We generally sit facing a wall. It’s a
good idea to wear loose, comfortable clothing,
not to sit
immediately after a meal, and to sit at a time when you would not
normally feel sleepy.
1. Bow to your cushion, hands in gassho.
2. Sit on the forward third of your zafu and arrange your legs in a
position you can stably sustain for the time you will be sitting.
Your knees should be touching the floor with your weight on your
“sit bones” on the cushion. If this is difficult, add another
cushion under your buttocks. The point is to make a tripod with your
weight centered over your knees (or feet) and buttocks. If you are
physically unable to do this, kneel or sit on an upright chair, feet
flat on the floor.
3. Center your spine by swaying from side to side in decreasing arcs
until you come to a point of equilibrium.
4. Sit up straight, extend your spine, and align your head with your
shoulders and navel. Imagine a plumb line hanging from the top of
your skull down your backbone. Center your balance in your lower
abdomen, relax your stomach, and keep your shoulders straight, but
not rigid, to open your chest and sternum.
5. Keep your head level. Your ears should be parallel to your
shoulders, your nose centered over your navel, and your chin tucked
6. Lower your gaze to about three feet on the floor in front of you.
Your eyes should be neither fully open nor fully closed. Don’t stare
fixedly at one spot; just let your gaze relax and settle by itself,
not looking at anything but seeing what is there.
7. Keep your mouth and teeth closed but relaxed. Place your tongue
lightly against the roof of your mouth. This reduces the flow of
8. Hold your hands in the “Universal Mudra.” Place your right hand
in your lap, palm up, against your abdomen about two fingers’ width
below your navel. Rest your left hand, palm up on top of your right
hand. Your thumb tips should be lightly touching to form an oval.
9. Breath naturally through your nose. Do not attempt to control
10. Zen practice involves a balance of concentration and awareness.
A certain degree of stillness is helpful. A good place to begin
practice is to count your breaths. Breathe naturally through your
nostrils and count one with the first exhalation. Allow the breath
itself to count. The counting should be subvocal, not audible.
Continue the count of one through the inhalation, counting two on
the next exhalation. Continue counting with each exhalation until
your reach ten. Then start back at one. If you lose count or notice
yourself caught up in your thoughts and emotions, start over again
at one. Don’t worry if you never seem to reach ten. Once the
activity of your mind has settled, you may then try following your
breath without counting.
Sitting is allowing awareness of the
bodily/sensory present moment as it is. When we notice that we
are caught up in emotion/thought, we label the last thought that
we noticed by adding “having a thought” and repeating it (e.g.
“having a thought ‘I wonder why she said that?’”). We then
return to allowing awareness, which might be a tightness in the
chest, the sound of traffic, pain in the knees, or all of these
and more. A useful analogy (but only an analogy) of awareness
is, as water fills and adapts to the shape of a basin, awareness
inhabits this bodily/sensory moment. Allowing awareness does not
require us to do anything extra, except to be willing to be
present as we are. This might be what we think of as heavy,
weary, light, relaxed, boring, dull, painful, tight, etc. Our
effort is in noticing getting caught up in emotion/thought, in
labeling and making the effort to ‘return’ to experiencing.
It is important to sit regularly. Find a time when you can do it
for at least ten minutes on your own each day. Don’t push
yourself to sit an over-zealous amount of time - this may only
discourage you. It is more important that your practice be
regular. It may be helpful to use some sort of timer or alarm
clock to time your sitting period. Glancing at a watch or clock
periodically breaks your concentration.