How long does mindfulness take to work?

How long does mindfulness need to work

How long does mindfulness take to work?

The following post clarifies whether a comprehensive mindfulness training of several weeks is always necessary or whether short applications are also helpful.


The principle of mindfulness has gained a solid reputation in the Western world through various formal and informal mindfulness programs. The best-known mindfulness program in the West was developed  1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn and associates of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts/Worcester for patients with chronic illnesses. [1]

It is called the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. Its goal was to teach participants the principles of self-regulation through mindfulness. Furthermore, to develop skills and autonomy in mindfulness practice.

Within this course lasting several weeks, the principles of mindfulness are first taught and practiced formally and in everyday life to lessen the burden of chronic pain or stress.

However, the positive effects of these mindfulness principles are also helpful in general, apart from chronic illness as we will see soon…

“8 weeks of training is much too long – I can’t give myself that time off.

” Twenty-six hours of sessions is nothing for me – I have a household to run.”

” I only have three weeks of vacation a year….!”

“Ten weekly  two hour sessions – so often I have to go where?”

And we hear many similar statements all over – A fundamental problem which is well-known among psychiatrists and psychologists.

Although science showed MBSR to have beneficial aspects for patients with chronic pain, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, the underlying condition per se may make it impossible for the patient to participate in an extended program regularly.

In a study in 2006, 44 caregivers who were challenged by caring for chronically ill children reported that MBSR training led to a significant reduction in stress symptoms and moodiness. Still, some potential participants refrained due to the size and complexity of the program.

Woman with question to mindfulness

Furthermore, the question arose whether the standard MBSR protocol is necessary for all areas of application.

How long does a mindful based program needs to be?

In 2009, James Carmody and Ruth A. Baer addressed the question: “How long does a mindfulness-based stress reduction program need to be?” [3]

They found that self-reported mindfulness increases with the intensity of mindfulness practice at home and is associated with an increase in well-being.

Unfortunately, the exact time investment was not systematically investigated by studies so far.

However, they found no evidence that a shortened version of a MBSR sequence is less effective
then the standard format. 

Gehirn Statue

At the same time, the authors pointed out that in their work, apart from psychological distress, no other factors, such as influences on biological factors, the brain, or the immune system, were taken into account.
The latter factors are usually influenced by slow transformation processes and therefore need a longer process until they take effect.

The authors further discussed the potential influence of the following aspects:
– total number of lessons
– the break between different sessions
– the skill level and experience of the instructor
concerning the maintenance of acquired improvements over time, thus, calling for further studies with a longitudinal follow-up to measure these effects. [3]  

In summary, scientists and clinicians are still trying to discover the best time management for mindfulness-based clinical programs.

How long needs mindful meditation?

There are a variety of mindfulness programs whose outcome variables are different and, therefore, cannot be subsumed under MBSR e.g.:
– increases in self-compassion
– reduced fear
– increased spirituality
and others.

These programs are grouped under mindful-based interventions and show positive effects even in shorter applications.

woman mindful meditation at beach

The authors Mohan, Sharma, and Bijlani, reported a significant favorable influence on cognitive function from a mindfulness mediation of as little as twenty minutes compared to a group of people who did not meditate [4].

 Another interesting study by Christopher R. Berghoff, which focused on mindful meditation in college students, also showed that even a 10-minute session could have positive effects compared to students who meditated for twenty minutes. In comparison, Berghoff found no difference between the two groups. In either group, stress decreased, but mindfulness increased. [5] 

These examples pinpoint that even extremely short mindfulness exercises can positively affect health and well-being.

Therefore, these mindful practices are possible for everybody and easy to apply daily.

How to apply mindful-based principles daily?

But when do I apply the techniques?” you may ask.

To shed some light on this question, we take a look at an essay published by Michail Mantzios and Kyriaki Giannou – A Real-World Application of Short Mindfulness-Based Practices [6]

Herein, the authors discuss mindful practices in short setups and highlight the following crucial key points:

 – Daily, regular mindfulness practice helps to build positive behavior and increase mindfulness over time.

The mindfulness practice should be linked to a fixed event to increase comittment, similar to brushing teeth.

Mindful exercises should not only be linked to bad events or negative expectations to prevent negative conditioning.


Comprehensive mindfulness programs like the MBSR are well established in a clinical setting, helping many patients with chronic diseases, pain, tumors, or cardiovascular diseases. These clinical programs are time-consuming and should be guided, trained, and monitored in specialized centers with instructors of appropriate expertise and skill level.

However, mindfulness training is also valuable for healthy individuals. For example, it can help to better cope with daily demands such as lowering stress, strengthening self-esteem, or enjoying nature, food, and the environment. Easy-to-apply techniques may include mindful walks, mindful meditation, mindful eating, or mindful coloring practices.

The goal is to make mindfulness a daily habit and requires the interested beginner less time and effort in an otherwise already overcommitted everyday life. In addition, the perception of positive effects can lead to increased interest so that more demanding and extended techniques and programs can gain more attention if needed.


[1] Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An out-patient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain
patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and
preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry, 4, 33–47.

[2] Minor, H.G., Carlson, L.E., Mackenzie, M.J., Zernicke, K., & Jones, L. (2006). Evaluation of
a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for caregivers of children with
chronic conditions. Social Work in Health Care, 43, 91–109

[3] Carmody J, Baer RA. How long does a mindfulness-based stress reduction
program need to be? A review of class contact hours and effect sizes for
psychological distress. J Clin Psychol. 2009;65:627-638.

[4] Mohan A, Sharma R, Bijlani RL. Effect of meditation on stress-induced changes in
cognitive functions. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17:207-212.

[5] Berghoff CR, Wheeless L, Ritzert TR, Wooley CM, Forsyth JP. Mindfulness meditation
adherence in a college sample: comparison of a 10-min versus 20-min 2-week daily
practice. Mindfulness. 2017;8:1-9.