How To Do Zen Meditation Techniques Like Zazen
How To Do Zen Meditation Techniques Like Zazen

Did you know that there are different types of Zen meditation techniques, the main being Zazen meditation?

Each of the different types of Zen meditation has different benefits, so it is worth trying all of them.

Zen meditation techniques are a variety of Buddhist meditation that are used by both beginners and masters.

In this guide to Zen meditation techniques you’ll learn how to do Zazen and other methods, along with the benefits, hand positions, sitting postures and the benefits.

What are Zen Meditation techniques?

Naturally, Zen meditation techniques they stem from the Zen Buddhist tradition. Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that is heavily influenced by Taisom [1], which is why there are many similarities between methods like Zazen and the traditional Daoist meditation techniques.

One of the primary focuses of this school of Buddhism is Mindfulness. The majority of Zen meditation techniques focus on increasing mindful awareness. They also incorporate specific postures. For instance, in Zazen, which is a traditional Zen method of meditating, it is recommend to use specific seating positions along with the hand positions called mudras.

There are many different exercises in Zen. It is worth practicing each of them because they offer unique benefits. Doing Zen Walking Meditation [Kinhin], for instance, will give you different benefits to seated Zazen meditation.

One of my favorite books on Zen meditation is Zen Training:Methods And Philosophy. In it, author Katsuki Sekida says,”Zen training is a means of enabling us to live our ordinary lives supremely well.”

When you learn Zen, you learn to master your mind. There are many ways in which these exercises can improve your life, ranging from increased focus to reduced stress. The best thing is that Zazen meditation can be applied to all areas of life (there are even Zen garden meditations)

When I was just starting to get into Zen I learned from the best Zen books.  So take a look at that link if you’re looking for something to read.

Positions: Sitting, Kneeling, Or Standing

There are specific Zen Meditation positions. The Zen sitting positions 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 on their ankles.

*These Zen sitting positions require a cushion / mat / pillow. This is a special type of cushion that helps you maintain good posture while also being comfortable.

A Zafu is important for both body and mind, because if you do not have a comfortable posture you will find it very difficult to focus. And without focus, the exercises simply will not work.

A good =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.  

Zen Standing positions:

If you cannot do Zen sitting down, try standing instead.

This is a great position for those who cannot sit for a long period of time. It is widely used in China and Korea.Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand straight
  2. Put your feet shoulder width apart.
  3. Position your heel inwards a little.
  4. Place your hands on top of your belly with the right hand held over the left.
  5. Make sure not to lock your knees.

Positions For The Rest Of The Body

Eyes

One of the differences between Zen meditation techniques like Zazen and other forms 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 is to focus on nothing but instead softly guide your gaze to one meter 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 Zazen meditation in a hall (a “soto dojo”), monks would face a wall so that there is nothing to distract them.

Neck And Head

In Zazen meditation technique 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.

Zen meditation position for neck and head:

  1. Keep your neck straight.
  2. Pull your chin in a little
  3. Imagine that your head is gently rising towards the ceiling (but do not force it)
  4. Make sure you are balanced and comfortable. You should be able to maintain the position without effort.
  5. Your teeth should be together
  6. Your tongue should be against the roof of your mouth

Hands and arms (Cosmic Mudra)

Zen uses a specific mudra called the cosmic mudra. You can read about this in my guide to the different Buddhist mudras.

 State Of Mind

Your state of mind is always important. However, if you do the other parts of Zen meditation technique correctly, then your state of mind will naturally follow. Without the right state of mind you will not get the health benefits of Zen meditation techniques.

 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 methods. 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.

Breathing Zen Meditation Techniques

When doing Zazen meditation, breathing technique is very important. The right breathing here is a little different to what you might have experienced with other methods. And it is imperative to get it correct.

To breathe correctly, sit in the right posture (see above). Then, breathe quietly in through the nose with the mouth closed.

When breathing in Zen meditation it is important that the breath is relaxed. It should come in long, calm breaths, naturally, never forced. The focus is on the exhalation.

The Right Room

Distractions are the enemy of good practice. The less distractions you have, the more you will be able to focus. That is why Zen monks often meditate facing a wall.

However, you 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.

Now we are ready to begin Zen meditation technique

 

How To Do Zen Meditation Techniques [Zazen meditation] 

*This is the main type of Zen meditation technique.

  1. When you begin, you should have an idea of how long your session will last. And you should have done everything to make sure that you will not be distracted during that time.
  2. Set an alarm for the end of your session.
  3. Find a comfortable space somewhere you can relax and where you will not be distracted.
  4. 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.
  5. To begin, simply relax. You will find it helpful to practice breathing methods for just a few minutes.
  6. 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.
  7. Take a few moments to get comfortable and to adopt the right posture (see above).
  8. 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.
  9. Adopt the cosmic mudra (“Hokkaijoin”)  and check your posture (see above).
  10. Begin focusing on your breath and particularly on your exhalation.
  11. Count to 108 breaths.
  12. I personally like to go into a Vipassana practice now.
  13. At the end of your meditation, you may do gassho again.
  14. Sit quietly and relax for a final few moments.

Benefits of Zen Meditation Technique

So now you know everything about Zazen meditation technique. But what are the benefits of Zazen meditation?

The benefits include:

  • Improved focus
  • Improved sleep quality
  • More peaceful mind with less negative thoughts
  • Improved intuition
  • Inner peace
  • Moves us towards enlightenment and oneness.

Walking Method

Maybe you don’t want to do the seated Zen meditation technique. Maybe your cup of tea is taking a walk instead.

If so, one of the best Zen meditation techniques for you to try is  Zen Walking.

Sound interesting? Great. I’ve written a tutorial on Zen walking meditation.

Garden

The third of our Zen meditation techniques is perfect for the horticulturalist in you. It’s a Zen garden meditation.

Have you ever seen a Zen garden? They are beautiful sand or gravel gardens that are used for sessions of mindfulness. The actual act of creating and maintaining the garden is in itself a mindful practice..

Read my complete guide to Zen Gardens to learn all about them. This is definitely one of the most fun Zen meditation techniques!

I hope you have enjoyed this guide. would absolutely love to hear how you got on.

Now another question. Take a look at these inspiring Zen sayings and proverbs. And let me know. Which is your favorite?

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Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher and writer. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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