The Practice of Sitting Meditation

by Dharma Teacher Leslie Rawls

The purpose of sitting meditation is to enjoy sitting. Enlightenment is possible only in the present moment. Zen Master Lin Chi taught us to recognize that everything we need for our awakened happiness is here in the present moment. We have nowhere to go and no one to become.

Our main practice during sitting meditation is mindfulness of breathing, based on the Anapanasatti and Sattipattana Suttas. We often get lost in our thinking and worrying about the past or planning for the future. Our mind is in one place, while our body is in another.

Conscious breathing helps reunite body and mind in the present.

Whether you use a cushion, a bench, or a chair, sit comfortably. Try to keep your back straight, but relaxed, and your chest open so air flows easily through your lungs and belly. If possible, breathe through your nostrils. Breathe naturally. Try to watch your breathing without controlling or interfering. Let your full attention rest on your in-breath as it gathers into your body. Let your full attention rest on your out-breath as it moves out of your body.

Notice when your breathing is shallow and when it is deep. If your breath is short, note that. Simply notice each breath as it is. To help maintain awareness of each breath, you can say “In” to yourself as you inhale, and “Out” as you exhale.

You may also like to practice with the following gatha (verse) for sitting meditation. Each line goes with an in-breath or an out-breath to support your full awareness of breathing. You may like to practice with one stanza until you feel really settled with it and then, move to the next stanza. Alternately, you can simply go through the verses as you watch your breathing.

You may either use the full verse or the short version given at the end.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I am aware that my breath is growing deeper.

Breathing in, I am aware that my breath is going slowly.

Breathing in, I grow calm.

Breathing out, I feel at ease.  

Breathing in, a smile blooms in my heart.

Breathing out, I release my worries.

Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.

Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.   


In, Out.

Deep, Slow.

Calm, Ease.

Smile Release.

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.

 If you need to move during the period, please do so slowly and mindfully, so you will not lose even one second of mindfulness: “Breathing in, I will move my legs. Breathing out, I am moving them now. Breathing in, I have done it.”. Sitting is for your pleasure, so if you do not find your posture agreeable, find a posture that is more comfortable. You may discover that a small change in your position will provide more ease. As you practice, you will find a stable posture that best supports a quiet and attentive mind.

Dharma Teacher Leslie Rawls is available if you would like help with your meditation posture or practice.