Zendo Etiquette

In order to achieve a deeply quiet and respectful atmosphere in the zendo (meditation hall), the following guidelines are provided:

Punctuality, commitment, self-discipline, and respect for others are part of our Zen practice. If you have questions regarding these matters, which are long-standing aspects of our tradition, feel free to ask about the philosophy behind them. They are offered in the spirit of education and cooperation and for the fostering of the deep stillness central to serious practice, for the benefit of all, and are not intended to be arbitrary or punitive. While we understand that meeting the guidelines may be difficult for some beginners, we encourage all to work toward meeting them in the same spirit they are offered.

If you have never attended a Zen service before, arriving on Sunday by 9:00 AM for orientation or attending Beginning Meditation on Wednesday nights, 6:45 - 8:00 PM is advisable.

Book cover.  The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment


Here are the most common positions for Zazen. Notice in each posture that the back is straight with hands in mudra on lap. In all postures, including that involving bench and chair:

Most people have to try different positions to find what works best. If you try to sit cross-legged and find your knees don’t touch the mat, try putting a cushion under each knee. 

Fig.1 Full-Lotus Posture, with Right foot over left thigh andleft foot over right thigh. Knees should be in line with oneanother, the abdomen relaxedand slightly protruded. Hands rest on the heels of both feet,with thumbs touching lightlyto make an oval. This posture may be reversed when the left foot gets tired.
Fig. 2 Full Lotus, side view, showing ears in line with shoulders and tip of nosein line with navel. The chinshould be slightly drawn in.The buttocks are thrust out,with spine erect. A single lowcushion is preferable in this position.
Fig.3 The half-lotus posturewith right thigh and right footunder left thigh, both kneestouching the mat. It may be necessary to use a support cushion under the regular round one.
Fig.4  The quarter Lotus,with the left foot restingover the calf of the right,both knees resting onthe mat. 
Fig.5 The so-called Burmeseposture, with the legs uncrossed, the left or right footin front and both knees touching the mat. Here, too, ahigher sitting base may benecessary so that bothknees rest squarely onthe mat.
Fig.6 Side view of the traditional Japenesesitting posture withknees in line withone another one the mat and straddling a husk cushion inserted between the heels and the buttocks to relievepressure on the heels.
Fig.7 Side view of zazen performed on a low woodenbench with a padded seat.To prevent the hands from slipping down, a support cushion may be placedvertically on the mat underthe hands.
Fig.8 Side view of zazen in a straight back chair,with cushion under buttocks and the feetresting firmly on thefloor the width of theshoulders apart.


If you do not have practice, counting the breath is a good place to start. Using the breathing technique above, count each inhalation and exhalation until you reach ten. Your first inhalation marks one, the first exhalation marks two, and so on until you reach ten, then start again. Don’t worry if you get distracted and lose count; as soon as you realize you have lost count, start again. Try not to get discouraged if you find yourself getting lost in thoughts, just return to the breath each time.

Counting the breath

In Zen, breathing is from the lower abdomen, not the chest. When you inhale, normally the lower abdomen fills up, becoming slightly convex, and when you exhale, it becomes concave (see sketches)


Most people in the West find sitting in zazen very difficult at first as we rarely, if ever, sit in similar positions. There are many different exercises, stretches, and forms of yoga that can help speed up the process of conditioning our bodies to sit comfortably for long periods. 

You can find more information about everything mentioned in this section in “The Three Pillars of Zen” in part three: supplements-IX: Postures.