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This guide covers the essentials of Zen meditation; one of the purest form of mindfulness meditation. When people speak of meditation, they are most often thinking of Zen meditation.
The practical steps which one needs to take in order to quiet the mind, and achieve deep concentration are described in this article.
Please keep in mind, that the most important points are actually very simple, just observe the mind and breath. I try to go into as much detail as possible, this way you will understand some of the subtler points of meditation. If you would rather have just the essentials, then please feel free to watch the video below, and dive right in to your meditation. If you would like a more detailed explanation, then please read on after the video.
In Zen meditation emphasis is placed on being aware of your posture. Stability in the body, will create stability in the mind. When I meditate I like to sit in a cross-legged posture on two pillows. I situate the pillows so that my back is able to remain straight throughout the meditation. If you are flexible than you may want to try the full or half-lotus position so that there is as little movement as possible. One of the most stable ways to meditate is to do so on a zafu or zabuton . If you are a serious practitioner and fortunate enough, then it may be a good idea to invest in one, but it's not entirely necessary.
Regardless of what position you choose, be wary of tension which may build up. As you meditate you may notice that certain parts of your body are tensing to balance the position you are in. If this happens, then you need to ease the tension and relax those muscles. In order to find a more balanced posture it may be helpful to rock back and forth slightly when you first settle in. To do this, just rock back and forth until you find your natural center and remain still from this point.
Keep in mind that tension in the body will create mental chatter. So remember this important point, and scan your body for tension build up if you feel your mind constantly wandering.
Your head should be positioned so that its naturally at an attentive position but not straining the neck. Tuck your chin so that the spine is in alignment up through your neck. Imagine an energy beam extended from the ceiling going through the top of your head to the base of your spine. Your body will feel more relaxed in this position as you adjust to it.
You can choose to meditate with your eyes focused on a single point, or closed and relaxed. I find that if I focus on a single point, that I can become distracted by my eyes watering up, or noticing something else in the room. Meditating with the eyes open can be useful if you find that your imagination takes flight or your mind wanders with closed eyes. Whichever you choose, try to be aware of any eye movement, and muscle tension. If you do not relax your eyes properly, they will still produce micro-movements. By being aware of the muscles surrounding the eyes and allowing them to relax, we can bring ourselves deeper into pure stillness.
Relaxing the jaw and facial muscles is a good way to release tension. Unless you are keenly aware of it, you may not notice how much tension resides in the jaw. The jaw muscles are some of the strongest in the body, and are frequently used throughout the day. You may want to give yourself a nice facial massage by rubbing your jaw muscles in a circular motion with your fingers. If you have TMJ or frequent headaches due to tension then you will find that these exercises may help. I highly recommend stretching the jaw muscles on a regular basis. For meditation purposes, the jaw should be held lightly enough so that you are able to push your tongue out without using much pressure.
Putting a slight smile on the face will improve mood and put you in the right mindset. Smiling will help relax facial muscles also.
While meditating its suggested that the mouth remains closed and we only use nasal breathing. There are many benefits to nasal breathing, such as filtering and warming the air we inhale. In meditation it helps to notice how the cool air feels as it moves through the passageways when you inhale. When exhaling you can notice the warm flow and relaxing feeling of the breath moving outwards.
The tactile sensations and movement of the breath should be your main focus in Zen meditation. You may want to focus on the rushing sounds the air makes as it moves through your body. Whatever sensations you are more aware of remember to focus on them to avoid getting caught up in mental chatter.
If you would like to understand one of the most relaxing ways to breath during meditation (or any other time really) then please view this article on breathing techniques.
Please understand that all of these guidelines are simply a way to understand more about Zen meditation. You truly must do what works best for you. So if all of these tips are distracting you, then just forget about them. Do what feels right. Focus on the breath, try to relax, and just observe the mind without becoming caught up in it.
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Best of luck on your journey.