Zazen in Japanese literally means sitting meditation. It is a meditation discipline and religious practice of Zen Buddhism. At the core of Zazen is having insight into the nature of existence. The aim of zazen is to suspend all judgmental thinking through sitting in silence. It is in this method that ideas, words, images and thoughts pass by without being preoccupied by any of them.
Traditionally, zazen meditation is practiced in a group meditation hall, referred to as the zendo. In the Japanese meditation ritual, a Zazen practitioner must bow before the seat and his fellow practitioners in the beginning and end of the meditation. Sometimes, zazen may alternate with kinhin or the walking meditation.
Types and Methods of Zazen Meditation
There are also different types of zazen in terms of practice. Practitioners from the Rinzai School do zazen by sitting while facing each other with their backs on the wall. In another school, zazen practitioners face the wall or curtain and sit silently. Zazen meditation is taught using three methods. This includes mastery on introspection, concentration and just sitting.
Concentration makes use of counted breathing. Some even uses repeatedly reciting mantras to substitute the counting. This method aims to achieve the one-pointedness of the mind. This allows us to subdue all negative thoughts present in the external world and helps us to remain focused on what is present in front of us. Introspection on the other hand, raises awareness. In this method, the practitioner develops interconnectedness with nature and his internal being. The individual then becomes attuned to his consciousness. This gives him to the intellectual processing of actualizing reality that transcends thought.
In the principle of Zazen meditation, concentration and introspection are better achieved with just sitting contentedly and quietly in comfortable space.
Health Benefits of Zazen Meditation
Zazen meditation is more than just sitting and gaining concentration out of it. There are long-term health benefits that we could get out of Zazen. Here are some of them.
- Cognitive functioning and moods. Meditation is likened to a brain multivitamins if there is such. Thus, a daily dose of it would be suggested. Since zazen develops mindfulness through concentration, it also latently decreases occurrence of depression. Being akin to your own thoughts and harmoniously processing them with external stimuli increases cognitive alertness and the secretion of serotonin and dopamine. These hormones are called “happy hormones” and are the key players in preventing depressing thoughts and incidences of bipolar disorders.
- Reduction of stress and anxiety. Being burnt out from work and other hassles of everyday living could produce stress and anxiety. These two are closely associated with the occurrence of depression and could lead to chronic heart diseases and even diabetes. Internal awareness gained through Zazen reduces the density of grey-matter in the brain which causes stress and anxiety.
- Increase psychomotor response. Our psychomotor vigilance may buffer sometimes as a result of exhaustion and lack of sleep. Thus, hand-eye and overall body coordination might lag at times. Doing zazen meditation everyday clears our thoughts with stressors that may seriously affect our psychomotor response. Mindfulness also allows our memory and thoughts to be organized thus, preventing sleeping disorders to be developed.
- Gives resilience to pain. MRIs show that people who practice Zazen have higher tolerance to pain than those who do not. As a matter of fact, studies present that practicing Zazen daily is way better than morphine when it comes to pain resilience. This is possible through concentration. Naturally secreted morphine works faster when there is attention to pain. This means that the person has the capacity to route morphine in the pained area. Since Zazen focuses on attention and focus, pain resilience is the immediate effect.
- Improves emotional intelligence. Improved emotional intelligence means that as people, we shall have more capacity for good decision-making even under pressure. This also means that we shall be more able to construct the appropriate words even in the midst of anger. We shall also be benefited with greater focus even on repetitive and boring tasks. These are made possible by the breathing exercises and mantra recitation in Zazen meditation.
When mastered, Zazen meditation could improve our well-being. Zazen meditation truly gives a piece of heaven in our stressful everyday endeavors. All the more, practicing Zazen will not only give us peace of mind but also long-term health benefits that we shall reap for a lifetime.