How I Sit for 8 Hours in Meditation

Yixue Zhao, PhD
9 min readJul 4, 2023

For those who know me, I have an annual tradition to go to a 10-day silent meditation retreat during the summer. This is my top 1 priority that I wouldn’t miss for the world. Every time after the retreat (cause we can’t talk during the retreat 😂), people always ask me how I could just sit and sit and sit… lol️ So here you go! Let me answer this question once and for all haha.

Spoiler alert: there’s no magic cure here. The key is to relax :) But many people said my story inspired them to sit longer and even had breakthroughs! So I wanted to share my story here, hoping to help more people.

Please note I sit in a chair for long sittings, not cross-legged. Sitting comfortably is the first step towards sitting long to go deeper. Well, not too comfortable though because you can fall asleep! 🥲 You should keep your back straight and find a position that’s comfortable for you.

The photo I took at Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center in 2023

My Background

Before I start, I want to briefly talk about my experience to give you some context. If you’re interested in sitting long only, feel free to skip it.

I’m not religious and I simply wanted to be happier. During my PhD studies, I suffered from mental health issues (sadly, most PhD students do 😞 I also started writing about it in a blog series “A CS PhD’s Occupational Therapy Journey”). So I’ve been very interested in mental health/well-being for years and I’ve been using myself as a subject to try out different mental health solutions to see what works. Mindfulness practices, online courses, books, psychotherapy, occupational therapy, you name it, I’ve tried it all (some well-being classes I took before can be found here).

Regarding meditation, all my experiences (prior to the 10-day silent meditation retreats) were through Mindful USC classes and apps. It was never more than a half hour and I never went to any deep states. They did help with my mental health in one way or another.

In 2020, I wanted to celebrate my graduation with a 10-day silent meditation retreat that I heard about. FINALLY, after over 6 years of hard work, I have an excuse to unplug without any electronic devices for 10 days (no emails, no work, no nothing!) and it was the best luxury reward you can give a PhD graduate! Because of the pandemic, I did the retreat online with Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center’s teacher David Johnson. I heard about this center from a friend who’s been doing 10-day retreats from different centers and told me this one is the best. You can sit in a chair, and it’s a lot easier to go deeper (although I didn’t know what “deeper” meant at the time). That online retreat completely blew my mind! I didn’t know one can be that happy and the happiness lasted for a while after the retreat too! I got super interested in the meditation method that I was practicing during the online retreat. After all, my passion has been experimenting with different mental health solutions to make myself happy and I definitely can’t miss this one that seems so effective!

So I decided to do a physical retreat after the pandemic. In 2021, I did the on-site retreat with Bhante Vimalaramsi. I have to admit that I didn’t believe in everything he was saying at the time and there was a lot I didn’t understand since I don’t have any Buddhism background and this center’s meditation method is based on Buddha’s earliest teachings. However, as a scientist, I had to remain an open mind to follow his instructions exactly to control my experiment and observe the outcome. Otherwise, if I don’t do what he says, I can’t even claim whether the method works or not. So I set aside all my doubts and decided to follow Bhante’s instructions precisely (it’s only 10 days anyways), and boom! 🤯 At my very first physical retreat, the breakthrough sitting happened and I don’t have a problem sitting long ever since. Words cannot even describe how much joy and relief I had and the best thing is, it has a long-lasting effect throughout the year! I know it’s a cliche to describe it as a “life-changing” experience, but I don’t know what else to say… I’m not a native speaker so I’ve got a pass haha :P Anyways, since then I go to this center’s physical retreat every year and it’s been my top 1 priority. ❤️

My First Long Sitting

Of course, I had no idea that I could have a breakthrough sitting at the time. I consider my first long sitting (4 hours) as a breakthrough sitting because I don’t find sitting long hard anymore afterward. So, here’s the story about that sitting.

It was my first physical retreat at Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center and it was in 2021. At the beginning of the retreat, I used to think sitting for more than an hour is really hard. During the retreat, one day Bhante Vimalaramsi told me to sit for 3 hours and that seemed so impossible! I said I’ll try. And then Bhante pointed at his Yoda toy and said:

“Don’t try. Just do.”

With the fear of being “scolded” by Bhante in my next day’s interview, I kept going in my sitting because I know physical pain isn’t a valid excuse since we all know what Bhante is gonna say:

“Who’s pain is it? You have no body. How can you feel pain? It’s all mental.”

