Meditation Posture: The Zen Way

Sitting in Zen…

There are many ways to practice meditation: sitting, standing, lying down, walking, moving, dancing, jumping up and down (yep, it’s true), spinning around, standing on your head… I imagine you’re getting the picture.

What’s the best posture? I strongly feel that the best posture is the one that works for you!

If you do like to sit, and you like the idea of sitting on the floor, this video nicely describes several ways to do that. Two of them, sitting in ‘seiza,’ on a cushion or bench with your thighs parallel, is a nice variation that many of us chair bound people can actually do!

This video from the Hazy Moon Zen Center explains how to sit on the floor in relative ease. These are the classic posture instructions for many seated meditation practices, so you can use these instrction for most sitting meditation practice.

If you would like to do zazen (zen sitting meditation), this video gives instructions for that, too. “Zazen is a romanized Japanese term. ‘Za’ literally means to sit or sitting; ‘zen’ means to meditate or concentrate.” (from

For written instructions, see the  video transcript.

Enjoy sitting!




Progressive Relaxation Body Scan (Great for Falling Asleep)

MME Album Art(5min) Having trouble sleeping – falling asleep or falling back to sleep if you wake up? This meditation practice is really great for relaxing the body and falling asleep.

Meditation Practice: Progressive Relaxation Body Scan

  1. Start getting into a comfortable position, lying down or sitting. You can do this standing as well.
  2. Close your eyes, or lower them so they are 3/4 closed, and gently shift your attention to your breathing. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body right now. Be curious about your breath. “How am I breathing right now?”
  3. Shift your attention to your feet and on an inhale, gently and softly contract the muscles of your feet. As you exhale, relax the muscles and let them soften.
  4. Do this for 3 or 4 breaths and then stop contracting and releasing.
  5. Move slowly up the body, inhaling and contracting, exhaling and releasing with each part: the lower legs, the upper legs and buttocks, the belly and low back, the upper back and chest, the arms and hands, the shoulders and neck and finally the face.
  6. Pause after the face and simply notice your breathing again.
  7. Start again at the feet, moving up the body and repeat the pattern until you feel complete or you are ready to sleep.
  8. End noticing your breathing for a few breaths and then gently opening your eyes.

When your mind wanders, as it inevitably will, gently bring it back by re-focusing on your breathing or the area that you are contracting and releasing. Be kind and gentle, remembering that noticing that your thoughts is an important part of the practice.


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How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions

(video: 2:45) Having a hard time sticking to your New Year’s resolutions?
You want to start running, but you can’t get out of bed? You want to practice meditation everyday after lunch, but you’re just too busy?

The trick is to remember why you want to do it… BEFORE you do it. Laying there in bed, motivate yourself by remembering how good you feel when you exercise. Let tuer good feeling motivate you to get up and go running! Sitting at lunch, remember how calm and collected you feel when you meditate. Let that sense of peace motivate you to take a few minutes before you rush off.

You know you’ll feel better! Remember that feeling before you do things and mer that good feeling be your motivation!

Happy New Year!

Cultivating Compassion

(video 4:59) The Science of Meditation Summit interview with Dr. Kelly McGonigal was all about compassion, her research and experience.

Compassion for others is an instinct, according to her research, as social animals we’re geared towards helping our community members relieve their suffering. This keeps our survival group strong.

Self-compassion is not instinctive. Instinctively we respond to our own suffering with stress: distress, shame, guilt, fight, fight, freeze, etc.

If we’re going to train compassion for self and others, she suggests that we do both at the same time. Cultivate compassion for others, practicing to improve that natural process, and also include self-compassion in the practice to build that as well.

Watch the video for a brief description of a compassion practice.


Mindfulness is Not Self-help

(video 4:12) I listened to the Science of Meditation Summit presentation by meditation teacher Susan Piver who said one of the myths about mindfulness is that it is a form of self-help. “It’s not,” she says, and after listening to her explaination, I totally agree.

Mindfulness as a concept is simply being present, aware of ourselves, and pure mindfulness practice is simply noticing ourselves. What ever we’re doing, thinking, feeling, we simply notice. We don’t try to change anything, we simply notice.

Self-help is another set of meditations, therapies and tools that we use to change what we notice. If, using mindfulness, we notice that we’re angry a lot and inappropriate with how we express it, we might take other steps to create healthier expressions of our anger. Now we’ve added self-help.

I find this distinction really useful for understanding the role of mindfulness and the role of self-help. Mindfulness is for being aware of what is happening. Self-help is for changing what is happening.

Decision Fatigue

(video 4:13min) I’ve been reading research lately that talks about decision fatigue, the idea that over time, say over the course of a day, your ability to make decisions decreases. Essentially, you’re good at making decisions when you start, and then not so good, to bad as you continue.

