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How to sit

How to sit, by Kodo Sawaki Roshi (1880-1965)

As soon as you enter the dojo, it is not enough to just practice zazen: You will also have to keep to the rules.

When you have arrived at your place, you put the pillow ( zafu ) on the mat ( zafuton ) and you make a bow to the pillow with your hands folded ( gasshô ). Then you turn around and bow again with folded hands and then you sit down on the cushion. That’s how you take your place. The pillow is like the sword for the samurai. Make sure you have a pillow that matches your body in height and thickness.  

When you stand on the mat and sit on the cushion, make sure you sit on the tip of the pillow. It is not good to sit in the middle of the pillow.

You then put the right foot all the way up on the left thigh. Then you place the left foot all the way up on the right thigh. This is how your knees are drilled deep into the mat, like mussels that are clamped on a rock.

Place the right hand with the palm upwards on the left foot. Put the left hand, also with the palm upwards in the right hand, the thumb tips together.

You then sway the upper body from left to right, until you have a stable sitting posture after 7 to 8 increasingly smaller turning movements. Breathe hard once and let all the tension slide from your shoulders. Push your buttocks backwards until it protrudes and your anus is fully pointing backward. There you let your body rest upon the vertebrae which are stacked as a vertical axis.

Stretch your neck and push up your crown, as if you were supporting the ceiling. Pull your chin in so far that the skin starts to ache behind your ears. Your nose is one straight line with the belly navel and the ears are straight above the shoulders. The tongue rests against the palate and the teeth bite together softly. The eyes are only opened in a slit, focus your eyes on the tatami mat, about a meter in front of you.

It is not good to push the inner organs strongly upwards. It is also not good to put too much tension into your lower body. It is best to let the organs rest in their natural position. If you strain too much, you will become ill.

Let your breath operate freely. If breathing becomes difficult, it means that you are too busy or cramped. However, keep tilting the pelvis forward. Expand your mind and never forget that the stable pelvis forms the core of your physical posture.

Your consciousness must be clear and lively. Your face awake and not asleep. Your swollen face looks like an unraveled cotton wool! Pull your chin in and have a lively facial expression. If you get tired, allow yourself be hit with a stick (Kyosaku) on your right shoulder.





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