Pranayama and zazen, Discontinue your lurkery

This morning before practice I managed to rev myself all up by reading about Richard Freeman’s Liberation through Yoga and Buddhism retreat in May at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe.

Ooooh, didn’t that make my mind busy? How many vacation days do I have, how hard it is to get to Santa Fe, what does the Zen Center look like, could The Cop come?


I hit the zafu to do 20 minutes of… no, not zazen. Pranayama.

Why? Well, because I am having one of my “are this and that the same or different” questions. Are pranayama and zazen the same or different?

Both are breathing. Both require (and promote) one-pointedness (dharana). You can count in either one.

Okay, so there are many answers to this particular koan: Are pranayama and zazen the same or different?

a. Breathe
b. Same
c. Different
d. 30 hits from the master
e. Katz!


Set the metronome for 60 bpm and began. I like to play at pranayama: I close my eyes and entertain myself. Not structured pranayama, by the way — I like to do even inhales and exhales, gradually increasing the length of each as it feels good. Then I love to do what I think of as “square” breaths: the same number of beats of inhale – of retention – of exhale – of retention, repeat, repeat, repeat.

It’s a very happy practice, very energizing, and very soothing.

I am resisting the impulse to go do tons of research to find out what I “should” be doing. My guide has been how it feels, and there is one thing I keep remembering. Sitting zazen, sometimes the practice gets so attenuated, so long and tapering, that the breath spontaneously stops and there is a moment of utter peace and stillness. I keep thinking that there is something in that experience that is the same as what’s going on with pranayama.

I also remembered talking to Sokai about why Indian meditation often suggests the eyes should be closed, while zen is eyes half-open. His answer: “Try it with your eyes closed.” The experience was very warm and cheery and I could imagine a closed-eyed practice might be quite happy. On the other hand, there is more room for dreaminess and drifting away.

None of these are good or bad, just interesting.

Okay, so I have no answer to whether pranayama and zazen are the same or different. I did get the distinct impression, though, that I might prefer the pranayama after asana practice rather than before.


The Lurkers’ Amnesty week has been a blast. It has been SO good to hear from people. Very festive. Anyone who has yet to de-lurk, feel free!

Lax, LA was a great idea!


13 Responses

  1. Are pranayama and zazen the same or different?

    For the answer use automated touchtone phone:

    If you are depend upon someone, please …. Press… 2.
    If you have multiple personality disorder please press …. 3,4 and 5 simultaneously.
    If you are schizophrenic… please listen carefully…. a little voice will tell you which number to press.
    Otherwise …

    stay on the line and just breathe.. ops, breathe… lurking

  2. You have deleted my comment again ?… ok. Here is the next one:

    Why Karen does not vacuum hers back-banding room?

    Because she has no attachments.

  3. Since I don’t have a metronome, I count my heartbeats. Usually six or eight heartbeats per inhalation, and the same number for exhalation. As the heartbeats slow down, so does my breathing. It’s easier for the mind to wander, but I like the silence.

  4. Did you send more than those 2 comments, Zee? I didn’t get any others.

    I like the heartbeat idea, Rick. I’ll try that. I am a big baby, so I have a pretty loud heater on usually — maybe if I use my earplugs.

    See, Zee? You’re wrong. I have a space heater and earplugs and a desire to hear my own heart… many attachments. 🙂

  5. My first comment is not deleted so that was encouragement for the next one..

    I am not quite sure that you have so many attachments.. Hahahha Oven is almost 500 but it is not boiling yet… anyway, here is the special (Cindy Crawford smile for you… :-.)

  6. An earplugged practice can be POWERFUL magic.

  7. discontinue your lurkery! so poetic! zee, you really need some help with your english, my dear.

  8. Hi Karen
    Answer: b) because both are sitting practices.
    Sometimes while in zazen the right thing to do is
    pranayama, so as to stay awake. I’m planning to
    be at a daylong tomorrow, so I may have to do
    so in the afternoon, when my tendency is to
    want to sleep.

  9. Laksmi… I told you before: what you see is what you get. I have no intention to improve my english.

  10. No attachments…..:)

  11. And she means all of us! 🙂

  12. Hi Karen
    I addressed your question in a blog entry after a daylong today. Hope it helps.

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