Posture and Breath - As you learned in the Introduction to Zen evening, posture is the basis of attention in zazen practice. It is the body that is breathing, and if the body falls out of alignment, the mind will tend to wander. These posture guidelines apply whether you are sitting on a zafu, a seiza bench or a chair.
The body: Keep the spine extended, with a slight curve in the small of the back. The pelvis is tipped slightly forward with the weight on the “sits” bones. When you catch yourself slumping or leaning forward or going off-center in any way, just re-direct the attention to getting yourself in balance. As you were shown during the introduction, if you are sitting on a zafu keep both knees on the zabuton and sit on the first third of it. If you are on a chair, sit on the first third of the chair and don’t lean back. Both feet flat on the floor with legs slightly apart.
The head: The head is aligned to the erect body, with the ears in line with the shoulders, chin parallel to the floor.
The hands: The classic position of the hands in zazen is the cosmic mudra: hands resting on your legs with the right palm up and the left palm resting on it, thumbs slightly touching making an oval. Variations are permissible in our zendo, as shown to you at the Introduction.
The eyes: The eyes are always open in zazen, cast down at about a 45 degree angle, not staring forward. This is because Zen is, ultimately, a continuous practice of being awake to life and we don’t walk around with our eyes closed.
The breath: The breath is the focus of attention in zazen practice. Since it is the belly (the hara) that produces the breath, it is much more practical and do-able to turn your attention to your belly as it moves in an out, because the breath can become too vague as a point of focus.
If you choose to count in order to practice being present, you can put a count of 1 to 10 to each breath, and then return to 1. If you drift off, always resume the count at 1 and don’t continue where you left off.
For further practical steps and encouragements to help you maintain your focus on breath and the belly that creates it, please refer to Some Practical Solutions to Difficulties that Arise in Our Practice.