How to Practice Zen Meditation

By simply sitting, without looking for any goal or any personal benefit, if your posture, your breathing and your state of mind are in harmony, you will understand the true Zen; you will understand the Buddha’s nature.
Taisen Deshimaru

The Lotus Posture

Zen Meditation is an ancient Buddhist tradition from the 7th century China, and it spread Japan and other neighboring countries where it is still practiced. There are many different ways to meditation, here we will show you the traditional way to practice Zen meditation or by its Japanese name Zazen. Conventionally, only the full lotus position or the half lotus position is used during meditation. Choose a room that is peaceful and silent and make sure that you are not disturbed during your meditation practice, the room should be cool, that is not too cold or too warm. To do the half lotus position you put either foot on top of the opposite thigh, and place the other foot on the floor underneath the other thigh. The full lotus position is done by putting each foot on the opposite thigh with the line of the toes matching the outer line of the thighs, as seen on the image. If the lotus postures are not possible for you to do, you could sit on a chair or on a cushion, whatever is the most comfortable for you.

The postures might feel uncomfortable for a beginner but keep practicing and your legs will become more flexible and you will find the lotus position to be relatively comfortable after a while. Most important with the lotus posture in Zen Meditation is to keep the body upright, the spine should be erect like a stack of coins, and balanced, that is not leaning forward or backwards nor leaning right or left.  Do not be too relaxed or too tense when sitting in any of the positions. Your mouth should be closed, and the tongue should be placed at the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth. The eyes are traditionally kept open during Zen practice, this is to prevent you from daydreaming or becoming too tired to continue. Your eyes should not focus on anything in particular, they will after a while rest in the right position, with the eyelids half open and half closed. The cosmic mudra is the name for the hand position which is the same for the lotus postures in meditation. The palms should be turned upwards toward the sky, the left hand is placed on the right one. The tip of the thumps touching each other forming a bridge as seen on the image. Keep the wrists, arms and shoulders relaxed.

The State of Mind and Breath

Breathing is an essential part of Zen meditation practice. Traditionally, correct breathing is only achieved through one of the lotus postures. You should breathe gently through the nose and the mouth should be kept closed during Zen practice. During breathing try to establish a calm, long and deep natural rhythm. Your focus should be on exhalation while inhalation is done naturally.

Having the right state of mind is fundamental during Zen meditation practice, the correct mindset comes naturally from a deep concentration on the breathing and posture. During meditation it is common to have thoughts, images and feelings bubbling up to the surface from the subconscious mind. You should only watch them as they come up, do not fight, escape or pursue them, the more attention you give them or trying to get rid of them the stronger they become. Watch them like you would watch clouds in the sky, without judgment or attachment.  As soon you catch yourself interacting with thoughts, you should immediately bring back your attention to breath and posture. After practicing for a while your thoughts during mediation will become less and less, and your mind will settle down naturally.

Now you are ready to start your practice, to avoid any distractions we recommended that you practice facing a wall, as traditionally one would do in a monastery. Position yourself a meter or so away from the wall, not focusing on some point on the wall. Once you are sitting in full lotus or taken the position that is the most comfortable for you, you should take a few deep breaths through the nose. Next, place your palms in a prayer position and bow a few seconds as a sign of respect for the Buddha and the teachings of the Enlighten one. Finally, place your hands in the correct position as mentioned above, keep your neck and back straight and start your meditation practice. In the beginning we advise you to practice for 20 to 30 minutes. Once you have finished your practice remain on your position calmly and quietly for a few minutes, don’t hurry up. Try not to talk for a moment after completing your Zen meditation practice.

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