So I thought it’s either I can have some other excuses than physical pain, or I’ll have to sit for 3 hours… My “mission” then became trying to find some excuse that’s not physical pain so that I can break my sitting lol But unfortunately, I didn’t have to pee and I wasn’t able to come up with any valid excuses to stop sitting 😂 So the “mission” went on and on…

Then finally at around 3 hours, I suddenly felt the easy mode was on! I started questioning why do we think sitting for 3 hours is hard?? All you need to do is just sit and relax! That’s it! If anything, moving for 3 hours seems a lot harder… And seriously, how painful is it really? We all love muscle sores because we feel we did a great workout! How come we can tolerate muscle sores with no problem and even embrace them, but we can’t tolerate this meditation pain? Is it really that much more painful than muscle soreness? Why am I so whiny about it? lol I also felt I can’t even do anything wrong. It’s really simple. Even if your mind wanders for 30min in the sitting, then you recognize it, you “6R” it, and you’re doing great! It only means you’ve got through 30min more, so yay! If you feel pain, just relax and Bhante said our brain can release the best painkiller! It’s all mental and your mind is tricking you that you have serious pain but you really don’t! If you think the quiet mind is boring and you want something to happen (like what I used to think), why? I came to realize that the quiet mind is such a rare find, and if you want something to happen, you can have your thoughts anytime you want (and it happens all the time!). Then the quiet mind became really interesting since it’s so special and I don’t get to see it in my daily life! Why don’t you want to check it out longer? :) So it’s just our habitual tendency telling us that “oh, sitting long is hard”, “quiet mind is boring”, etc. That’s only because we’re not used to it, or we heard that from other people. But the instructions all boil down to “just sit and relax” and you can’t even do it wrong as long as you remember to “6R” at some point. It’s a “luxury” vacation for your mind to get away from your busy (conscious) life! No need to overcomplicate it. It’s simple! And that’s my realization at 3 hours, so I went for 4 hours for the first time that day!

After that sitting, I started experimenting with sitting longer. As it was my first time sitting for more than 3 hours, I didn’t want to overdo it. Each day I just added one more hour. My breakthrough sitting happened towards the end of my retreat so I believe the last day I sat for something close to 7 hours. I don’t think I find it hard to sit long anymore and it actually takes some effort to break my sitting. Now I don’t count the time precisely anymore and I just sit until I want to stop (e.g., want to go to my daily interview during the retreat, or want to eat lunch they saved for me. Very very kind people at the center BTW! Thank you! 🥰).

In 2022’s retreat with Delson Armstrong, I sat until the tea time (5:30pm) because I just wanted to see how I felt as an experiment. That was practically the longest I could sit (8 hours) because there was a talk at the meditation hall after the tea time and I do think I should drink some water. For those who are curious, I don’t think my meditation was deeper in that 8-hour sitting than my other long sittings. Don’t hold onto the time that much. It’s fine. It’s not a competition :) In fact, I never sit for 8 hours anymore for practical reasons.

The picture I took at the meditation hall in 2021. Relax is the key!

In 2023’s retreat with Delson Armstrong, I took it easy in the beginning and started sitting long since the 3rd or 4th day I believe. And let me tell you, after 3 days of long sittings, the body got pretty tired. So I took a break and didn’t skip the “Taco Wednesday” lunch so that I can make my own tacos haha. Seriously, who would miss tacos? 😋🌮 Again, it’s not a competition and it’s totally fine to take breaks. Don’t push yourself :) It really defeats the whole purpose of meditation if “you try too hard”. Just do it at your own pace. Set the right intention, but no expectations. The sitting is not even “mine” or “yours” after all ;)

Reflections

In retrospect, I was very fortunate to start my practice at the right time with the right mindset by chance 😂

  1. I had the beginner’s mind to experiment with this “new” method of meditation I never tried before with absolutely zero expectations (see my story about my first physical retreat above). I didn’t want to achieve anything and just wanted to see if it works. To control my experiment, I “blindly” followed all the instructions (even when I didn’t believe them).
  2. I went to the retreat to relax and I just want somebody to take my phone so that I don’t need to reply to any emails! lol As it turned out (if you’re familiar with Bhante Vimalaramsi’s teachings), relax is the key and I happened to hit the jackpot! 😆
  3. During my breakthrough sitting, the fact that I was looking for excuses other than physical pain significantly reduced my attention toward my pain since my attention is elsewhere trying to find a way to stop my sitting… And I can verify that it’s true, without the attention to your pain, the meditation pain is so much easier to handle and it just goes away! I don’t have meditation pain anymore or it only lasts for a few seconds. It can be done, people! :)

That’s it! That was my story. Sorry there’s no magic cure (told you 😛), but I hope you find something helpful 😊 Sitting long is pretty relaxing and comfortable and it’s beyond what words can explain. It’s my new favorite getaway from this busy world haha! And it gets easier and easier the more you practice. Before you know it, you can sit long and enjoy it naturally. Happy meditation, both on the cushion and off the cushion! 🥰

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Photo taken at Acadia National Park in 2022

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Yixue Zhao, PhD

Professional dreamer 💭 & writer 📜 & thinker 🤔…? Also known as researcher 👩‍🏫👩‍💻♾️ | meditation teacher 🧘‍♀️❤️ yixuezhao.com