It’s 2019 and we seem to live in a ストレス社会 (sutoresu shakai, society of stress) thanks to the 混沌とした ペース (konton to shita pēsu, chaotic pace) of our digital lives. Is this picture インスタ映え (insuta-bae, Instagram worthy)? Will my Facebook post get some いいね (ii ne, likes)? Say the wrong thing on Twitter and the ネット荒らし (netto arashi, internet trolls) will be after you — マジでメンブレだわ (maji de menbure da wa, I totally feel like having a mental breakdown).
To counter this 目まぐるしい生活 (memagurushii seikatsu, dizzying lifestyle), health gurus are increasingly recommending 瞑想 (meisō, meditation) and ヨガ (yoga, yoga) as a way to take a break from the chaos and refocus your thoughts.
Meditation has a long history in Japan with many different types of it being practiced by Zen Buddhist monks as well as the common folk. 座禅 (zazen, seated meditation) is the most well-known and consists of sitting cross-legged and focusing your inner thoughts.
You don’t need to head off to a Buddhist retreat to get some meditation practice, though. Usually coupled with yoga, studios are popping up in cities across the country that allow anyone to practice 瞑想.
The first instruction you might hear in a class will be about your 呼吸 (kokyū, breathing). The instructor might say, “ゆっくり吸って…ゆっくり吐く” (“Yukkuri sutte … yukkuri haku,” “Slowly inhale … slowly exhale”), or “鼻から吸って…口から吐く” (“Hana kara sutte … kuchi kara haku,” “Inhale through your nose … exhale through your mouth”). The whole process is known as 腹式呼吸 (fukushikikokyū, abdominal breathing), which is the basis of yoga.
Yoga is meant to relax your body and focus your thoughts, but you’ll have a hard time relaxing if you wind up doing a different pose from everyone else. A few words can act as signposts to help instruct you on what pose to start with and when you should transition. Teachers usually start with まず (mazu, first), then use そのまま (sonomama, stay like that) and ~ながら (~nagara, while you do~), and then 繰り返す (kurikaesu, to repeat). All together the teacher’s instructions may sound like this: まず四つん這いになります。そのまま息を吸いながらおへそを床に近づけ背中を反らし、吐きながら背中を丸めましょう。この動作をゆっくりと繰り返しましょう.
Let’s break those sentences down: まず四つん這いになります (Mazu yotsunbai ni narimasu, First, get on all fours); そのまま息を吸いながらおへそを床に近づけ背中を反らし (Sono mama iki o suinagara o-heso o yuka ni chikazuke senaka o sorashi, Stay on all fours and while you breath in keep your belly-button close to the floor and arch your back); 吐きながら背中を丸めましょう (hakinagara senaka o marumemashō, round your back while you breathe out); この動作をゆっくりと繰り返しましょう (Kono dōsa o yukkuri to kurikaeshimashō, Repeat this movement slowly). Voila, you’ve just done the so-called 猫のポーズ (neko no pōzu, cat pose).
In 座禅, the instructions might be easier as you don’t need to move as much, you just need 集中 (shūchū, concentration) to try and block out the hustle and bustle of modern life: まず両足を組んで座り、鼻で呼吸をしながら心を落ち着けます (Mazu ryōashi o kunde suwari, hana de kokyū o shinagara kokoro o ochitsukemasu, Firstly, sit cross-legged, and then calm yourself while inhaling through your nose). Now, stay like that for half an hour.
座禅 can sometimes last for a few hours. Meditation is simple enough, though, that you can do it in the comfort of your own home. Record yourself speaking the following Japanese and see if you can pick up on the proper language.
まず背筋を伸ばして座り、呼吸に意識を集中させます (Mazu sesuji o nobashite suwari, kokyū ni ishiki o shūchū sasemasu, Firstly, sit up straight, then focus your concentration on your breathing). 鼻からゆっくり吸って…口からゆっくり吐く (Hana kara yukkuri sutte … kuchi kara yukkuri haku, Inhale deeply through your nose … exhale slowly through your mouth). 川の流れを想像し、雑念を吐く息とともに流しましょう (Kawa no nagare o sōzō shi, zatsunen o haku iki to tomo ni nagashimashō, Imagine a river, and now float any distracting thoughts down it while exhaling). Take a moment for meditation in your spare time, in the morning or before you go to bed. We all deserve a little break now and then.