The metaphor that is often used is that it’s like a muscle, it’s strong at first and then after using it for a while it gets tired and eventually too week to move.

After you rest you’re ready to go again.

This makes lunch breaks, coffee breaks, etc really important! Stop making decisions when you take breaks. Unplug.

If you can’t break for your whole lunch time, take a shorter break. Doing a 2 to 5 minute meditation practice is a great micro-break whenever you need one during the day. Or even a few mindful breaths… look away from your work & take a few.

Studies say you’ll make better decisions after enough rest.
Try it out & see if you agree!

What I Do in Crisis (6): Ujjayi Breath

(Video: 4:57min) Ujjaya breathing is a yoga breath that is fun to do because you can actually hear your self breathing! This is great for people who like to focus on sound.

Watch the video for instructions if you want them, and enjoy using this tool during stressful situations. I use it when I’m stressed and I want something else to listen to for a moment besides my speeding train of difficult thoughts.

Using ujjayi breathing a great way to stay engaged in the moment and to give myself some perspective… there are other things in my life right now than this upsetting thing that is happening… like my noisy breath!

What I Do in Crisis (5): Align & Relax

(Video: 4:40min) This is a very quick, body based practice that I do when I’m super stressed and want to regain equilibrium.

This is part of a much deeper practice that I learned from Will Johnson’s wonderful book, Aligned, Relaxed & Resilient. This version is simple enough to do in crisis.

First, inhale and let the breath softly lift your body up straight and tall. Second, exhale and let the body melt and relax into this gently upright position. Let the body slowly align itself, gently lifting and relaxing with each breath.

This is a great meditation practice to do at any time, and works best during crisis if you teach yourself how to do it first when you’re not stressed… Then in crisis you already know how it works and it’s just a simple matter of doing it.


What I Do in Crisis (4): Equal Breathing

(Video: 4:55min) Equal breathing is simply making your out-breath the same length as your in-breath. You don’t need to change anything about the speed or depth of your breath, simply notice how ever you are breathing and play with making your out-breath match your in-breath.

This is a great way to give yourself something simple to focus on besides whatever you’re upset about. The point isn’t to ignore the situation, the point is to help you stay engaged and calm down a bit at the same time.

Maybe you are having a fight with your partner. If you take a moment to focus on how you are breathing for a few breaths, you stay engaged in the situation and allow yourself the space to calm down a bit.

If you are a new meditator, you will be giving yourself a few seconds of focusing on something else within the situation that isn’t so upsetting, your breath. This will give you some perspective within the situation, you will immediately remember that there are other things going on within this situation, and you will start calming down. “My partner is yelling at me, and hey! I’m breathing!” A few breaths later, you will be a bit calmer and the situation won’t seem so overwhelming. If it does, focus on your breath a few more seconds, check back and keep repeating until you feel calmer.

If you have been meditating a while, you will be able to focus on your breath while focusing on what is upsetting you (at the same time). “My partner is yelling at me, and I’m also breathing really quickly.” Breathe into the situation. Listen to them and notice your breath as you listen attentively. Put part of them and part of your attention on your breath. Listen to them as you breathe in and listen to them as you breathe out. Notice that as you do this the situation gets less overwhelming.

Why? One reason is that focusing on breath helps you remember that whatever is happening is only one part of your reality, it isn’t all of your reality… there is this upsetting thing AND there are other things as well (breathing for instance). “I feel really upset AND I am breathing. Ah! There are other things going on in my world than being upset. There are other things in my life than this situation. There are other parts of my life.” Now that you have regained the perspective that there are many things in your reality, you can chose solutions from other parts of your life. You can bring in solutions and creative thinking that are not based in being upset right now. Now you have choices… do I put all of my energy and focus into being upset or do I put some of my focus and energy into thinking of solutions and feeling the different ways that I feel about this person/situation?

What I Do in Crisis (3): Progressive Breathing

(Video: 4:35min) When we’re really stressed our nervous system goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode & we start breathing fast & shallow. One nice way to help our system relax is to deepen our breathing.

If I’m really stressed, I can’t do that. I’m too overwhelmed to change my breathing. I will usually take a mindful breath , observing my (fast!) breathing & then when I’m a bit calmer I can play with my breath.

Progressive breathing starts with noticing my breath as it is and then inviting the next breath to be just a little bit longer & deeper. Just a tiny bit. I invite the next breath to again, be a tiny bit longer and I keep doing that bit by bit, until I’m taking much deeper breaths.

With this simple, subtle method, I gently encourage my nervous system to settle down pretty quickly.

Try it out & get good at it when you’re calm so that you already know how to do it when stress hits. As one client said, ‘build your parachute before you jump.’