Simple Zazen Instruction
Zazen is simply a name given to a type of meditation practiced in certain Zen traditions, but the fundamentals of zazen are universal for nearly all forms of meditation. Remember, however, that there is no real signifcance to the different positions. What is most important is what you do with your mind, not your body.
The easiest posture for most people is the Burmese position, in which the legs are crossed and both feet rest flat on the floor. The knees should also rest flat on the floor, although this takes a bit of exercise to be able to get the legs to drop that far. Sitting on the forward third of your zafu or cushion will help to get the knees onto the floor, and it also aids in creating a natural, slight curve in your lower back.
In the half lotus position, place your left foot onto your right thigh and tuck the right foot and ankle close to your left knee while allowing it to remain flat on the floor. This position is slightly asymmetrical so sometimes the upper body needs to compensate to keep it straight and solid.
The full lotus position is by far the most stable, yet most difficult posture for beginning practitioners. Sitting on the forward third of your zafu, the feet are placed on opposite thighs, and the knees rest squarely on the floor.
The seiza position provides the foundation for bowing and prostration as well as being a very stable posture for meditation. In this position, your buttocks rest on your upturned feet or a pillow or cushion to provide support and to keep weight off your ankles. You can also use a specially designed bench which is excellent for keeping your spine straight as well as keeping weight off your ankles.
On The Cushion...
- Sit on the forward third of your zafu or meditation cushion.
- Choose a posture that is most comfortable for you.
- Center your spine by swaying in decreasing arcs.
- Straighten and extend your spine and align your head by "pushing up the ceiling" and then relaxing, originating
the thrust at the small of your back. Your belly and hips may both protrude slightly.
- Keep your head centered on your shoulders; it should not tilt forward or backward or lean to either side. Your ears
should be parallel with your shoulders, and the tip of your nose should be in alignment with your navel. Tuck in your
- Keep your eyes unfocused and directed toward the floor about 3 to 4 feet ahead of you. They should be neither fully
opened or fully closed. Try to "look through the floor," to minimize blinking.
- Your mouth should be closed, with your lips touching and your teeth together. Place the tip of your tongue against the
roof of your mouth, just behind the front teeth, and swallow any saliva. This will evacuate any air and create a slight
vacuum, thereby inhibiting salivation.
- Place hands in your lap, on your knees, or in the "zazen mudra:" hands together, palms up, left on top of right, place
the blades of the hands against your lower belly. Allow your thumbs to touch together slighty to form an oval.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your lungs to fill with air. Slowly exhale, counting to 10, until all air has
been released from your lungs. Try to continue this throughout the zazen period, but do not force your breathing, allow
it to be natural and flowing
- Try to keep as still as possible during the meditation period.
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