The Psychological Practice
© 2013 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved.
Seiza is a method of sitting which, in Japan, is used as psychotherapy.
It is a way of sitting on the knees that is used extensively in the
martial arts. Practice of seiza can involve these arts or can be done
simply as a sitting exercise.
Quiet sitting using the seiza posture is a way to overcome the
generalized fears of life and the underlying fear of death. It is an
excellent way to regulate the body functions. It can bring the mind
closer to the world "as it is" rather than its usual residence in
"things as they should be". In other words, seiza is a method of
breaking through the illusion of everyday life. When sitting, the
endless cycles of thought which are so crippling to mental health are
broken and the clean freshness of simply living in the world is allowed
to come forth.
To sit in seiza bend your legs and place the left knee on the floor.
Place the right knee down about two fist widths from the left. Now flip
down the toes and place the feet onto the floor so that the big toes
just touch each other. Lower the buttocks down so that they rest on or
between the heels.
Straighten up and let the lower back move forward so that there is an S
shaped curve to the spine. Rounding out the lower back to the rear or
trying to sit back too far will cause muscle fatigue. The weight should
be centred somewhere between the top of the feet and the knees, more
toward the feet.
The head is carried in balance on top of the spine. The ears should be
in line with the shoulders and the nose in line with the belly button.
Pull the chin in slightly and stretch the back of the neck. This should
feel as if someone is pulling straight up on the hair to stretch the
spine. To find the centreline rock in circles from the hips, slowly
reducing the swings until coming to rest in a stable position. This
centring is important to prevent muscle cramps or fatigue while sitting.
Relax the shoulders and let the arms fall downward naturally. The right
hand is placed palm upward on the lap with the little finger edge
lightly touching the lower abdomen. The left hand is placed on top of
the right, palm upward as well. The fingers should be together without
strain. Place the tips of the thumbs together so that they are just
touching with no pressure. The thumbs and fingers should make an oval
shape around a point about 2 to 3 inches below the navel. This point is
called the tanden and corresponds roughly to the centre
of balance. The left hand over the right represents the calm ("Sei" or
"In" in Japanese) aspects covering the active ("Do" or "Yo") aspects.
The thumbs unify the two. The tanden is seen as the centre of being
around which the Hara or hip girdle is organized. The centre is the
point from which the life is lived.
Variations of this form are sometimes used but this is usually the most
balanced and relaxed method of sitting for the martial artist.
Without tipping the head forward lower the eyes and look at a spot
centred about one metre in front of the knees. The nose should be in
the field of vision or the head has dropped forward. This serves to
half close the eyes cutting out most of the visual input without
providing the conditions to fall asleep.
Place the tongue on the roof of the mouth and place the teeth lightly
together. Draw the air out of the space between the tongue and the
palate. This will cut down on saliva production and the need to swallow.
Breathing is done in a very specific fashion and is the most important
aspect of the practice. The ancient Taoists believed that breath was
life and that each person was only allotted so many. Deep slow
breathing was thus seen as life prolonging.
Inhale easily and quietly through the nose using the diaphragm. The
belly should expand forward while the chest should expand without any
muscular assistance at all. Keep all tension and muscular effort out of
the upper body. The shoulders should not move upward at all but don't
hold them down, simply let gravity do the work.
Breathe in until the lungs are full and no further, let the breath
dictate the turnover to exhalation. Don't hold the breath or do
anything special, simply begin to exhale. The exhalation is even more
gentle than the inhalation. There should be no noise or fuss, simply
breathe out softly, letting the belly collapse. Breathe out until the
need to breathe in is felt, then change over to inhalation.
Never force the breath at any time. With practice the rhythm will slow
down to perhaps two breaths a minute but don't try to reach any goals,
just breathe quietly.
Following the breath, count both inhalations and exhalations or, later,
exhalations only. Count from one to ten and then start over. If the
count is lost, start at one again, don't try to remember the last
number, it's not important. Getting to ten should not be a contest or a
goal, just count.
Any thoughts that arise should be noted but then ignored. Just look at
them and then let them go, don't chase them or follow any line of
reasoning. Go back to the counting. All thoughts have the same worth,
nothing, when sitting. When sitting ... sit. Return to the counting.
The same goes for any light displays, hallucinations, panic, fear or
other illusions. Simply sitting ... sit. Eventually, try to sit in
seiza for about 30 minutes early in the morning and again at night.
When starting the practice shorter times are advised until the legs are
flexible and the circulation adjusts. If the legs begin to fall asleep,
rise up off of the knees to allow circulation. Alternatively, roll up a
blanket or something similar and place it between the lower legs to
raise the hips up off of the heels. A seiza bench such as can be found
may be useful. A small amount of pain is to be
expected but don't make it a test of willpower to sit as long as
Ideally the sitting should be done in a quiet room with soft
illumination and few visual or other distractions. Music is
inappropriate since the idea is not to be distracted. Eventually the
practice can be done anywhere with any
amount of activity nearby.
When the sitting is finished or when the legs must be relieved, bend
forward from the waist and place the forehead on the floor while
keeping the hips on the heels. Place the hands palm upward on the floor
beside the head. This symbolizes being open (and accepting) to anything
that the world cares to offer. Breathing in this position for a short
time before sitting up again will allow longer practice times.
There is a vast literature of self-help and meditation and there are
many who are willing to teach secret methods of healing the soul for a
price. All that is really necessary is a place to be alone and a few
breaths. If some support is helpful then seiza can be done in a group
but this is not necessary.
Just sit ... simply sit.
Kim Taylor has taught martial
arts and meditation practice since 1983