How to Sit (Zazen)


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Sitting zazen with our eyes focused on the hard wood floor, the polish reflects the falling snow outside the window. We watch our breath passing through our body. We are aware of the present moment.

Sit on the forward third of a chair or cushion.

Arrange your legs in a position you can maintain comfortably. In the half-lotus position, place your left leg on your right thigh (or vice versa). In the full-lotus position , put your feet on opposite thighs. In the Burmese position, tuck both your feet together near your crotch. You may also sit simply with your legs tucked in close to your body, but be sure that your weight is distributed evenly on three points: Both of your knees on the ground and your buttocks on the round cushion. On a chair, keep your knees apart about the width of your shoulders, feet firmly planted on the floor.

Sit straight up but not rigid. Straighten and extend your spine, keeping it naturally upright, centering your balance in the lower abdomen. Chest back, stomach in. Imagine a straight vertical line through your nose to your navel Sway your body gently from left to right, until you naturally come to a point of stillness on your cushion. Tighten your "hara" the area about 2 inches below your navel.

Look to the floor about 3 to 4 feet in front of your body,eyes neither fully opened nor closed. If the eyes are closed, you might start to daydream or visualize things.

Place your hands on your lap with the one palm up and your other hand (palm up) resting on your lower hand, thumb-tips lightly touching, forming a horizontal oval. This is the mudra of zazen, in which all things are unified. Place the sides of the little fingers against your abdomen, a few inches below the navel, harmonizing your center of gravity with the mudra. Place your concentration there, or if you grow drowsy, concentrate your attention on your forehead between your eyes.

Take three breaths, inhaling with the stomach going out instead of just expanding the chest, then exhale fully. Let your breath settle into its natural rhythm. With proper physical posture, your breathing will flow naturally into your lower abdomen.

Sit still and begin to count your breathing, 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, etc up to 10, then start over. Getting to 10 is not the point, if you can't keep track up to 10 (many beginners can't -- it's surprisingly difficult) count as high as you can, even if it is only 3 or 4, and start over. If you lose count or get to 10, start over. Keep counting.

Be attentive to everything: your count, your breathing, the sounds and smells and feelings around you. At the end of your sitting period, gently sway your body from right to left. Stretch out your legs; be sure they have feeling before standing.

Practice every day for at least ten to fifteen minutes (preferably 25).


Steven E. Newton / sen@zentexts.org / Dec 29, 2011