How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)


Meditation can be an invaluable means to de-stress. If you're feeling under pressure, experimenting with meditation can help. Zazen is a type of meditation unique to Zen Buddhism. It involves focusing on the breath and remaining in the present moment. To begin practicing Zen meditation, find a comfortable place and position. Try short sessions where you focus on your breath. With time, develop a routine that works for you. Meditation can be difficult at first, as it takes practice to clear the mind, but you'll eventually find a meditation routine that works for you.

Part 1
Getting in the Right Position

Getting in the Right Position on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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It's important to meditate in a relaxing place that's free of distractions. Find a place in your home where it's relatively quiet and take steps to create a relaxing environment. This largely depends on personal preference. Some people like to make an altar using objects like seashells, stones, or flowers. Other people enjoy lighting candles. Gather objects that you find soothing to create the right space to meditate.[1] Your space will grow naturally with time, so do not worry if it's not perfect right away. You will figure out what does and does not work for you as you begin meditating regularly.

Getting in the Right Position on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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The literal translation for zazen is "seated meditation". How you sit is very important. What matters most is that you stay comfortable and keep your back straight. If you need to do something like cross your legs, or use pillows to prop up your back, do so. If you are very flexible, try the half Lotus Position (Hankafuza) or the Full Lotus Position (Kekkafuza). The Half Lotus is done by placing the left foot onto the right thigh and tucking the right leg under your left thigh. The Full Lotus is done by placing each foot onto the opposite thigh. If either positions are painful, however, avoid using them as they can be distracting.

Getting in the Right Position on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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The positioning of your head is important for Zen meditation, as it's vital you do not do anything to strain your body. Hold your head in a position that feels natural and does not cause strain in your neck. Ideally, your spine should align with your neck. Imagine a straight line running up your spine. Move your neck so this imaginary line continues across your neck. Tucking in your chin helps align your spine and neck.

Getting in the Right Position on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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Before you begin meditating, pause and be aware of any tensions you're feeling in your jaw and facial muscles. You may not notice the tension in your jaw until you pay attention to it specifically. Try to loosen your jaw and the muscles in your face in general before you begin meditating. If your jaw feels very tense, use your fingers to lightly massage your face to loosen up the muscles.

Part 2
Practicing the Basics

Practicing the Basics on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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With Zen meditation, much of the focus is on the breath. It's important to breath through your nose. Nasal breaths create a cooling and warming sensation as you breathe in and out. This can make it easy to follow the rhythm of your breathing as you meditate.

Practicing the Basics on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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As you begin meditating, notice your breath as much as possible. Pay attention to the natural in and out rhythm, the sound of your breathing, and the warm and cold sensations provided by air passing through your lungs. Strive to be as aware as possible of your breathing for the duration of your meditation sessions. This may sound simple enough, but it's very difficult to quiet the mind. Do not be discouraged if you struggle to focus on your breath at first. Meditation, like anything else, takes practice.

Practicing the Basics on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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You can keep your eyes open, or half closed, or you can shut them completely. Some people find it helpful to focus their eyes on a single point in the room. Others prefer their eyes to be shut. This is a matter of personal preference. Decide what to do with your eyes based on what feels most natural and soothing for you. This will take some trial and error. Change what you're doing with your eyes if you become distracted or uncomfortable. For example, if your eyes start to water when you're focusing on a single point in the room, close your eyes. See if this helps you better concentrate on your breath.

Practicing the Basics on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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It's natural for your mind to wander when you're sitting in silence. When you first start meditating, you will find yourself thinking about other things. You'll start thinking about errands you need to run or things that occurred earlier in the day. When you feel this happening, gently redirect your thinking to your breathing. Tune in to the natural ebb and flow of your breaths and the sensations they create.[2] It can help to count your breaths to regain focus.

Practicing the Basics on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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Zen meditation takes some effort. If you try to meditate for too long too soon, you may find yourself unable to focus on your breathing. Start off with only two minutes of meditation at time. As you feel more comfortable meditating, you can increase that number.[3]

Part 3
Easing into a Routine

Easing into a Routine on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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A zafu pillow is a pillow specifically designed for Zen meditation. If you find Zen meditation is helpful for you, you can purchase a zafu pillow online. This can help you easily get into the right position each time you meditate.

Easing into a Routine on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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Beginners sometimes worry they're bad at meditation. You may find it difficult to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Do not get frustrated and beat yourself up. It's very normal for meditation to be somewhat difficult at first. Cut yourself some slack and keep practicing. Eventually, meditating will become easier.[4] Keep in mind, even people who meditate regularly never completely clear their minds. It's normal to have to stop and redirect your thinking to your breathing once in awhile. Do not feel like getting distracted means you're meditating incorrectly. More advanced meditators may try to clear their minds completely but Buddha Shakyamuni warned against too obsessed with clearing the mind.[5]. Many Zen masters recognize that the safest way is to substitute all wandering thoughts in mind with one single yet powerful thought - Buddha Amitabha, as highlighted in The Amitabha Sutra (Sukhāvatī-vyūha).

Easing into a Routine on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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Start off with small sessions and build up. After you're comfortable meditating in short spurts, start adding on a few more minutes each week. Eventually, you'll be able to meditate for longer periods.[6] There is no one size fits all rule for meditation. You may find very long meditation sessions, such as 25 minute sessions, help you relax. However, you may also find brief five to 10 minute sessions are sufficient. Experiment with different time frames until you find something you're comfortable with.

Easing into a Routine on How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

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It can be helpful to meditate with the assistance of an instructor. Check online to see if you can find Zen meditation classes in your area. This can help you improve your meditation technique so Zen meditation is more effective for you. If you can't find a class in your area, look for guided routines online.