Timing the stages

Beginners often assume that timing how long they are meditating for will be very distracting. They sometimes wonder if they should use an alarm clock, or some other mechanical method. Most meditators just have a clock or watch sitting in front of them. They’ll open their eyes from time to time and see how long they’ve been sitting.

It really isn’t a great distraction.

Just make sure to place your clock or watch somewhere that you can see it without having to change the angle of your head, or move your eyes.

I would avoid using something like an over timer: something I saw recommended in a book on meditation but which would be rather jarring. You want something that produces a noise that’s pleasant.

There are many specialist meditation timing devices. Some of them can be very attractive, which makes it pleasant to have them in the place you meditate.  I’ve provided links to these in the past, but what happens is that they go out of production after a while, and I end up with broken links. But if you search online you’ll find them.

A traditional way to time meditations is to use a stick of incense. When the incense is burned up you know it’s time to stop meditating. Of course you have to “calibrate” your incense because different kinds burn at different rates. You can choose incense that’s of the appropriate length or you can break bits off to customize the length of time you’ll be meditating. As with using a watch, you simply open your eyes from time to time to get an idea of how long remains for your meditation.

There are computer programs that act as meditation timers. Again, search online, because they sometimes get discontinued.

When I first wrote this article smartphones didn’t even exist. Now of course most people carry in their pocket a device that can function as a timer in its own right. Just choose a pleasant-sounding alarm for your timer, and you’re set. But there are also tons of meditation timer apps. One of the most popular is Insight Timer, which I’m happy to link to because it’s been around for a long time, and I assume it’s here to stay. It also has a ton of guided meditations, including quite a few from myself.

13 Comments. Leave new

  • Reply
  • There is also an application one can download for the iPhone and iPod Touch called “Meditation Timer” from Lingon i Korg Creations. Very useful. Look for it in the App Store!

  • […] read a discussion of some of the issues around timing your meditation practice we’d suggest visiting this page, which also includes links to other […]

  • Meditation Helper @ Android Market (Free) is simply great for those with an android device. I strongly recommend it.

  • For those with an iPhone or iPad, I can recommend the Equanimity app. It’s not only a great meditation timer, it also keeps a log of your meditation sessions- a good motivator for some of us to sit every day. https://www.meditate.mx/iphone

  • I love the iPod meditation timer. I’ve been meditating for nearly a year now, and it’s very interesting to look through my journal entries and get an overview of how my practice has developed in that time. Sometimes you don’t notice the little changes that happen day by day!

    I have a question about the loving-kindness meditation stages, though. In my breathing meditation I tend to spend five minutes on each stage. Recently I’ve practised the first two stages of loving-kindness but I was wondering how long to spend on each of the stages as I build up to the five?

    • Hi, Helen.

      Usually people spend the same amount of time on each stage of the practice, so that’s generally five to ten minutes per stage, or 25 to 50 minutes in total. You can do less, of course, but less than five minutes per stage doesn’t give much time to get into the practice.

  • Hello, Bodhipaksa.
    Is it really necessary to time the stages or does the need arise from the fact that most people will only have a limited amount of time to meditate and want to use it as efficiently as possible?

    Thanks for this site, it is wonderful, helpful and warming.

    • You don’t need to time the stages. It’s quite OK to do the practice more “organically,” keeping an eye on what effect each stage is having and moving on (or even moving back) depending on what seems appropriate. Most people do want to sit for a specific length of time, but I think that mostly the set times for each stage is to do with treating each stage as a meditation in its own right, and giving it full attention. But sometimes this can be counter-productive, and we’re ready to move on, or even to skip stages because they’re simply not necessary.

  • For those that only have access to a Computer or Laptop centre.io MediTimer is a great alternative!


    It gives you the possibility to choose times for different Phase I, Phase II and Intervalls. And it is ad free :-) Big plus there.

  • Most of the meditation timers mentioned here do not work at the moment. If you are looking for a simple meditation timer without ads in 2019, try this: https://gongtimer.com/

    • Thanks.I’ve updated the list. One problem with a large site is you can write an article and 12 years later it’s out of date.


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