Zen Meditation

What is Zen Meditation?

Zazen – Easy Steps to Practice Zen Meditation

In our busy lives, we always look for ways to release stress and seek comfort to rest the mind & body. One of the effective methods is the Zen meditation, or “zazen (坐禅)” that has been used in Japan for centuries.

Zazen means “seated meditation” which is a main practice of Zen Buddhism. Zazen’s origin can be traced back to an Indian monk in the 6th century, however, Dogen Zenji, a Japanese Buddhist priest/philosopher who lived in the 12th century, is considered to be the pioneer of the practice.

The Practice of Zazen:

Steps of Zazen:

01

Fold a flat cushion (zabuton) in half or use a small cushion/pillow and place it on the floor or a bigger cushion for a stable base. Sit on it with your legs crossed and make the knees touch the base cushion/floor.

Try to do the full-lotus position where both toes are sitting on top of both thighs. If not, either toe can sit on the other thigh for half-lotus position.

02

With both palms facing up, place the right hand on top of your legs, then place the left hand on top of the right hand.

Lightly make both thumbs touch each other, or gently embrace the left hand with the right hand.

03

Slightly pull back your chin and straighten your head. Also straighten your back and make sure that you feel stable sitting on the cushion(s).

04

Sway your upper body from side to side like a pendulum and eventually stop at the center where you feel the center position is.

05

Focusing your attention inward, inhale deeply into your abdomen from your nose (count as 1) and exhale slowly through the mouth (count 1 through 10).

In zazen, your eyes can be semi-open like a Buddha statue because you want to self-reflect but not focus on one particular object; you’re essentially thinking about nothing— just breathe slowly. When you start to think about something that distracts you, focus on counting.

06

Continue with breathing for about 5 minutes as a beginner, then try 15 minutes the next time, then slowly extend to 30 minutes or so.

Notes:

  • Zazen is usually done barefoot. Wear comfortable clothes and remove heavy jewelry and watches.
  • There may be slightly different ways to do zazen as there are various Zen sects.

If the lotus position is not possible, zazen can also be done by sitting in a chair or sitting on your heels with knees bent. When using a chair, choose a chair with a seat that is rather firm. Use a cushion or towel if you need to sit on them. The chair does not need back support. Zazen can also be done using a wall or by lying down. See below for instructions.

Zazen using a chair:

Zazen using a wall:

1. Sit in the lotus position with your back against the wall— You can lean on the wall or lightly be touching the wall with your back straight. Using the wall gives more support for your back.

2. Follow steps #2 through #5 in “Steps of zazen.”

Zazen lying down:

1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent or with legs straight, whichever is more comfortable.

2. Place your left hand on your chest, your right hand on your stomach. You will feel the connection between your body and your breathing through your hands. You can also place your hands on your side with palms up, feeling your body weighing down against the floor or bed.

Benefits of zazen:

01. Many studies show that zazen helps you improve concentration, the functions of the autonomic nervous system, and emotional regulation. It also helps with stress/anxiety reduction, and self-awareness. These benefits are more apparent when practiced long-term.

Zazen, which is mainly the practice of deep breathing, helps increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood and has the effect of promoting serotonin secretion. Serotonin is related to physiological functions such as biorhythm, neuroendocrine, sleep, and thermoregulation, and controls emotional information such as dopamine and noradrenaline, which are excitatory substances, and stabilizes the mind.

Therefore, deep breathing helps your mind to calm down. When your mind is calm, you can self-reflect objectively with a fresh mind, and be able to make good decisions.

02. Zazen helps you keep a good posture. Sitting in front of your computer or using smartphones for hours tends to give you a hunchback, hurting your neck and lower back.

Burning incense for zazen:

As a side note, the time it takes to go through one session of zazen is measured by the time it takes for one incense stick to burn off, which is about 45 minutes. Without using the clock, monks at temples keep track of time during zazen by the burning incense stick. They use the term “icchu” to describe the number of zazen practiced by counting how many incense sticks were used.

Take the time to practice zazen:

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