Many of us suffer from ‘information overload.’ From the minute we wake up to the time we go to sleep, our brains are flooded with conversations, phone calls, meetings, conversations, TV shows, songs.
And even when we’re alone, our mind still runs in exhausting, never-ending circles. We worry about the future, replay a comment of our boss, or obsess about a problem.
We need a way to let go, empty our minds, and find (even for a few minutes) a sense of peace and tranquility. The answer? The Buddhist practice of Zazen, or sitting meditation. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Find a quiet, comfortable spot.
Turn off your phone, radio, and television. Find a room where you can be undisturbed for at least 15 minutes. Adjust the temperature to your liking, and then place a small pad or pillow on the floor. Position it so you won’t be facing a window, and be distracted by whatever’s going on outside.
Then, set an alarm to ring in 15 minutes (if this is your first week). Increase the duration by 5 minutes for each succeeding week. Don’t even think about meditating for one hour on your first try—it’s too much of a shock for your system, and you may be discouraged.
2. Sit down.
Sit down on the mat. To find the best position (where you won’t feel numb after keeping still for several minutes) lean forward about 45 degrees. Then, push your buttocks a bit backward.
There are many different kinds of positions for Zazen. However, the simplest (called the ‘Burmese Position’) involves crossing the legs, the knees lying flat on the floor. One ankle is in front of the other, not over.
However the most stable position is the ‘Full Lotus Position.’ This is also called Kekkafuza. Basically, you rest one foot on the opposite thigh. It may be uncomfortable the first times you try it, but eventually the leg muscles will relax. (Note: don’t use this position if you suffer from chronic knee pain.)
You may also try the ‘Half Lotus Position’ or Hankafuza, where your left foot rests on the right thigh, and the right leg is tucked under the left thigh.
3. Welcome the meditation.
Then do a few preparatory breathing exercises. Take a deep breath, then exhale. Do this three times. You might want to rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your upper teeth.
4. Count your breaths.
Now, for the first and simplest exercise. This is usually what Zen teachers will introduce to a beginner, though even the most seasoned Zazen practitioners use this when they need to calm down during a very emotional or stressful time.
Basically, you take deep breaths, and count each time you inhale and exhale. You shouldn’t say the numbers aloud, just do this in your head.
The point is to become more aware of your breathing, and gently push out all of the other thoughts that compete for your attention.
5. Don’t ‘fight’ distraction.
Your mind may wander, or you may suddenly lose count. That’s okay. That just means that your attention was caught by a random thought or emotion. When that happens, don’t get mad at yourself or dwell on the feeling of frustration. Acknowledge it and then let it be. Take another deep breath and begin again, starting from number one.
6. Absorb the stillness.
When you are able to reach 10 counts without being distracted, count your inhalation and exhalation as one. Then, after reaching 10 again, abandon the counting completely and focus just on the breathing.
When you reach this point, simply bask in the stillness. Be aware of yourself, sitting on the couch, in the room.
Open all your senses. What do you smell? What do you hear? How does the air feel against your skin? Avoid analyzing or judging – simply acknowledge where you are, and bask in being alive.
7. Re-enter the world.
When your alarm rings, gradually open your eyes and stretch your legs and arms to restore circulation.