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Thread: Tired during Zazen

  1. #1

    Tired during Zazen

    Hi everyone,

    I've recently (re)started my Zazen practice but I seem to be encountering a lot of 'tiredness issues'. I don't sit for long, but soon after I start I feel I need to struggle to remain away and my locus of attention moves from my breathing to tensing my legs in en effort not to fall asleep (at least, that's what it feels like). Note I sit Zazen in a lit room with eyes wide ope, and it really doesn't matter what time of day I do my sitting.

    I'm not sure what to do about this - sometimes I feel it is better to stop than force it. Is this common for beginners, or is this just a very clear signal coming from my body that I need more rest?



  2. #2
    You may need more rest. Try it in the morning. I usually sit am and early pm.

  3. #3
    I agree with Rich ... try it in the morning. I usually sit when I get up, it is quiet in the house and I am rested, may not be fully awake, but rested so I don't fall back to sleep when sitting. I also sit after I have had a shower, then I am awake and ready to go.


  4. #4
    I think it is very common. Make sure you do zazen on a full stomach.

  5. #5
    For me it is the opposite.. a full stomach is sleepy time. I prefer to sit first thing in the morning, and do not eat first. When sitting in the evening , say for Zazenkai, I'll just have a nibble for dinner, and eat a more full meal after sitting. Generally times of heavier food consumption, especially sweets, are times of lower energy for me. Every so often when it feels right I reduce food intake altogether and cut-out sweetness (except fruit). The weight goes down and the energy level and a brightness goes way up.

  6. #6
    Sorry i meant..not a full stomach. Major typo!

  7. #7
    It sounded a bit unusual, but I guess there are different kinds of metabolism.

    Pema Chodron suggested a device for overcoming torpor that works for some reason. When feeling drowsy open out awareness to the whole room containing your body, then to the outside space containing the building, then the whole neighbourhood. All that fresh air.

  8. #8

    This is such a perennial question.

    Brain waves during Zazen are often in state otherwise found during sleep, or which are similar to brain waves in that peaceful place we encounter right before falling asleep while in bed ...

    ... which is also another reason that we can easily slip over the line into ZZZZZZZZzzzzzz.

    In my case, I usually combine sitting when not too exhausted from a strenuous day, sitting after a bit of tea/coffee (in moderation ... Zen monks discovered tea and have never been far from a cup), adjusting my posture and slightly straightening the spine, taking some deep breaths, massaging the face and limbs.

    If you do fall asleep, just sleep ... although if it happens too often, or most of the time, it is not good Zazen. Once in awhile is okay.

    Here is also something I often post on sleeping. It is important to remember that a monastic setting is like marine "boot camp" quite often, with teachers pushing pushing pushing ... all to realize "nothing to attain". So, some attitudes on Zazen and sleep in the past have been quite extreme.

    [quote] ... there are reports from China in the "old days" (and even now) of monks [especially during Sesshin] meditating with just about 3 hours of sleep (or pulling an "all nighter" or two or more). In Dogen's day (sometimes still now), they used a special wooden support called a "Zenpan" to hold the chin up (true), and were actually just sleeping in the Lotus Posture (I have done that too, although it is discouraged these days most times).

    "Zenpan" description here:
    Here is one:


    I have posted this from time to time on Zazen and sleep (and becoming sleepy during Zazen) ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    The great teacher "Homeless Kodo" Sawaki Roshi said about sleep and Zazen ...

    Eat in order to do zazen, sleep in order to do zazen. This means that eating and sleeping are also part of zazen.

    In other words, we must be properly fed and rested (not too much, not too little ... ours is the Middle Way) in order to sustain our Practice properly. Get rest.

    Of course ... that is if we can. Sometimes, more easily said than done these days. If you do find yourself unavoidably tired (because of your 3 jobs), but also feel your Zazen unavoidable (which it should be most days), follow the words of Uchiyama Roshi ...

    Another time you might be tired. Then you have to remind yourself that you are practicing zazen right now, and it is not the time for sleeping. This is correcting your attitude, correcting your posture, really opening the eyes and returning to zazen. This is called “Awakening from dullness and fatigue.”
    That is for day to day practice. Find the time which suits you best, morning or evening maybe afternoon, and sit consistently then. Sit with a bit of sleepy Zazen when it happens. If too sleepy, and literally falling of the Zafu, go get some sleep.

    If in a Sesshin or other intense retreat, it may be a somewhat different story, and we may wish to push ourselves a bit harder (pushing hard with nothing to attain ... but non-attainng!), Remember the words and actions of Master Dogen's teacher, Master Nyojo (Ryujing)

    When staying at Tendo Monastery in China, while the old master Nyojo was abbot there, we sat zazen until about eleven o’clock at night and got up at about half-past two to sit zazen. The abbot sat with the assembly in the sodo, never taking even one night off.

    While sitting, many monks fell asleep. The abbot walked around hitting them with his fist or his slipper, scolding them and encouraging them to wake up. If they continued to sleep, he went to the shodo1, rang the bell, and called his attendants to light the candles. On the spur of the moment he would say such things as; “What is the use of sleeping? Why do you gather in a sodo [monk's hall]? Why did you become a monk and enter this monastery?”

    One time, his immediate attendant said, “The monks in the sodo are tired and sleepy. They may fall ill or lose their aspiration because of the long hours of sitting. Please shorten the time of zazen.”

    Angrily the abbot replied, “We must never do that. People without bodhi-mind who temporarily stay in the sodo would sleep even if we sat for only half an hour or less. Practitioners with bodhi-mind who aspire to practice are happier the longer they are able to sit and therefore, practice much harder. ”
    In bed by 11, up for Zazen at 2:30! Rujing seems like a heck of a drill sargent at the Dharma boot camp!

