by Pompe Strater-Vidal
Zen Sensei and founder of Relax Breathe Flow
“Zen is very immediate. It’s right here, right now. You just drop everything. However for many people that is very difficult. People need to be able to love themselves, to be kind to themselves, before they can do that.”
Pompe Strater-Vidal, Power of Meditation Summit, 2016
The word Zen means meditation. It is a back to basics form of Buddhist meditation practice, with historical roots in China going back to Bodhidharma. Since Zen is simply about focusing on the present moment by following your breath, it can be used by anyone regardless of religious or secular views. I like to teach it because it is so simple. Sit down and follow your breath.
I am trained in Yoga as well as Zen, so I teach a kinder, gentler way to meditate than the Japanese Soto masters of my lineage (who liked to wake up sleeping students with a tap on the shoulder). I am also trained in the Enneagram personality system of self-understanding and self-development. That’s why I focus on loving kindness, along with the sensations of your physical body, and of your breath.
Many people these days are experiencing anxiety, overwhelmed and distracted both by challenges in their personal lives, natural disasters around the world and political uncertainty beyond their control. If this is you, make meditation a part of your routine, 10 minutes a day, every day. There are over 20+ years of research at institutions around the world, including Harvard Medical School, UCLA and Stanford University, that support and identify all the benefits to your nervous system and well being when you make 10 minutes of meditation a daily habit.
Mindfulness is grounded in sitting meditation. It means taking the awareness and attention that you develop sitting and following your breath, off your cushion and out into the world. It is an advanced practice, always grounded by the simplicity of following your breath. Meditation comes first, then mindfulness.
Of course I can talk forever about the benefits of meditation, however you must actually do it to really understand what I am talking about. Meditation is an experience, not a concept, and at its depths is beyond words, an experience I call “beyond space and time”.
Meditation teaches you to be anchored in your own awareness and your own center, and to journey beyond your ego, the small sense of self that’s identified with your possessions, thoughts, and emotions.
Whether you are a beginner, brand new to meditation, or jumpstarting an established practice, I invite you now to sink into the stillness of the present moment, and sit beside me. These are the basic instructions on sitting meditation that I give to all my students:
Find a quiet place to sit, on a cushion, or in a chair. Sit with a straight spine (not rigid), and allow the weight of your body to sink into your pelvis. You should feel supported and comfortable (it’s ok to lean against the back of your chair if you need to).
If you are sitting in a chair, uncross your legs and place both feet flat on the floor. Set your phone, clock or timer to 10 minutes, and begin. Let your hands rest comfortably on your thighs, palms down (if you already have a practice, place your hands in the mudra you use).
Now close your eyes halfway, gazing down at the floor in front of your feet. Focus on your breath, softly following it with gentle awareness, as you breathe in, and breathe out. There is no need to control your breath, just let it flow.
Relax and breathe.
You may notice thoughts and emotions coming up while you follow your breath. Allow them to just be, floating in and out of your mind, like clouds in the sky. When you find yourself distracted, whether you’re planning your day or something else, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
At the end of your 10-minute meditation, notice your inner state. Slowly bring your attention, and your self, back to the room. What is your experience now, and how is it different than when you first sat down?
I want to share one more thing with you; the most common questions beginning students ask me about meditation, along with my answers to their inquiries.
How do I stop my thoughts?
You do not have to stop your thoughts! Just observe them, and let them go by bringing your focus back to your breath, again and again.
How do I do nothing?
You just sit, following your breath, for 10 minutes, doing nothing else.
My back hurts; should I power through the pain?
If your back or legs hurt, adjust your posture so you are comfortable.
What is the best time of day to meditate?
The best time is what works for you, either in the morning before you start your day, or in the evening when your day is over.
What if I can’t sit still for 10 minutes?
Start with 1 minute, and add a minute every day or so, until you reach 10 minutes.
Remember this. The simple act of meditation for just 10 minutes a day, every day, can change your life. Don’t think about it too much, ruminating on the pros and cons. Forget about how busy you are and set aside your to-do list. Just sit. The wisdom of the universe is waiting for you. Open the door.
Transform your life with awareness.
All the best,