Zazen meditation: 11 steps to a happier state of mind
Za means to sit; zen refers to a deep and subtle meditative state. Zazen is being aware of ourselves and the web of life in which we are causes, conditions and effects.
Meditation can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their religion. The thoughts will come and go. Now calm, now agitated. Let them follow. The mind will never be empty. You will only take the position of the observer. And you can choose not to stick to mental activity. Remember the triad of Zen Buddhism: observe, act and transmute.
Some researches links this training to stress reduction, improvements in the treatment of panic syndrome, and the development of brain areas related to compassion and love. The most important thing is practice by practice. No high expectations. Just keeping an eye on, moment after moment.
What is Zazen?
It is very difficult to explain what Zazen is by words: the only way to understand this technique is practicing it. Practicing Zazen is going beyond thinking and not thinking, it is going beyond self and non-self. It is to continually marvel at the relationship of all things. It’s finding the meaning of existence.
We can discuss the many benefits that the practice of Zazen provides, and there are many studies dedicated to it. We develop our awareness, our concentration, our compassion, we improve our relationships and our health in many aspects.
Zazen can be practiced individually and privately, but group practice is often more intense and stimulating. Try to be an observer of yourself and everything around you. Let your thoughts and feelings come and go freely, do not try to control them or eliminate them. Hold your breath in the abdomen, with exhalations longer than the inspirations.
How to practice Zazen meditation?
1. Choose the right place
Choose a quiet place, whether at home, at work or outside, in the morning, afternoon or evening. You can sit cross-legged on the zafu, a round exercise cushion with your knees flat on the floor or sit on a small stool.
You can also sit on the edge of a chair or even the bed, keeping your knees slightly below the hips and feet flat on the floor and aligned to the shoulders.
2. Full Lotus
Sit, put the base of your spine in the center of the cushion so that half of the cushion is behind you. After you cross your legs, place your knees firmly on the cushion. Put your right foot on your left thigh and then your left foot on your right thigh. Cross your legs firmly so that the tips of your toes and the outer edge of your things form a single line.
3. Half Lotus
Simply put your left foot on your right thigh. When you cross your legs, your knees and the base of your spine should form an equilateral triangle. These three points support the weight of your body. In the full Lotus position, the order to cross the legs can be reversed, and in the mid-lotus, raising the opposite leg is acceptable.
4. Seiza with zafu
Place both knees firmly on the cushion, straighten the lower back, push your buttocks out and hips and hit your spine. Pull on your chin and extend your neck as if piercing the ceiling. Your ears should be in a parallel line to your shoulders, and your nose should be in line with your navel.
After straightening your back, relax your shoulders, back and abdomen without changing your posture. Sit upright, leaning either to the left or right, neither forward nor backward.
Put your right hand, with the palm up, over your left foot, and your left hand, also palm up, over the palm of your right hand. The tips of the thumbs touch lightly. This hands position is called hokkai-join.
Position the tips of your thumbs in front of your navel, and your arms slightly away from your body.
Keep your mouth closed by placing your tongue against mouth roof behind the teeth.
Keep your eyes open. Without focusing on anything in particular, let all things occupy their places in their field of vision. If your eyes are closed, you will easily fall asleep or be carried away by the imagination.
8. Abdominal breathing
During Zazen, breathe silently through the nostrils. Do not attempt to control breathing. Let it come and come so naturally that you forget you’re breathing. Let the long breaths be long, and let the short breaths be short. Do not make a sound, avoiding heavy breathing.
Do not focus on any particular object, nor try to control your thoughts. When you maintain a correct posture and your breathing calms down, your mind will be calm in a natural way.
When many thoughts arise, do not get stuck or fight with them; do not follow them or try to escape them. Just let them exist, allowing them to arise and disappear freely.
The essential thing when practicing zazen is to awaken (kakusoku) from distraction and numbness and return to the correct posture moment by moment.
10. Standing up from Zazen
When you finishing Zazen, place your hands on your thighs with your palms facing up; balance your body a few times, first just a little and then in a wider movement. Take a deep breath. Uncross the legs. Move slowly, especially if your legs are asleep. Do not stand up abruptly.
When doing kinhin, walk in the room clockwise, keeping your hands in shashu. From the waist up, your posture should be the same as Zazen. Take the first step with your right leg. Walk only half a step with each full breath (exhalation and inhalation).
Walk slowly and gently as if you were standing somewhere. Do not drag your feet and do not make a sound. Walk straight, and when making curves, always turn right. The word kinhin means to move on. When you finish the kinhin, stop and bow in shashu. Walk in normal steps around the room, until you return to your zafu.
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