Friday, May 14, 2010

Zazen Technique

Barouk Cedars
Barouk Cedars, Lebanon, 2003

Pretty soon, it'll be about a year since I started to do zazen. I've had some instruction on how it's done, and I've read a quite a bit more, on-line and off. I'm still not much good at it.

Everybody's favorite posture Nazi, Brad Warner, said that zazen is just like yoga, except you only have one asana and hold it for fucking ever. Even if I think he may be a bit too categorical about it, there's certainly something to that.

When I started out, my legs were awfully stiff -- a consequence of not stretching for 38 years, while using them a fair bit for stuff like cycling, walking, and running. When I sat cross-legged, my knees were maybe 20, 25 cm from the floor, no lie. I've gradually been coaxing them down, and am still making constant, if slow progress.

For the past month or so, I've been doing my daily sitting in quarter-lotus without needing any support cushions, and it's just a hair easier every time. I've even managed to twist my legs into an approximation of half-lotus once or twice, but I'm still a long way from being able to do zazen that way. In another six months, perhaps...

But damn, is it complicated. It takes me about five minutes to settle into a posture. As I'm still gaining flexibility, the position of my hips is a bit different every time, which changes the position of my spine. Even tiny changes of less than a centimeter in the hips or knees can make for pretty big differences in the position of the spine, and it feels different. That means that every time, I'm sort of starting over, looking for the right way to position my back.

For a while, I think, I tried to sit up too straight, which tightened my lower back muscles until they tired, and I slumped, which caused me to sort of constantly adjust my back. For the past few days, I've been consciously relaxing a bit from that position, while trying my best not to let the relaxation go further into a slouch. That seems to be working: I move around less, and my thoughts settle better, too.

At the zendo, I alternate between seiza and quarter-lotus or Burmese; there, it's even more complicated because I never get the same zafu twice, which means playing around with support cushions and still not getting quite the same position as at home.

How hard can it be to sit still facing a wall? Pretty hard, it seems.

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