Zen Yoga

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Zen Yoga Mean?

Zen yoga is a term which has increasingly been used to describe the physical and mental activities practiced within the tradition of Zen Buddhism.

Many Zen temples have a scheduled exercise period called a taiso, during which Zen yoga is practiced. This might include yoga postures, repetitive movements and flowing sequences, which seem more like Tai Chi. They are all intended to prepare the body for sitting in meditation, much like the origins of Hatha yoga. They also help to cultivate mindfulness and body awareness.


Yogapedia Explains Zen Yoga

The emphasis of Zen yoga is on these three following areas:

  1. Physical alignment — The practices of Zen yoga prepare the body for the strict alignment principles of sitting in zazen meditation with the spine perfectly erect and centered. It is said that when the yogi finds the right posture, the state of mind they reach is already enlightenment.
  2. Energy flow in the body —The flow of energy, or chi, in the body is said, in the Zen tradition, to have two influences. Firstly, it positively influences one's health and well-being on a physical and emotional level. Secondly, it takes one to a state of non-dual awareness. There is an intimate link between energy and consciousness. The Zen yoga practice guides the energy through different routes in the body, sending it in beneficial directions.
  3. Mindful awareness — According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha taught that mindfulness of the body leads to happiness and, ultimately, liberation. The postures of Zen yoga allow yogis to focus on the body, noticing any restrictions or tight areas, and heightening awareness. Through non-judgmental noticing, these areas can begin to release. It is said that this opening and melting lets the yogi become more flowing and free in the whole of their lives.

Modern Zen masters, such as Harada Tangen Roshi and Hogen Daido Roshi, emphasize the importance of Zen yoga to enhance their Zen teachings. The maintenance of a healthy body and flexibility is crucial because the mind-body is seen as inseparable.

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