Zen meditation or zazen is a type of meditation unique to Zen Buddhism. It literally means “sitting zen” or simply put, “seated meditation.”
It involves focusing on the breath and remaining in the present moment. It is an intensely simple practice – sitting upright in good posture, particularly paying attention to breathing in your belly until you are fully alert and present. Zazen is considered one of the many methods from Eastern spiritual traditions for attaining objectives such as mind/body health, skillful social behavior, a peaceful mind or the resolution of various problems in life.
Zazen is different than other forms of meditation in subtle yet important ways. It is first and foremost a holistic body posture, not a state of mind. It focuses more on living holistic body-mind framework, allowing the Head to exist without giving it any superiority. If the head is over functioning, it will give rise to a split and unbalanced life. The instructions are threefold and deal with our body, breath, and mind.
First, we sit as still as possible in Zazen. Remember that in Zen meditation, the body and mind are one. A still mind can only develop with a still and relaxed body. Once you start your Zazen period, keep a mindset that you will not move, not even to scratch an itch, adjust your seat or allow your posture to slouch. Set up a timer to create a defined period of practice.
To be able to sit still, focus on having a good posture. It does not matter if you sit in full or half lotus on the floor with a cushion, kneel with seiza bench or just sit in a chair. What is important is that we focus on our posture: straight spine, shoulders back, chin tucked in, mouth softly closed and hands resting palm in palm with thumbs lightly touching in the cosmic mudra. Our hands should create a beautiful oval.
If we achieve an upright-seated position with good posture our breathing should be easy and clear. It is helpful to wear loose-fitting clothes, especially something without a tight waistband. Natural breathing feels like it reaches down into our lungs and throughout our belly.
We don’t force the breath in Zen meditation. We simply let breathing happen naturally. It is important to breathe through your nose. Pay attention to the natural in and out rhythm and the sound of your breathing, and the warm and cold sensations provided by air passing through your lungs. After sitting for a while we will notice our breathing slows down and the rhythm of our chest has a soothing quality.
With good posture and easy breathing, we turn to the mind. You need to place the focus of your mind into your belly. Breathe in count one, breathe out count two, in three, out four and so on – up to ten. If a thought causes you to stray from counting, return your focus to your breath, and begin counting again, starting at one.
It is natural for your mind to wander when you are sitting in silence. In Zen meditation and other meditation practices, it is important to become aware that we are thinking, let that thought go into the middle of it and redirect your thinking to counting our breath.
Thoughts are never-ending. They don’t stop. It is in the brain’s nature to think. This practice makes us aware of our thinking, letting it go and returning to the experience of breath. Tune in to the natural ebb and flow of your breaths and the sensations they create. It can help to count your breaths to regain focus.
Meditation can be an invaluable means to de-stress. The ability to place our concentration where we choose develops with time. It may be difficult at first as it takes practice to clear your mind but it will eventually come with great ease and achieve the very essence of enlightenment. Be playful and patient. Simply provide yourself the space to meet yourself where you are with acceptance, allowance, compassion, and attention in the present moment.