- Zen meditation technique (or “Zazen”) is a powerful meditation technique that is used by both beginners and masters.
- The many health benefits of Zen meditation mean you’d be crazy not to try it.
- In this complete guide to Zen meditation I will show you everything you need to know about this most important type of meditation.
Zen Meditation uses specific poses to give you specific health benefits
Zen meditation is one of over 700 different types of meditation. So, what makes Zen meditation different to the rest?
Zen (which was originally called Dhyana meditation in India) is an easy meditation technique that uses specific posture to create the right state of mind.
Let’s take a look at how to do Zen meditation.
To start with, let’s look at the Zen postures and sitting positions
There are a few different sitting positions. These are:
Burmese Position: The legs are crossed with both knees flat on the floor, with one ankle in front of the other but not over.
Half Lotus (Hankafuza): The left foot is positioned on the right thigh. This position takes time to adopt comfortably but regular practice will help.
Kneeling Position (Sezia): In this position the practitioner kneels with the hips resting n their ankles.
*These seated meditation positions require a meditation cushion (Zafu). This is a special type of cushion that helps you to maintain good posture while also being comfortable. A Zafu is important for both body and mind, because if you do not have a good, comfortable posture you will find it very difficult to focus. And without focus, the meditation simply will not work. A good meditation cushion will elevate the hips in such a way that the knees are lowered to the floor. If you do not have a Zafu you can find one using the link above. And for a temporary alternative you can position rolled up blankets in such a way that they will provide support. The most important thing is that you are comfortable.
Standing: This is a great position for those who cannot sit for a long period of time. It is widely used in China and Korea. Stand straight, feet shoulder width apart. Position your heel inwards a little. Place your hands on top of your belly with the right hand held over the left. Make sure not to lock your knees.
Positioning The Rest Of Your Body For Zen Meditation
One of the differences between Zen meditation and other forms of meditation is that the eyes are kept open. This is to stop you from drifting off into a daydream.
The right way to use your eyes in Zen meditation is to focus on nothing but instead softly guide your gaze to one metre in front of you on the floor. Your eyes should be half open. You may also choose to position yourself in front of a wall or some other object so that there are no distractions. Traditionally, when doing Zen meditation in a meditation hall (a “soto dojo”), meditators would face a wall so that there is nothing to distract them.
Neck And Head
The position of your neck and head is very important. Your spine is one of the most important parts of your body. And if your neck and head are in a bad position for extended periods of time you could suffer spinal injury. So, to combat this you need to have your head and neck in the right position.
To get to the right position:
- Keep your neck straight.
- Pull your chin in a little
- Imagine that your head is gently rising towards the ceiling (but do not force it)
- Make sure you are balanced and comfortable. You should be able to maintain the position without effort.
- Your teeth should be together
- Your tongue should be against the roof of your mouth
Hands and Arms
Zen uses a specific mudra.
A mudra is a hand position or gesture that is used to create certain starts of mind. You can read all about mudras in my complete guide to mudras and mantras.
The Zen meditation mudra is called the Cosmic Mudra.
So, how do you make the cosmic mudra:
- Put your left hand on top of your right hand
- Turn your palms upwards towards the sky
- Touch your thumbs together in a straight line
- Let your wrists relax so that they come to rest on your thighs
- Let the edge of your hands rest against your belly
What does the cosmic mudra do?
There are two main benefits to using the cosmic mudra when doing Zen meditation technique.
The first benefit is that the Cosmic Mudra brings balance and harmony to your mind. The mudra means to be beyond duality. And the cosmic mudra also helps you to keep focus. Because if your focus drifts your hand position will change and you will notice it. So, this serves as a notice saying, “You’re losing focus. Concentrate’.
The Conscious Life tells us, “The cosmic mudra helps to bring your attention inward and is useful when you are trying to increase self-awareness.”
The Zen State Of Mind
Your state of mind is important in all forms of meditation. However, if you do the other parts of Zen meditation correctly, then your state of mind will naturally follow.
But what is the right state of mind for Zen? Acceptance is key, as it always is in Buddhism. You will naturally have thoughts come to your mind when you meditate, as you do with other forms of meditation. The key is to let these thoughts exist. Do not repress them. Do not fight them. Do not cling to them. Let them rise and fall as they will.
The key to maintaining the right state of mind is to keep your focus on your breath and to keep the right posture. Yes, thoughts will come. But if you let them be and keep focusing on your breath, you will achieve the right state of mind, the Zazen mind.
How to breathe in Zen meditation
When doing Zen meditation, breathing technique is very important. Zen breathing is a little different to other forms of meditation. And without proper breathing, Zazen simply can’t be performed successfully.
Zen breathing requires that you sit in the right posture (see above). You should then breathe quietly in through the nose with the mouth closed. You’ll notice how this is different to other breathing meditations, like Anapanasati.
In Zen breathing it is important the breath is relaxed. It should come in long, calm breaths, naturally, never forced. The focus is on the exhalation.
The Right Room For Zen
Distractions are the enemy of a good meditation session. The less distractions you have, the more you will be able to focus. That is why Zen monks often meditate facing a wall.
You, however, do not need to be facing a wall. You can sit comfortably wherever you like. But be aware that the more relaxing your room is and the less distractions it has, the more successful your meditation will be.
For the perfect room, take a look at my guide to creating a meditation space or meditation garden.
Now we are ready to begin Zen meditation
How To Do Zen Meditation Technique
- I am going to assume that you know the very basics of meditation. But if you have never meditated before, or if you are new to meditation, I’ve created a guide to the basics of meditation for you. Take a look.
- When you begin, you should have an idea of how long you will meditate for. And you should have done everything to make sure that you will not be distracted during that time.
- Set an alarm for the end of your meditation session (I’ve created a free online meditation timer for you).
- Find a comfortable space somewhere you can relax and where you will not be distracted.
- Place your zafu or zabuton in a comfortable spot. If you are choosing to face a wall you will need to place the zafu about a metre in front of the wall so that your eyes fall to the bottom of the wall when you meditate.
- To begin, simply relax. You will find it helpful to practice breathing meditation for just a few minutes (for example, you might like to do a quick Nine Round Breathing Meditation).
- Close your fist with the thumbs tucked inside the fingers, and move your hands so that the back of your hands touches your knees with the fingers up.
- Take a few moments to get comfortable and to adopt the right posture (see above).
- If you would like to show respect to Buddha, you can do gassho. This is where you adopt the Anjali Mudra and bow to show your devotion to Buddha.
- Adopt the cosmic mudra (“Hokkaijoin”) and check your posture (see above).
- Begin meditating by focusing on your breath and particularly on your exhalation.
- At the end of your meditation, you may do gassho again.
- Sit quietly and relax for a final few moments.
- Now that you have learnt Zen meditation, why not continue on to the next step: Zen Walking Meditation.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to Zen meditation technique. I would absolutely love to hear how you got on.
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