Long time meditators were perceived as less neurotic by outsiders.

Will I see the benefits of meditation in this time frame?

The truth is that meditation is not different from most other things on planet earth. The effect it has on people differs from person to person and from day to day.

People are different in so many ways that a definite outcome cannot be predicted.

Some people report dramatic insights and life changing experiences from their very first meditation. but these are the exceptions. Obviously, they are very vocal about it because they want other people to experience the same advantages than them.

Be realistic about your expectations

But we have to be realistic about what we want. And, more importantly, we need to be looking for the changes. Oftentimes we do not see them.

Personal story: I have been meditating for quite some time. Mostly to reduce stress, but also for more esoteric reasons like lucid dreaming.
I have to confess that I was not too happy about my progress. And wanted it all to go faster and be more spectacular. Althoug I knew the advice to not try too much or not expect too much.
Until on day, I discovered a book ‘The mind illuminated‘ by Culadasa. In it, the author encourages you to be on the lookout for joy that appears as one practices.
And sure enough, as I started looking, I found it. I had seen it before, but since it only came sporadic, I did not think much about it.
Now, however, I see it much more regularly and I enjoy it fully while it is there. it also disappears, but that ok.
And all this happened in only a few days after starting practicing the way Culadasa recommends.

As this story illustrates, how long you have been practicing is not always a good indicator of progress. You need to be on the lookout for the benefits. Actively see if your have made progress.

In this way, it will take much less time before your well-being is increased.

Another benefit of this approach is that you will be much more motivated to do your practices once you see that they do indeed help you in your life. In this way, it creates a sort of a snowball effect, cumulating the benefits.

Featured image by Marco Verch.

Olivier Devroede

Hi, I’m Olivier Devroede and I have been meditating seriously since 2009. Due to the great benefits I have seen in meditating, I decided to become an MBSR trainer myself and start a blog.