Zazen Basics

By Gary Enns

| 2023-02-11 | Saturday Morning Kusen |

Amitabha Dhyana Mudra


Tend to the posture first. Slight curve in the lower lumbar, shoulders back and dropped, collarbones up. The heart area of the body is open. No slumping. Press the crown of the head to the sky. 

Zazen posture is the rediscovery of our healthy, awake, ready posture, full of energy.

Eyes are straight in the skull, but the skull itself is swiveled on the spine so that the gaze is around forty-five degrees down. This is important. The head must not droop down like a wilting rose, as that brings the cervical spine out of alignment, and we lose the balance and dignity of the posture. Instead, straighten the cervical spine, pressing it back and lengthening it, and then swivel the head atop the neck, bringing the chin down and tucking it slightly. 

Hands are gently at rest in the lap in the dhyana mudra.

Eyes are gently open, gazing ahead at the wall, not fixed on anything specific. Wall-gazing is attentive yet gentle, an openness and acceptance of the here and now. 

With practice, this posture, which may seem to beginners to be imposed and unnatural, will become settled, natural, simple, allowing for a stillness and ease of well-being of body and mind. Once you find it, it becomes second nature, and you never forget it, like riding a bike—you can always and quite easily come back to it. 


Begin to bring your awareness to the breath, welling up and then returning to the hara (two inches below the navel, the physical and spiritual center of the body), that place of energy and abundance deep within the belly. Begin to lengthen the exhale, ten, twelve, fifteen seconds, and then inhale naturally, about five or six seconds. The entire breath takes the shape of a rolling ocean wave, the inhale being the steeper front, and then the gentle rolling-over the crest and down the long exhale, the back of the wave, then into the trough and up the next, again and again.


And what of the mind? As your four limbs have come to rest in their proper places, so too your mind, another limb of the body, comes to rest, not up high in the skull as you might assume, but deep down in the hara, in the origin and source of our energy, the home of the breath. Simply place your awareness there, behind the mudra of the hands, even behind the expanding and contracting abdominal muscles as you breathe, to the place of stillness and balance deep within.

Nothing else to do.


Anandajoti Bhikkhu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cosmic Mudra. Unify Cosmos.


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