What is Zen?
Zen is a Japanese word that simply means meditation. It's a translation of the Chinese word Chan, which comes from a meeting of Buddhism and Taoism in China around 500AD. As a result of this integration, Zen Buddhism highlights certain teachings such as practical applications of meditation, non-duality and the paradoxes of life. There are various types or levels of Zen that can be practised for different reasons or results, from health and well being to enlightenment and awakening. There are two main schools of Zen called Rinzai and Soto, which also emphasise different techniques and teachings such as the use of Koans, or logical questions, and understanding of what enlightenment actually is.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise to train certain characteristics such as focus and awareness and ultimately give us more insight into life. It's a catch-all term that's used to describe a multitude of different techniques used by a variety of traditions. It's also a feature of most religions, although it doesn't require the belief in a god or gods. Essentially meditation can be broken down into two types: concentration, which focuses on a single point and blocks everything else out; and insight, which uses a wider, open awareness to examine everything that arises and then let it go. The immediate effects of both are similar, but insight meditation is being shown to lead to more permanent improvements which seep into everyday life.
Would you like to feel less stressed, be happier with how things are, feel more joy and love and connection and be less thrown around by life events? Would you like to be more creative, pay closer attention to what's unfolding and be able to focus more directly on whatever your doing? Would you like to dramatically reduce your biological age and perhaps even extend your life? If the answer is yes, you should try meditation. Over a relatively short period of regular practice - research is showing as little as 8 weeks - you'll start to notice all these benefits. In the long run, these benefits will become permanent shifts to your life.
What's The Science?
With the introduction of brain scanning techniques, neuroscience is now confirming what happens during meditation and research is uncovering compelling reasons to commit. Essentially meditation taps into the autonomic nervous system, moving from fight or flight alertness into rest and digest functioning. This balances the endocrine system, with stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline subdued, whilst 'feel good' hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin increased. Meanwhile the brain's Default Mode Network becomes less active, which results in spending less time wishing things were different and instead opening up to sensory input, which generates feelings of connection and equanimity.
How Do I Start?
Start by making a small commitment to yourself that you'll do your best to practise every day. Occasional meditation is only going to impart short-term benefits. Try 5-10 minutes using guided meditations. Try the free SoundCloud and InsightTimer recording links at the bottom of this page. Pick a time and place when you won't be disturbed and you feel comfortable. It may help to build your meditation habit around something you already do automatically, for example as soon as you get out of bed. Find a teacher you feel connected to in order to deepen your practice and develop different techniques. I run a live eight week online course if you'd like help setting off on the journey. Most importantly of all find ways to appreciate and enjoy the experience.
How Do I Keep Going?
Probably the most challenging aspect of meditation. Notice how the techniques make you feel and notice how enjoyable it is to be aware of your own sensory experiences. Try and stay connected with like-minded friends and find a regular support group. Use an app like InsightTimer to keep track of progress and unlock achievements. Read inspirational and insightful books on meditation and mindfulness to retain interest. Try taking up mindful activities such as Yoga, QiGong or even just paying more attention on walks. Keep a meditation diary and note how you change and develop. And if you do stop at any stage, notice how quickly you return to old habits, reactions and feelings you thought you'd left behind!
How Can ZenYo Help?
Get in touch for details of my classes, courses and special events. I'm based in Berkshire, but I also teach live, online group and individual sessions. If you've got a relatively up-to-date laptop or phone, you'll be able to easily connect. I'm here to help and would love to hear how I can help.