At this point in the Golden Age of self-care, we’re pretty well-acquainted with the many benefits of meditation. For example, according to a 2018 study published in BMJ Open, anxiety may increase the risk of developing cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Meditation—which has been shown to help control anxiety—could potentially reduce this risk. Another small Harvard study in 2018 found that meditation was linked to a meaningful decrease in blood pressure. The beauty of meditation is that it can pretty much be done anywhere—at any time. But that doesn’t mean certain times aren’t more productive than others. Here’s what you need to know about the best (and not best) times to meditate in order to optimize your practice.
In the Morning
A.M. meditations are probably the most popular, and for good reason: A morning meditation can be almost like a shot of espresso. It’s helpful to meditate before your day really starts because of how quiet and uninterrupted your surroundings are. You haven’t started getting dressed for the day or checked your emails, so you’re better able to devote your full attention to the task at hand. On top of that, what you do first thing in the morning impacts the rest of your day. According to Charlene Wang, a holistic registered dietitian at Strata Integrated Wellness Spa at Garden of the Gods Resort and Club, "Meditation at the beginning of the day sets the mood and tone for the remainder of the day. It helps to take a moment to reflect, set intentions and connect with the physical body."
When You’re Stressed
Once a daily meditation has become part of your routine, you’ll likely notice a decrease in midday stress. If it does happen, though, a short meditation can work wonders. This is the ideal time for a mini meditation aimed directly at reducing stress. Take, for example, the Three Minute Cure, an easy and intuitive meditation developed by John Sahakian, an L.A.-based clinical hypnotherapist and yoga instructor. Here’s how to do it: First, sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath at your nostrils or in your chest, and count 12 to 15 long breaths. Next, as you count another set of 12 to 15 breaths, visualize yourself somewhere pleasant and safe: the beach, on a hike, et cetera. Finally, in another set of breaths, use your inner voice to remind yourself that life is a gift. In a final set of breaths, tell yourself that a positive mental outlook is the most practical way to overcome obstacles. Done.
No matter how much you love yours, jobs can be stressful. For this reason, meditation after work is a great way to relieve some of the tension that’s built up from nine to five. Note that the early evening could also be a great time for a nontraditional meditation. Consider mindful running, for example. Every once in a while, instead of your sensory-overloading spin class, make your evening workout a mindful jog. The basic concept is similar to mindfulness meditation, or using focused attention to reduce stress, improve sleep and heighten focus and creativity. To try it, go for a run like you normally would but make a concerted effort to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. You can run without headphones and be totally alone with your thoughts or listen to calming music (you know, the kind without words). Meditation app Headspace even has a partnership with Nike Run Club to offer free guided meditation runs to get you started.
When Not to Meditate
It’s a bit surprising, but it’s best not to try meditation right before bed. Considering how zen and calming meditation can be, you would think the two would go hand in hand. But even though one of the goals of meditation is to find calm and focus, it’s also meant to increase awareness, which is fantastic—unless you’re trying to lull yourself to sleep. Note that this doesn’t included guided sleep meditations, which are specifically created to ease you into a restful night's sleep and are available on YouTube and apps like Headspace.
To Find Which Works for You, Try Them All
Like most things worth doing, a fulfilling meditation practice doesn’t all of a sudden materialize the first time you try it. To figure out how you personally can get the most out of it, it’s going to take some trial and error. Instead of picking one of the aforementioned times and sticking to it, try meditation at a couple different times throughout the day and take stock of which one makes you feel best. Here’s another helpful tip for when you’re just getting started and can’t seem to focus your attention, from L.A.-based yoga instructor Alexis Novak: “I adopt the mantra 'There it is again' every time I am meditating and start to get intense thoughts swirling around. Instead of punishing myself and being so harsh, I just observe and say, 'There it is again,' with a sense of humor and shift my attention back to a simple inhale and exhale.” Sometimes meditation means fighting for attention, and that’s OK.