    But on most days ... the advise is to get sleep sufficient to allow Zazen. It is best to sit in the mornings upon awakening, or at night just before bed. But you can pick another time when not so tired too. Then, take a bit of the sleepy zazen when it happens. If it's too sleepy go get some sleep and sit on waking. If falling asleep during Zazen (although discouraged), just do that ... I promise not to beat you with my slipper (and hopefully it will not happen most days ... even Jundo falls asleep on the "sit-a-long" now and then, if you look closely! ops: ) .

    If you sit Zazen and it is ZZZZzzzzz, just perfectly ZZZZzzzz!

    By the way, just adjusting the posture, opening the eyes a bit more and taking some breaths can help. I stretch my neck just a bit when tired during Zazen, and it seems to help ... as if a tiny string running from the top of my head to the ceiling were given a light tug. Or, one can return to following the breath for awhile. Monks in China and Japan have always had a close relationship to tea and caffeine (in moderation!). At more Sesshin I have attended in Japan or the West, tea and coffee (in moderation!) are always somewhere around.

    Master Keizan wrote (in his Zazen Yojinki about the year 1400) ...

    Although we shouldn’t be too anxious about bodily comforts, inadequate clothing, food and sleep are known as the "three insufficiencies" and will cause our practice to suffer. ...

    ... If dullness or sleepiness overcome your sitting, move to the body and open the eyes wider, or place attention above the hairline or between your eyebrows. If you are still not fresh, rub the eyes or the body. If that still doesn’t wake you, stand up and walk, always clockwise. Once you’ve gone about a hundred steps you probably won’t be sleepy any longer. The way to walk is to take a half step with each breath. Walk without walking, silent and unmoving.

    If you still don’t feel fresh after doing kinhin, wash your eyes and forehead with cold water. Or chant the Three Pure Precepts of the Bodhisattvas. Do something; don’t just fall asleep. You should be aware of the Great Matter of birth and death and the swiftness of impermanence. What are you doing sleeping when your eye of the Way is still clouded? If dullness and sinking arise repeatedly you should chant, "Habituality is deeply rooted and so I am wrapped in dullness. When will dullness disperse? May the compassion of the Buddhas and Ancestors lift this darkness and misery."
    A bit of Kinhin, for a few minutes, can be good when very tired.

    There was a master who sat with a heavy object on his head, which would fall with a crash whenever he started to doze ... and another who kept jabbing himself with a needle ... but I don't recommend that!

    Gassho, and Good Night, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-04-2014 at 02:32 PM.

  9. #9
    Thank you Jundo.


  10. #10

    There's an issue of Rev. Muho's Lotus in the Fire that talks about Itabashi Zenji and his "inemuri zazen." I (more frequently than previously) do this with a small pillow or a pencil or something, and it really does help.

    In Gassho,

    To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. --RBB

  11. #11
    Starbucks, the secret to wakefulness. Though, as Jundo said, wait a bit before you sit, or you'll be so jittery zazen becomes impossible. For me, getting up and having my morning coffee then sitting about 30 minutes later works well. Though, only if I go to bed on time the night before. More and more, my life seems to get scheduled around my zazen.
    Neika / Ian Adams

    寧 Nei - Peaceful/Courteous
    火 Ka - Fire

    Look for Buddha outside your own mind, and Buddha becomes the devil. --Dogen

  12. #12
    Hi Saijun,

    Quote Originally Posted by Saijun View Post

    There's an issue of Rev. Muho's Lotus in the Fire that talks about Itabashi Zenji and his "inemuri zazen." I (more frequently than previously) do this with a small pillow or a pencil or something, and it really does help.
    Thanks for sharing this - what a great idea!
    At the moment I don't have problems with sleepiness when I sit, but now I know what I'll do if these days come again...


    no thing needs to be added

  13. #13
    Thank you all for your replies. To begin with, apologies for not reverting earlier - I just recovered from a bug which took me out for a few days.

    Looking back the tiredness was a sign that I was structurally overextending myself. A long stretch of way too long days at work and too little time to switch to a lower gear caught up with me and I took a step back...and then I got the flu It goes to show that I was treating it as a problem, while it was my body trying to tell me something.

    I've tried sitting in the mornings and I must say that works much better. It's also a much more peaceful start to my day than the usual 'grab some breakfast and run out of the door' madness routine. Unfortunately I'm not sure I'll be able to structurally slot in time during the morning, so will experiment with some of the other ideas mentioned above for the evening sittings.


  14. #14
    Its very important to stop everything and just sit morning and evening.

  15. #15
    Agreed Rich, when possible I like to sit morning and then again in the evening. Unfortunately morning Zazen is not usually an option for me....who was it who said "when sleepy, practice sleepy Zazen"?
    Gassho, Shawn Jakudo Hinton
    It all begins when we say, I. Everything that follows is illusion.
    "Even to speak the word Buddha is dragging in the mud soaking wet; Even to say the word Zen is a total embarrassment."

  16. #16
    This is certainly an issue many sitters encounter. I recently just started sitting first thing when I get up, usually just after my shower and before breakfast. I find that sitting on a full stomach is uncomfortable.

    Tea/coffee help me immensely. I have a cup of Green Tea before sitting in the afternoon and it helps for sure.

    I noticed that after the seasons change, if I rearrange the lamps in my room then this helps me be more alert during sitting, too.

    I live close to the equator and I can imagine that some parts of the world, sun light consumption changes dramatically with the seasons.

    Brookstone has those nifty little lamps which give off sunshine light. Maybe it's worth the investment if it helps with mood changes too? Not that I'm advocating consumer culture LOL

    A bad western habit I've found myself in all too much is me thinking about how I can buy my way out of a problem or discomfort rather then trying to fix it with what I have

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