How to Practice Zazen & Zen Meditation
Zazen refers to Zen meditation that is done while sitting. It is the essence of Zen Buddhism practice where the execution or proper position is considered highly crucial when performing the meditation.
Masters of Zazen believe that your posture or your body’s position during meditation can have a huge impact on your breathing and how your mind works, which is the reason why Zazen practitioners are advised to place importance on this aspect of their mediation.
The art of meditation was initially performed in India before it found its way to China and Japan, and now the rest of the world is slowly discovering this meditation practice. To give you an idea on how to practice Zazen, check out the details below:
How Zazen is Practiced
One of the primary things that you need to find before you can start to meditate, is a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed during the meditation.
Different Zazen Postures
Full lotus and half lotus are the traditionally accepted and recommended position when performing Zazen. However, for those with flexibility issues sitting on a chair or kneeling is given as an available option, although these alternative positions are not highly recommended.
Practitioners of Zazen use a thick round cushion called zafu in performing various meditation postures. Zafu help practitioners perform their meditation comfortably, providing necessary elevation so they can position their knees against the floor and maintain their balance during the process. In case your space for meditation is made of hard floor, it is recommended that you use a zabuton or a thick blanket to serve as a cushion for your legs and knees.
Doing the full and half lotus may prove to be challenging at first, however, through time and practice your body should be able to adapt which can make the position easier to maintain and more comfortable to execute.
Another option that can use in case the above positions don’t work for you, is the use of seiza. Seiza posture is similar to kneeling and is commonly used by the Japanese as their default sitting position. If this position still fails to make you comfortable during Zazen, then you may opt to use a stool or bench that was specifically made for meditation. Regardless which option appeals best to your flexibility, you must almost perform Zazen with your body upright and comfortably balanced.
Always keep your head and back in a straight line. Use the top of your head to”push the sky”. This trick should align your body. Remember not to exert too much effort in holding this position, but don’t be too loose either, which can cause you to lose your alignment. Simply find the balance that will allow you to comfortably keep your head and neck upright. Keep your teeth together and close your mouth during Zazen.
The traditional Zazen practice also requires you to keep your eyes open while meditating. This practice was integrated so you don’t start to doze off or begin daydreaming during meditation. You must keep your eyes open without really focusing on a specific site or object. Zazen dojo practitioners are often positioned facing a blank wall so they can concentrate. You may also do the same when performing Zazen from home.
Regardless of your posture during Zazen, you only use the same Cosmic Mudra hand position also known as Hokkaijoin in Japan. This hand position is done by placing your left hand on top of your right hand with your palms facing upwards. Now put the tips of your thumbs together so that they form an oval shape opening between your palms and your thumbs. Allow both of your wrists to settle on your thighs. Let your shoulder loose. This hand sign or position is designed to help align your mind during meditation. When your mind is preoccupied, it is usually reflected in the oval sign of your hand, which may appear deformed or irregularly shaped.
Correct breathing during Zazen can only be achieved with the proper posture. Integrating a natural rhythm of long and deep breaths during meditation should allow you to easily calm yourself and clear your head. Martial arts practitioners use the same Zen breathing pattern to stay in control and prolong their endurance.
The proper mindset during Zazen will automatically present itself with the use of your proper posture and natural breathing patterns. Some interruption may come from time to time during your meditation, but don’t be bothered since these types of interruptions are only natural. Don’t bother resisting these thoughts as it can only cause you to drift further away. Instead, allow these thoughts to pass through your mind naturally without any resistance that way it would be easier to simply let them go and get back to your meditation.
Zazen for Beginners
Zazen starts by doing gassho. Beginners of Zen meditation are advised to meditate at least 15 to 30 minutes a day. This should enable you to easily adjust into the proper posture so you can comfortably meditate. The more comfortable you are with your posture and breathing the longer you can meditate. To ensure that you keep track of time during Zazen you may use a stop watch or your mobile phone’s timer.
To conclude your Zazen session you must perform the gassho again. Remember not to leave in a hurry. Take your time before you stand up from your zafu. You may start talking after a few minutes of your session.
Zazen has been around for several centuries and is one of the proven practices used by the samurai’s to help train their minds and increase their success in the battlefield.
This form of meditation has been so useful that even the well-known swordsman and ronin, Miyamoto Musashi was a known adept practitioner of Zazen. In fact, some of the concepts on Zen Buddhism are even reflected on his Book of Five Rings.