Zazen: Introduction

“Zazen is the core practice of the Soto Zen School. Zazen is simply sitting still and paying attention to arising experience moment by moment without judgment. There is no right or wrong “experience” in zazen.  As a beginner you may want to let yourself be curious about what you know through the five senses:  seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and body sensations (touch). The sixth thing you can be aware of is thinking.   As you sit in this way, you will become aware of moving your attention here and there, or perhaps getting “stuck” on one thing or another. A vivid feeling in the body or an interesting thought may dominate your attention, so much that you literally forget where you are and what you’re doing! This is normal, especially as you first experiment with sitting. Feel free to renew your intention any time you like. Just ask, “What is happening right here right now?,” and pay attention to the thoughts and sensations that answer that question.  Simple, but not necessarily easy.


The posture is upright and dignified The mind is alert, open and curious.  The heart is open and receptive. The
traditional way to sit for zazen is this:

You can also sit in a chair like this:

Turning a cushion on its side and straddling it is another way to sit. This eases pressure on the hips and ankles.

Or, you can also use a bench to ease pressure on knees, hips and ankles.

For many, zazen can seem strange at first!   Often when we begin zazen “what arises” is physical discomfort, or worrysome thinking.  Try the above postures to see what supports feeling at ease as you begin.  If none of these postures is an option for your body, your teacher can suggest other options!  Zazen is for everyone!

Zazen: Beginner’s Mind
Once you are seated, take a breath and notice how it feels.  Move your body back and forth to settle in.  Zazen is a practice of awareness and non-judgment. There is nothing to strive for, or to get “right” or “wrong”. It is  life with fresh, open curiosity.  It is a soft gesture of regard for life itself, and in particular, for your own life and experience.  

Practice:  Gentle persistence  Zen teachings are recognized and digested when we have the skill to be present and notice when we’re not!  This refers to any moment in your life, not just when you are sitting. However sitting, sometimes called “shikantaza” is where we begin to cultivate intimacy with ourselves and all of life!  Every sit will be different. Gentle, persistent returning to shikantaza is the practice.

Discomfort: For most of us discomfort or unwanted thoughts and sensations are not new.  Discomfort in body, mind or emotion happens in zazen just as it is anywhere else in life!  In zazen, we are not pursuing comfort and bliss, nor are we trying to get rid of anything uncomfortable.  We are applying our innate human intelligence, curiosity and attention to taking better care of our lives, and appreciating the “pivotal opportunity” of being human.