Zen sitting meditation and posture

Breathing | Posture | State of mind

Zazen (Sitting in Zen meditation) focuses on attentiveness, which is the heart of most forms of meditation. The mind is restless. It keeps wandering. One moment you are thinking one thing and the next moment a new thought arises. Inwardly we are often absent. Our minds are permanently busy with demands, illusions, desires and other distractions. However thinking about life is not the same as life itself. It is essential to immerse yourself in the moment and to become as one with whatever may be, in daily life or during Zazen (Sitting in silence).

Attention in Zen meditation concentrates on breath and body. In this abdominal breathing is of major significance. It connects body and mind and helps to explore the deeper levels of existence. Respiration through the nose down to the diaphragm centers and relaxes the mind. During expiration the slow extended length of the breath is particularly supportive. With each out-breath there is a sense of “letting go”, of breathing without any goal. One should also not manipulate the breath. It should be silent, slow and relaxed.

< top

The body and sitting posture
One sits on the front edge of a round meditation cushion (Zafu) – or on a small meditation bench – with the knees placed firmly on the ground. This raised cushion or the bench help tilt the pelvis forward slightly and assist in putting a natural curve in the spine and maintaining good posture. A mat or a blanket is used as comfortable under-layer.
The upper body is upright out of the hip joints but does not loose the connection with the earth. It is of utmost importance that the hips are worked on and “opened up”. If the hips are not “open” there is excessive strain placed on the knees and thighs. The spine is extended and the chin tucked slightly in. It may be helpful to imagine a string connected to the top of your head that slightly elevates the body. The shoulders are relaxed. The nose should be directly over the navel.
Eyes should be slightly open and downcast without being focused on anything. With eyes open you are less likely to get carried away with daydreams and fantasy while also remaining grounded.

The hands form a Mudra.

Sitting postures

The traditional posture in Zazen is the full Lotus (Kekka).

The left foot is positioned on top of the right thigh, the right foot is on the left thigh. The full lotus is difficult to master and for inexperienced people the half lotus is much more practical. However with regular careful exercise and persistence you may eventually be able to master the full lotus.

Other easier sitting postures are as follows:

The Half Lotus (only one foot is positioned on the thigh of the other leg.)

The Quarter Lotus (Foot on lower leg)

The Burmesian posture

The Seiza posture (here supported by a blanket or a pad)

           Or sitting on a small meditation bench

Persons with problems to sit on the floor may also sit on a chair. The thighs are slightly down. Feet are hipwide grounded to the earth. Do not lean back (You may prevent this by using a cushion under the back part of the rear).

< top

State of the mind: Alert non-thinking
A stable sitting position supports the stability of the mind and assists in focusing on the moment. The intention is to join body, breath and spirit; to be with oneself and with the world, without judgment, to be just present "here and now". Breathe slowly but fully into your belly and let your thoughts float like clouds. Do not identify yourself with your thoughts or follow them and you will gradually be immersed in silence.

Breath counting is an effective method of preventing thoughts. This method is taught by the Soto school (Shikantaza: only sitting). In Soto, Zen is practised facing the wall, unaffected by distractions. Expirations are counted from “One to Ten”, then start again with "One". When thoughts interrupt the counting simply come back to “One” and start again. This is performed without any aim and without any idea of challenge or competition.
The Rinzai school represents Koan-Zen. This is the other well-known Japanese way of Zen. Here meditation is carried out facing the center of the room. Koan-Zen is somewhat more dynamic. The relationship of master and disciple is more pronounced than in Soto-Zen.

Both kinds of meditation are practiced within Bodhi Sangha. P. AMA Samy guides and instructs all visitors according to their practice and need.

Zazen may also be practised solitarily at home. It is recommended that one start carefully and slowly e.g. five or ten minutes only per day in the first week. This may be increased to15 minutes daily during the second week and to 25 minutes daily from the third week on. It is important to practice regularly and 30 minutes each day is better then one hour every two or three days. As you become more adept it is recommended that you find a teacher and join a group to sit with and learn from.

< top