Zen meditation is a type of Buddhist meditation that originated in Japan. It is one of the purest forms of mindfulness meditation. Zen meditation is quite easy to do, but difficult to master.
Here are some tips for beginners to get started:
1. Posture: In Zen, posture is important because physical stability and balance promote stability and balance in the mind – tension in the body will create mental chatter! If you can’t sit in full Lotus, half-lotus or even cross-legged, then sitting on a chair is okay – just place your feet hip-width apart and sit upright with your spine unsupported. It’s important to be aware of any tension or weakness in your body.
You may notice that certain muscles begin to feel strained as you sit in your meditation position for a long time, so it’s a good idea to practice your preferred sitting posture in front of a mirror and make adjustments. For example, sitting with your shoulders hunched actually puts tremendous pressure on your spine and makes it tiring to sit for more than a few minutes without wanting to shift positions. Once you’re sitting properly, rock back and forth and wiggle around a bit until you find your center, and settle in.
Legs: Lotus, half-lotus, cross-legged or sitting in a chair.
Torso: Upright and unsupported; shoulders back, chest out, with a natural curve in your lower back; imagine a cord from your tailbone up through the top of your head, gently pulling you upward and supporting you.
Head and neck: Tuck your chin so that your spine is in alignment and you don’t feel any strain from holding your head up.
Arms: Hold your arms relaxed and hands in the “Cosmic Mudra” in your lap – first, make a cradle by putting your left-hand fingers on top of the right-hand fingers, palms turned toward the sky. Next, touch the thumbs together lightly. Rest your wrists on your thighs and your hands gently against your belly. Why is this hand position important? The mudra (hand position) symbolizes “beyond duality” and harmonizes the mind – and on a physical level, if your mind is racing the shape of this oval becomes distorted (tension in the body = tension in the mind) so it’s a good way to keep on track.
Face: Put a slight smile on your face to relax your facial muscles and improve your mood.
Eyes: Focus your eyes on a single point if you wish – or, to make it easier in the beginning, face a blank wall and keep your eyes open. Meditation with your eyes open can help make your mind calmer but only if what you’re looking at is very simple and the room you’re in is distraction-free – that’s why I recommend meditating facing a plain wall!
Brainwave entrainment: You can get into a deeper state of meditation by using brainwave entrainment. This will not distract you from your breathing, but it will help you calm the mental chatter. Just put on your favourite LifeFlow track and press play!
2. Breathing: Breathe with your nose only, and keep your mouth closed. The sensations and movement of the breath are your main focus in Zen meditation.
Zen breathing is a fundamental part of the practice. The right breathing can only be achieved when you are sitting properly. Begin by paying attention to your breath, taking note of how you are breathing – it’s an important indicator of your mood and mental state.
As you focus on the sounds and sensations of air moving in and out of your body, thoughts will intrude. Bring your focus to the breath again – simply make it the most interesting thing in the whole universe, far more interesting and compelling than anything else going on in your life.
As you meditate, your breath will naturally deepen and relax. Keep your focus on the exhale, and allow the inhale to take care of itself.
3. Mind: Along with the relaxation and deepening of your breathing, the right state of mind will emerge. It’s normal to have thoughts, feelings and images coming into your awareness but that does not mean you have to engage in them in any way. DO NOT try to get rid of these. The more you try, the more attention you give them. If you have an image of a purple monkey… and you tell yourself not to think about a purple monkey, you can’t help but think about it! Just let the image, thought or emotion go, as if it didn’t belong to you. It’s helpful to imagine a TV screen and channel surfing, but you’re not interested enough in any of it to stay on one channel long enough to get involved.
Whenever you become aware that you are interacting with, chasing or trying to suppress certain thoughts, immediately bring back your attention to your posture and breathing; your mind will settle down naturally.
You will also have to deal with common distractions such as discomfort, worry, sleepiness, environmental noises, etc. Practice pulling your attention away from these distractions – you’ll be surprised at how quickly they lose their power over you (to stand up, move about, sleep, etc.) if you just don’t give them any attention.
With practice, you will have less and less thoughts during meditation, and your mind will come to rest much more easily and quickly. This means that your thoughts no longer have the power to control you!
As Zen master, Taisen Deshimaru said:
“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.”