“Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness, One should sustain this recollection.”
Zen practice applies to all aspects of our lives, however the most common way to establish and sustain a personal Zen practice is through commitment to regular zazen. All that’s required for zazen is somewhere to sit, a block of uninterrupted time, and a timer. Each time you sit, know what your practice will be for that sitting period (following the breath, counting breaths, etc.), and resolve to stay with that practice until the sitting period ends.
When we sit together at the Melbourne Zen Group, each round of zazen lasts 25 minutes – this is a good length of time for establishing a regular, personal zazen practice.
Most people practice zazen on a zafu (meditation cushion), but zazen can also be practiced on a meditation stool or on a chair. There are several different positions that are commonly used. Regardless of position, the characteristics of good zazen posture are:
- knees lower than hips (use as much height as you need to achieve this)
- weight on sitting bones, hips tilted slightly forward, belly soft
- neck lengthened, with head level or chin slightly tucked under
- open chest, shoulders dropped down and back
- gaze directed downwards at around 45 degrees, eyes partly open, gaze soft
- if sitting on a chair, make sure your feet are well supported
- hands rest loosely in lap, held in the zazen mudra
- right hand rests in lap, palm up
- left hand rests on right hand, palm up
- thumbs touch lightly to form an oval
Take a few moments before starting each round of sitting to breathe deeply and settle into your posture. Once the zazen period starts, try to sit as still as possible. This is an important courtesy when sitting with a group, but it is also a point of practice – the urge to move about during zazen is often a reflection of our state of mind.
If you experience pain while sitting in zazen, try to incorporate your awareness of the pain into your practice by breathing into the pain, without judgment. Be sensible however about your body’s limitations—if pain continues after zazen, you may need to adopt a different sitting position. If you really do need to adjust your position during zazen, move gradually and mindfully, particularly if you are sitting with others.
When you first take up a sitting meditation practice, it can be helpful to experiment with different sitting positions, and, if possible, to ask someone with meditation/movement experience to give constructive feedback on how you can improve your posture.
The Melbourne Zen Group offers free orientation sessions at its Brunswick East Dojo for people interested in Zen practice. Our orientations are tailored to the needs of individuals, and can include assistance with finding the zazen position that best suits you.