do i really need to meditate daily to feel calmer?


“I know meditation is ‘good for me,’ but how important is it really? And do I have to do it everyday?”

I hear some variation of this question frequently, so I thought I'd share my “answer" to it here on the blog.

People may ask this question when they feel like they have tried and “failed” at some kind of meditation practice, or perhaps they haven’t yet tried because they “just know” they would fail. They might be looking for permission to not meditate without feeling guilty about it, or to understand how to overcome the blocks they’re experiencing when they practice.

A meditation practice doesn’t have to be rigid / all-or-nothing. 

Despite my firm belief that meditation is a powerful healing tool for a long list of physical, mental, and spiritual ailments, I do not meditate every single day. And on many of the days that I do, it’s only for about 10 minutes. I tell you this to be clear about the fact that I do not pretend to be “perfect” when it comes to this practice.

I certainly admire people who do commit to never missing a day, and sometimes wish I could be one of them. But I also know myself well enough by now to understand that if there is an expectation of “perfection,” I will usually feel intimidated and easily discouraged when I don’t “measure up.” Perhaps you relate?

Some people are motivated by seeing evidence that they’re keeping a new habit/behavior going everyday without missing a single day and thus “breaking the chain.” If that’s you and it’s working, then more power to you! For me, though, the higher the number gets, the greater anxiety (about possibly breaking the chain) and obligation (to not break the chain) I feel — and as important as certain practices are, I don’t want one of my primary motivators to be fear/obligation.

At this point in my life, I’m happy being a “frequent” meditator, and if you have found that the black-and-white thinking of “everyday or why bother” has gotten in your way, please let this be encouragement to find the gray area for your own practice.

The same principle applies with the length of time. Some of the most beneficial meditations I have done are the occasional two-minute mini breaks during the workday. To just sit and breathe for a minute — even with the temptation to check email again, take a social media break, or “get one more thing done” before the next meeting — is an incredible act of self-care, and I also believe, enhances brainpower and focus.

So instead of telling yourself, “if I can’t sit for 10 minutes, it doesn’t even count, so why bother?” — give yourself permission to have mini practices, and know that this does not make you a “bad” meditator!

Also, remember that “meditation" can mean a lot than just sitting in silence with your eyes closed.

In my post on the 3 types of mindfulness, I mention that meditation falls into the category of “formal mindfulness practices.” I would argue that most formal mindfulness practice can be called meditation — that ultimately, it boils down to intentionally stepping outside of your “normal” awareness of life and shifting that awareness fully into the present moment for a period of time.

That could certainly entail sitting in silence and being aware of the breath, and it could also include:

  • a walking meditation, bringing awareness to the subtle movements of the leg/foot with each slow step)
  • repeating a mantra out loud or silently
  • coloring freehand or in a coloring book with full awareness of the movements of your hand on the page
  • dancing freestyle to one or all of the 5Rhythms
  • a solo “eating meditation” going beyond typical mindful eating practices and being keenly aware of every taste and texture, allowing yourself to savor each bite slowly
  • a nature meditation, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and textures in your favorite nature spots — like watching the birds come and go at the bird feeder, or noticing the reflection on a pond ripple and glimmer
  • making a meditation of your favorite self-care practices, like a sensory-rich bubble bath or a self-massage with warm coconut oil
  • journal stream-of-consciousness, allowing whatever flows into your mind to flow onto the page, a la morning pages from The Artist’s Way
  • doodling to an instrumental song, allowing the music to abstractly flow through your hand and onto the page

And those are just some examples! If sitting quietly everyday is not your jam, it’s probably a good idea to be with and explore the discomfort that comes up for you when sitting with yourself. And it may also be helpful to give yourself permission to experience meditation in other ways.

When I think about expanding my idea of “meditation” to include the above activities, suddenly it seems a lot more accessible and enjoyable.

So to come full circle back to the question at the beginning of this post: Yes, meditation is an incredibly powerful tool to deal with living in the 21st century. Though a meditation practice is far from the only way to clear your mind and access a sense of calm, it is one of the best ways. Unlike shadow comforts that feel good or relaxing in the moment then leave you feeling drained, guilty, or “unproductive” (hello Facebook scanning and hours-long Netflix marathons), meditation practices remind you that you're alive.

I don’t believe you have to do anything every single day beyond eating and sleeping (ok brush your teeth y’all), but there are tons of nourishing activities you can do frequently that will help you to feel more grounded, connected, and balanced in your life the more you do them. (Showering! Meditation! Movement! Snuggling! Long talks with friends!)

If you’re looking for some new meditation practices, check out my free original guided meditations

What are some of your favorite ways to meditate? Share in the comments!

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.