Let’s say you’ve got into meditation. Say it is Vipassana to make it more specific (but any meditation that helps you learn to pay attention would work the same).
The question you might have is how often and for how long should you meditate. While this question may seem to have a trivial answer (and it does), it is probably not the one you’re thinking about.
When you practice a phisycal exercise routine, it is quite easy to figure out a schedule as there’s a good amount of research on muscle and tissues recovery and growth rates. But there doesn’t seem to be the same thing for overarching cognitive training.
There is research and guidelines on how to build an optimal schedule/routine around more specific cognitive skills (like reading, maths, IQ, chess, language learning, programming…) but a mindfulness practice is more like a general fitness level rather than a specific skill.
So how often should you meditate? If you’re still at the beginning of your journey (usually weeks or months, but can even be years, depending on the practice) then you want to prioritize frequency oven duration. It is better to spend 5 minutes every day instead of doing it once a week for 30 minutes long.
That was for starters. Say that you now built a habit and are meditating few minutes almost every single day. How do you take it to the next level? There’s no one answer that will fit most, as it all depends on the practice you’re doing, but you want to strive to complete your set on most days. For example I practice Vipassana and Metta, and I need about 20 minutes to go through my entire routine for Vipassana, and 30 for Metta. But that’s not the full picture.
You want to get to a point where you practice at all times! Even during sleep. Day and night. 24/7! But it is not the kind that is portrayed in legends or movies, where a guru detaches from “typical human life” and insteads lives under a tree where he sits in lotus pose and meditates.
What I mean is that you want to integrate your practice into your every day. And the sooner you start doing it, the more you’ll advance. Say if your practice help you identify distracting thoughts when you try to focus, label them as such and then see how they dissolve in the fabric of your mind. You want to start doing that during your day to day life. You’re reading a book, and then a memory from the yesterday’s movie distracts you, you label it, pay attention to where it is coming from, and likely it will just disappear. Or say you’ve been practicing on paying attention to different sensations in your body. You can do it throughout the day to gauge your phisycal state.
So here you have it - as in any overarching skill, you want to get to a point where the practice itself is a fine-tuning tool, but its learning and skills are applied thought your day, every day, for the rest of your life.