How can you free your mind from distractions?
We’ve all been so busy at some point that we forget to simply let ourselves rest our minds. Our brain is always thinking, planning, or worrying about something. It needs a break. Daily breaks.
Zen meditation can help you uncover clarity for the mind. It is an ancient Buddhist tradition that has been practiced since the 6th century CE. With the right practice, Zen meditation can help you have better mental and physical health.
Zen meditation has become well-known around the world. And those who are not familiar with it often wonder:
- Is it hard to practice?
- How do I start?
- What do I have to think about?
You can learn more about Zen meditation as you read our guide. Find out why this meditation practice might be just what you need.
What is Zen Meditation
Zen meditation is meant to give practitioners an insight into the true nature of being. This meditation is somehow similar to mindfulness, although the focus is on the presence of the mind and general awareness.
Zen meditation can either be performed in “Zazen” or sitting meditation or standing Zen meditation.
When practicing Zen meditation, your aim is to remove all the judgment or goals. Place your focus on the body’s sensation and leave the mind in a relaxed state.
This doesn’t mean to keep you withdrawn from the world and enter a dream state. Rather, you need to be aware and vigilant while you are meditating.
Besides enhancing your spiritual growth, Zen meditation is beneficial to us in a lot of ways. The meditator sees things as what they truly are and recognizes that things are temporary.
Five Types of Zen
Now that you know its basic definition, here are the common styles of Zen you should know:
- Bompu Zen - Suitable for almost everyone because it has no religious or philosophical content. It teaches the person to control and calm the mind and is often used in modern Western meditation.
- Gedo Zen - Gedo Zen is translated as “outside way”. It is used to contemplate teachings other than Buddhism. It relates to Hindu yoga, Confucian sitting practices, and Christan contemplation and aims to reach an altered state of consciousness or perform physical acts that are not something you are usually capable of.
- Shojo Zen - Shojo Zen means “smaller vehicle”. It is aimed at the liberation of oneself. The practitioner examines the cause of any suffering or confusion. This meditation type is suitable for those who believe in the dual reality of nature, or someone who sees themselves separate from the whole.
- Daijo Zen - This is known as the true Buddhist Zen and is meant to awaken your essential nature. It allows you to understand that you are inseparable from all beings一that you can affect everyone and that they can affect you.
- Saijojo Zen - Saijojo Zen is the crown of Buddhist Zen. This meditation is the highest practice of Zen meditation where you are not trying to realize or achieve anything一you just have the realization of your true nature and not self-consciously strive for Enlightenment.
Since you’re just starting to practice Zen meditation, it is common to experience a feeling of physical and mental discomfort.
It’s hard to sit or stay still for several minutes so it’s easy to become bored. You may even doze off or lose focus. But with consistent practice, your awareness from practicing this will eventually extend to your other regular activities.
Benefits of Zen Meditation
Meditation, in general, has several health benefits, including stress relief, better sleep, enhances inner strength, decreases depression or anxiety, and boosts self-esteem[*].
Early research shows that different types of meditation may have a slight difference in their impact on our brain[*]. It is likely that Zen meditation offers the same benefits and additional benefits, but more research is needed.
For instance, participants of a study where volunteers practiced Zen meditation every day find it easier to return their breathing faster than those who have not tried it before, showing that meditation may also enhance focus and limit one's distractions[*].
Zen meditation was also studied to see its connection to the unconscious mind. A group of Zen practitioners participated. The group who meditated before the Remote Associate Test performed better than the practitioners who did not meditate before the lab test[*].
If Zen meditation can help us understand our thoughts and feelings, it may help our decision-making process in our daily lives.
Zen Meditation: A Brief History
Zen meditation was from Zen Buddhism which is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. The term "Zen" is derived from the Chinese word "Ch'an" which is translated from the Indian term "Dhyana". This means meditation or concentration.
Zen meditation was brought by Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, to China in the 6th century CE[*]. Later on, Zen started to spread in Korea in the 7th century CE and in Japan starting in the 12th century CE. The Japanese monk Dogen brought Soto Zen to Japan after his stay in China.
Before the 1800s, Zen Buddhism was already introduced to European cultures. Daisetz Suzuki helped to spread its philosophy in the late 19th and the early 20th century.
A Guide to Practicing Zen Meditation
When practicing Zen meditation, you need to leave all your judgments and keep your mind in a state of relaxed attention.
Here are some tips to help you meditate at home:
Find the right place and have a schedule
Find a room or a quiet place so you can focus on meditating. It is recommended to practice Zen meditation for 10 minutes when you first start. Once you get used to it, you can gradually increase your meditation time to 20 to 30 minutes a day.
Choose a position
Try to stretch before meditating to alleviate the tightness or discomfort. You can choose to sit down while meditating or to stand still.
There are different sitting positions to try based on your flexibility or how easy you can do it.
- Burmese position - Legs are crossed with both knees on the floor. One ankle is in the front of the other.
- Full lotus (Kekkafuza) - Position your right foot on your left thigh and then bring your left foot up to your right thigh.
- Half lotus (Hankafuza) - The left foot is positioned on the right thigh.
- Kneeling position (Seiza) - Kneeling while the hips rest on the ankles.
Half lotus or full lotus are the ideal postures for Zen meditation. Use a chair or cushion (zafu) for support or try the Burmese position if the lotus positions are hard for you.
Choose a gesture or mudra
Position your hand into a gesture or mudra of your choice. One of the most common positions for the hand is resting your hand on the top of your lap and have your thumb tip and index fingertip together to form an oval shape.
If you're in a lotus position, you can put the back of your palm on your thighs. Another option is to place the right hand on top of the left hand with each palm facing upward.
Be mindful of your posture
Posture and proper sitting position are important to cultivate the right state of mind. Whatever position you choose to practice, keep your back straight from the pelvis to the neck. Your chin should be slightly tucked in.
Have your eyes half-open
When your eyes are half-open, have an unfocused gaze or look down at about 2-3 feet in front of you. It's okay to close your eyes if that's what you prefer.
Keep your awareness on each breath
When meditating, breath as you normally would make the meditation natural. Try to feel the breath and bring your focus back to it once your mind starts to wander.
Maintain a focused mind
Our thoughts often go all over the place, and that's okay. Don't be too hard on yourself, especially when you're just starting to meditate.
Remember to be gentle when asking yourself to have a steady mind. Refrain from trying to stop your thinking. It will stop by itself so calmly let the thoughts come in and let it go out.
Zen Meditation Retreats To Try
Meditation retreat helps beginners and experienced meditators alike to have a peaceful place to practice meditation. If you’re a new practitioner and like to have a guided meditation, retreats are one place to try that. It’s also a way to engage with people who are like-minded.
Want to join a retreat for Zen meditation? You can attend Zen Den Yoga School & Wellness Retreat’s 14 Night Zen Den Disconnect to Reconnect Retreat. Some of the things you can find from this retreat include:
- A safe and nurturing environment
- Daily yoga and meditation
- Morning meditation in the studio
- Hatha Chakra flow yoga
- Ashtanga-inspired Vinyasa flow yoga
If you can’t travel, there are online meditation retreats to help you get started. These options can help you have a better grasp of meditation with the help of an expert practitioner.
Is Zen Meditation For You?
Try Zen meditation whether at home or with a guided meditation. When meditating, focus on the present moment to achieve a balanced and clear mind. Regular practice can help you get the benefits faster.
Remember, there is no type of meditation that is considered the "most effective". Meditating depends on your preference, lifestyle, or what works best for you.
Once you've tried Zen meditation and found that it isn't the type for you, give the other types of meditation a chance until you find the meditation suitable for your likings.