The main aim of Zen meditation is to focus on living in the present with whole consciousness.
When practising Zen, the meditator sits and observes the standard operating system that functions within our mind day to day.
Memories, fears, thoughts, hopes and dreams are observed, noted and allowed to pass without judgement.
The result of this practice is to gain control over a wandering mind and allow unconscious thoughts to bubble to the service, creating a better understanding of one’s self.
History of Zen Meditation
Zen meditation is an ancient practice that we can trace back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th Century China.
It spread throughout Asia, including Korea, Japan, and other Asian lands where it’s continued to thrive.
“Zen” is a Japanese term derivative of the Chinese word “Ch’an” which is itself a translation of the term “dhyana”, an Indian term which means concentration.
Nowadays, Zen is traditionally taught in Buddhism and is still a popular technique to this day.
Benefits of Zen Meditation
There are primary studies that suggest that different types of meditation may affect the brain’s function in somewhat diverse ways.
This means that Zen might offer some additional benefits that are distinguished from those noticed in other types of meditation.
In 2008, one study compared 12 people who were experienced in Zen meditation to 12 people with little to no meditation practice.
Participants were asked to focus on their breathing while undergoing brain scans. They were then given a selection of words, some real and some nonsensical and asked to distinguish between them before returning to their breath.
The Zen meditators were far faster at returning to the breath than the non-meditators.
This suggests that Zen meditation enhances the ability to focus, pay attention and not become distracted.
Practically a superpower in today’s fast-paced, digital world.
How To Practice Zen Meditation?
Zen meditation, also referred to as Zazen is very similar to Mindfulness Meditation with a few key differences.
In Mindfulness, the meditation’s focus is generally aimed at a specific object, that might be the breath, the body, sounds, or thoughts and feeling.
With Zazen, the object of the meditation is more open, observing anything that becomes present in your mind, a state of reflexive awareness.
Some other key differences are that the meditation is traditionally practised in either Lotus, half Lotus or a Burmese sitting positions. Of course, if this isn’t possible, then any comfortable position is also fine.
Finally, Zen meditation is also practised with the eyes half open, as opposed to most other meditation techniques that keep the eyes fully closed.
Here are the basics;
- If possible, sit on a meditation cushion. A pillow or chair is fine if you don’t have one.
- If you can, try to adopt a Zen meditation position.
- Place your hand in your lap, one on top of the other. (Like in the picture at the top of the page)
- Traditionally the eyes are kept half-open but if you find this nauseating or distracting, keeping them fully closed is fine.
- Focus on your breathing by first taking a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Once your breath has settled, close your mouth and continue breathing in and out of your nose.
- When you realize your mind has wandered, bring your focus back to the breath. It’s okay to have thoughts; the aim here is not to get too caught up in any single thought or idea.
- As well as focusing on the breath, note anything else that your mind becomes aware of, and then let it pass.