My name is Lewis, I am a Personal Trainer from London England, now living in Yamanashi Japan.
Today I would like to give you a quick and easy introduction to zazen meditation.
A lot of my clients both here in Japan and abroad are very interested in learning about meditation, and over the last year I have enjoyed sharing in their progress as we have sat together and practiced a lot of Buddhist meditative techniques, as well as yogic breathing methods and discussing Taoist and Stoic philosophy.
There is a huge depth of experience to learn in regards to meditation, but that shouldn't dissuade anyone from starting, because the basics techniques are very simple and anyone can begin in just a few minutes, so let's get started!
First we should focus on posture. In Buddhism it is said there are four postures of the Buddha, lying, sitting, standing and walking. At almost all times throughout our lives we find ourselves in one of these positions, we should make sure our posture is correct, so that we are in a comfortable and healthy position which supports the body and allows us to breathe freely.
It will help if you have some experience with yoga, but it's fine if you don't!
During formal zazen practice we sit on a zafu cushion with our legs crossed in either the lotus or Burmese position. I prefer the half-lotus position, but whatever is comfortable for you is fine! You can even sit on a chair if you would like. Eventually we would like our meditative experience to be the same as our daily life, so whether you're lying in bed, sitting on a train on the way to work or walking down a busy street, give these techniques a try!
As we focus on our posture we should attempt to straighten our spine, starting from the top we can do this by ensuring that our head is lifted up high and drawn back slightly, our shoulders should be relaxed but also drawn back, as if we are pushing our chest forward. A little tension around the waist isn't a bad thing, as we should engage our core muscles to support the lower back. Try to level the hips and make sure they aren't relaxed too far forward or slouching back. If you are sat on a cushion with your legs crossed, it would be best if our knees are firmly on the ground, so that our weight is supported by three points of contact with the floor.
But as I said before, however you would like to sit is fine. Just try to make sure that you are as upright and comfortable as possible.
Posture and breathing, these are the two fundamental principles that will never leave us throughout our entire lives. Once we have assessed our posture and ensured that we are upright and correct, we should move our awareness onto our breathing.
First we can begin by simply counting our breaths. The first time we exhale and breathe out we can count '1', and then on the next outward breath we count '2', and then '3' on the next breath, all the way up to 10. When we reach 10, we simply go back to 1 and start again on the next breath.
Don't worry if you get distracted! Eventually our mind will wander and we will forget where we were, that's not a problem, it's completely natural and will certainly happen to everyone eventually.
The key is when we realise that we have been distracted, each time we recognise that our mind has wandered we experience a small moment of satori and our skill of concentration grows. Don't get frustrated or annoyed, simply breathe and go back to 1.
It has been said by many great Zen masters that we could spend the meditative experience of our entire lives only focusing on our breath, and it would be a life well spent! So this is where I always begin and end my practice, and if I have no time for anything else, that is enough.
When we inhale we should draw our breath deep into our tanden, our center. Imagine a spot three fingers width below the navel, that is where we should breathe into. When we exhale, our outward breath should be long and relaxed as we gently draw our stomach in and empty our lungs.
While we are counting our breaths we can bring our mind back to our posture at any time. We may have drawn ourselves upright at the start, but eventually our body will relax too much and we will fall out of our position. So occasionally we should reconsider our posture, give it a little check and make sure that we are still sitting or standing nice and tall, there is no unnecessary tension and that we are relaxed and comfortable.
If we do need to correct our posture, that is not a problem, we can just make the adjustments where we need to and then return to counting our breaths. If we do not need to make any corrections, that is fine too, once again we return to our breathing.
1 on the first outward breath,
2 on the second breath,
3 on the third,
All the way to 10, and repeat.
If you are new to meditation and have never tried anything like this before, please sit down and try the techniques I have already described, you can never practice the fundamentals too much!
But if you have some experience with meditation and would like to move onto the next step, I would invite you to consider these additional practices:
First let us consider our sight. As we sit, our eyes should be open and looking down at about 40 degrees toward a single point about six feet ahead of us. Here our eyes will remain.
As we gaze at this fixed point, we do not focus our attention entirely on this single location, instead we have a broad view and see everything within our vision. Notice that without moving our eyes we are able to see far to the left and right, we can see our legs folded beneath us while also seeing the ceiling or sky above us. We should take in our entire vision as a single image. Light and dark, near and far, still and moving, we see everything with balance and equanimity.
So too should we consider our hearing. All sound is to be heard evenly and with a complete lack of judgement. Whether the sounds we can hear are loud or quiet, long or short, familiar or unknown, we should listen to them all with the same balance we apply to our sight.
And last, our bodily sensations. This includes smell and taste, as well as all the sensations of our skin and body.
As we sit, we can think about everything we can touch and feel. The cushion beneath our hips, the floor beneath our legs or feet, the clothes on our body, as well as the air against our skin. Think about where we feel pressure, where we feel open, whether different parts of our body are warm or cool, light or heavy. And just as we considered our posture at the beginning, as we now consider the sensations of our body, we may be able to find some points of tension in which we need to relax, or other parts which may be too relaxed and need to straighten up.
Our sight, sound and bodily sensations include all of the five senses, if we concentrate on these with clear awareness we will bring our mind into the present moment, here and now, as these five senses are always with us and through our current experience they serve as our window into our present environment.
But please always remember, first and last: Posture and breathing.
We always begin with posture and breathing, and even as we meditate upon additional considerations, we still always come back to posture and breathing. When our mind wanders, when we are distracted, whether we have a few hours of free time or just a few seconds, we always start and finish with posture and breathing.
I hope you have found this introduction to meditation interesting and enjoyable!
I apologise if I have used any difficult words or phrases you might not be familiar with, I have tried my best to keep it as simple and easy to read as possible. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at all, I would be very happy to hear from you!
There is so much more to learn and experience through the teachings of Zen, Buddhism and the Tao. I am very excited to meet lots of new students through CafeTalk and continue to share our practice.
If you are interested in private lessons, please take a look at some of the lessons I have available.
I began teaching English and zazen meditation to private students and group lessons in Tokyo when I arrived in Japan last year, but I have been teaching professionally as a Personal Trainer for over six years. At the moment I have just a few of my favourite lessons available here on CafeTalk, but as I grow and meet more people here online I will add more content, so be sure to check back again!
Thank you for your time and effort. Once again, please do not hesitate to contact me, I look forward to hearing from you soon.
And don't forget: Posture and breathing.
- In gasshō, Lewis B