10 Amazing Benefits of Zazen
Forgetting oneself is opening oneself
Dogen, founder of the Soto Zen school
What is Zazen?
Zazen is a meditation discipline that is part of the Buddhist Zen tradition. The literal meaning of Zazen is sitting down to meditate.
You might think this is very easy. The concept of Zazen is very simple indeed, but there are several types of Zazen and there are different ways to practice them. Furthermore, the inner growth that you can achieve through the practice of Zazen and Zen meditation in general is infinite.
Although in the West we keep talking about Zen meditation, I have to say that Zazen is actually not meditation at all. Both practices start with adopting a certain posture such as the lotus position. Afterwards, when meditating, one switches to controlled breathing or visualizing or concentrating on certain thoughts.
With Zazen, according to the Soto Zen school, this is not the case, once the correct posture has been adopted, nothing is added. Zazen in its purest form revolves around adopting and maintaining a correct posture and nothing more. So with zazen your body and your mind form a whole. One sits still, stops mental activity and focuses on experiencing. One does not sit in a certain meditation position and then actively engage in mental activities.
Koans are originally studied in zazen, these are stories that raise important questions. The Rinzai Zen school still makes extensive use of the Koans, but the popular Soto Zen school has abandoned the use of the Koans since the late 18th century. Today the Soto Zen school prefers to completely empty the mind while practicing Zazen in order to gain insight into existence.
This means that the current goal of Zazen to remain within the tradition of the Soto Zen school is only to allow thoughts to enter our mind without going further into them. Sitting takes place in a quiet space where you can calmly empty your mind.
At the Rinzai Zen school you sit with your face turned to the fellow practitioners, at the Soto Zen school you sit turned to the wall or a curtain.
There is also a third, conservative school within the Buddhist Zen tradition in Japan, the Obaku school. The Obaku school practices a kind of Zazen that is very closely related to the Zazen of the Rinzai Zen school. Furthermore, they live within the monastic tradition and still sing the Sutras in Chinese.
In order to practice Zazen properly, it is important that your posture is open, balanced and grounded.
There are different positions when practicing Zazen:
- Full lotus sitting position (Kekka-fusa in Japanese or Padma-asana in Sanskrit, right foot on left thigh, and left foot on right thigh)
- Half lotus sitting position (Hanka-fusa in Japanese, Ardha Padma asana in Sanskrit, one foot rests on the ground, the other foot is placed on the thigh)
- Burmese sitting position (one ankle is placed in front of the other ankle)
- On a bench
- On a pillow (Zafu)
- On a chair
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Zazen?
By regularly letting your thoughts run free, you will get to know yourself better and accept yourself better. A person who accepts himself as he is naturally has more self-confidence.
People with anxiety disorders often have to deal with recurring negative thoughts that they cannot let go of. Through the practice of Zazen, one obtains the ability to dismiss these thoughts. This also prevents anticipation anxiety.
Better concentration and more focus
Since Zazen is a combination of emptying your mind and learning to passively deal with emotions and all kinds of thoughts that come to you, you will notice that your concentration and focus will improve a lot.
Better sleep and more energy
Zazen gives you balance, internal calm, and focus. By letting your thoughts run free during the day and putting them away, you will have a much calmer night’s sleep.
This can solve problems such as insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The increased brain activity while practicing Zazen will help you regulate emotions and make good decisions in an easier way. Better focus will also make it easier to work towards a goal and achieve things.
Better mood / Happier
Any activity increases levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. However, it is true that Zazen is meant to be silent and that we are not supposed to be mentally active in arousing certain thoughts but the fact that our thoughts are allowed to run free, even though one is not actively dealing with them, will increase brain activity. This activity boosts our happiness hormones, which are the most powerful natural antidepressants. Furthermore, it goes without saying that if one has a better night’s sleep and is more focused on our daily tasks, this will improve our mood.
Less stress / Calmer
Thanks to the ability to focus that one develops at Zazen, our thoughts no longer wander. The accumulation of stimuli is one of the most common factors that cause stress. On the other hand, by keeping a focus, you obtain a calm mind in harmony with what surrounds you.
Earlier we discussed that Zazen helps us focus, which lowers our stress levels. The combination of centered thoughts with low stress levels will automatically mean that you will be much more patient and that unexpected situations will have much less impact on your mood and your way of responding.
Practicing Zazen stimulates the neocortex, where the higher cognitive functions are generated such as language or feeling. This is exactly what you need if you wish to become more creative.
Practicing Zazen will help you to know yourself better and to be connected to your emotions which will make you a more sensitive person. This will enrich your life in many ways.
How has Zazen changed your life?