When is the Best Time of Day to Meditate?
Why the Best Time to Meditate Might Not be a Great/Ideal Time
The Best Time of Day to Meditate Might Depend on Why You’re Meditating
What is the Purpose of Meditation in Traditional Yoga?
Traditional yoga teaches that the purpose of meditation is to become aware of the ways in which our attention is habitually and automatically pre-occupied. As a tool of self-awareness, meditation allows us to notice the automatic and habitual ways of engaging with our inner/outer life prior to being consumed by them. In meditation, the cultivation of focused attention is the basis for becoming aware of various ways in which we find our attention pre-occupied.
Much of our personal suffering originates in the habits we develop in order to protect ourselves from distressing components of our inner life, the very components that motivate us to pursue whatever next thing we think will (finally) make us invulnerable or “complete”. Relentlessly attempting to avoid or eliminate our discomfort keeps us imprisoned by it (and only serves to reinforce the very problem that we were attempting to subvert). Meditation requires cultivating the capacity to remain with our discomfort rather than remaining unthinkingly driven by our drive to destroy it.
Morning Meditation or Evening Meditation? Why the best time to meditate might be when you least want to do it.
Whether in the morning or before bed, your routine should make it easy to start the meditation.
There’s a sense in which the “best” time to meditate is when it is most inconvenient/uncomfortable to do so. In other words, the best time of day (or times of day) to meditate might be when your habits of avoidance/desire are particularly strong. This is, of course, easier for those who are not in full control of when they meditate (e.g., participants in a meditation class/group/retreat, or monks). However, for those of us wanting to begin a simple practice at home, the best time to meditate might be simply whenever you’ll actually do it.
Strictly speaking, the best time to meditate (or the ideal amount of meditation) depends on the individual and their circumstances. The most important/difficult part of meditation is simply beginning the meditation—i.e., intervening in the momentum of the habitual self. As a practice, meditation is just this: intervention that does not itself become mindless ritual—intervention that forgets itself.
Because mornings and nights are typically the most controllable parts of our day (as they are framed by our need to sleep), maintaining a morning/night ritual may be less difficult than interrupting the momentum of the habitual self at later parts of the day (say, in the afternoon). But this isn’t always true. Some find the afternoon to be an ideal time fo day to meditate, as meditation can serve as a way of withdrawing from one’s entanglement with the demands of the day.
When is the best time of day to meditate? Does it matter when you meditate? Ultimately, not at all. As long as you are clear about why you’re meditating—to settle your attention in order to notice how your habitual self is pre-occupied—then you can even experiment with meditating at different times or situations just to notice how your attention is wrapped up. You might choose to meditate when angry. Or when particularly sad. Or perhaps prior to (or after) certain experiences that produce discomfort. The point of your meditation, however, is not to fix/solve your discomfort, but rather to witness whatever is happening.
Our growing capacity to sit with our discomfort (rather than run from it) can help us to cultivate the qualities that are consequences of no longer running from our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions, qualities such as fearlessness, self-acceptance, compassion, creativity, etc. When we no longer run from the distressing/frightening appearances in our inner lives, we free ourselves from the limitations imposed by the pursuit of invulnerability that was motivated by our distress, and thus more readily and willingly open ourselves up in ways that we don’t feel compelled to control. But the “goal” of meditation, remember, is not self-improvement, but is rather self-awareness.
Depending on the individual, embedding one’s meditation practice in accompanying rituals may be more/less of a hinderance (e.g., some meditate at a special time/place, some meditate on a special cushion, some meditate in particular clothing, some meditate with particular items or as part of a larger ritual, etc.). Though rituals remain an important part of changing ourselves (i.e., our new behaviours become habit through practicing them “ritually”), the core habit we’re attempting in meditation practice is becoming mindful. And so, ultimately, while there may be a convenient time to cultivate focused attention and mindfulness, there is, strictly speaking, no best time to meditate, no best time to notice how your habitual self is automatically pre-occupied.
There’s a sense in which the “best” time to meditate is when it is most inconvenient/uncomfortable to do so. (...) As a practice, meditation is just this: intervention that does not itself become mindless ritual—intervention that forgets itself.
This article is a short response to a single, frequently-asked question about meditation (i.e., the best time to meditate). In short, the best time of day that people should consider doing their meditation practice should be based on what they’re trying to achieve with their meditation. The way of traditional yoga suggests not that you become used not a particular meditation routine based on time/place, etc., but rather that you focus on the routine of being mindful as part of your way of life, so to speak—that is, on the cultivation of becoming aware of the way(s) that your awareness is habitually and automatically pre-occupied before and after your meditation practice, in your daily life—and not just during your meditation (regardless of when or what type of mediation: morning meditation or evening meditation or mindfulness meditation or guided meditation)
Our article about the goal (and benefits) of meditation offers a more comprehensive discussion of meditation and its role in traditional yoga philosophy and practice.