Chicago Shimpo
Body and Mind Workshops Open the Window
to the Fascinating World of Zen Meditation


• What can you do to put your mind at peace, leaving all the hustle-bustle of everyday life behind?
• Meditation, particularly meditation practice through Zen, is one of the ways to achieve “body and mind unification” that is available to us and gaining popularity today,
• The Japanese Culture Center in Chicago regularly offers wide-ranging meditation workshops for beginners and advanced students alike. In February, it hosted a set of meditation workshops based on Zen – Zen Meditation Workshop by Ron Shereyk (February 9) and Zen Body Zen Mind by Rick Gendo Testa (February 21) - and a Chicago Shimpo reporter had a chance to experience Zen meditation for the first time in both workshops.

• Both workshops use the practice of “Zazen” (cross-legged meditation) used as a training method by the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, but it’s not religious. The essence of Zen meditation, the instructors say, is to cultivate a state of awareness, to investigate deep in our minds and discover what our existence means.

Zen Meditation Workshop by Ron Shereyk

• According to Instructor Shereyk, the three pillars of Zen meditation are posture, breathing and mind, and through regular practice, we can significantly reduce stress and improve our mental clarity.

* Posture
• Sit upright on a cushion, cross-legged and relaxed, so you don’t feel too much pressure or any pain. Your pelvis should be on top of the cushion. Sit up straight, tuck in your chin, and imagine that the top of your head is being pulled toward the ceiling. Your legs should be positioned parallel.
• Relax your shoulders and drop them naturally. Make a fist with your right hand, not too tightly, and cup it with the other fist and place them at around your navel.
• Move your upper body back and forth and sideways until you find a comfortable spot and settle down.

* Breathing
• Count inhalation and exhalation as one set of breathing. Repeat the set, counting to ten, then start over and repeat it slowly.
• When you inhale, try to breathe the air into the stomach, about 1 inch below your navel.

* Mind
• Our mind is always filled with thoughts that come and go, about things of the past and future that don’t exist right there and then. Zen meditation is an attempt to be clearly aware of our own existence at this very moment through body and mind relaxation.
• When meditating, you keep your eyes open. Look at a point on the floor in front of you, about 6-8 feet away. By keeping your eyes open, you will remain aware of your physical surroundings, and the ears take in all the sounds and noises such as the hiss of the air conditioner, voices of the neighbors, or the siren of the ambulance. But you don’t have to deal with them or make any decisions. You will realize that there is a choice to “do nothing” – not getting away from it - in response to what’s happening around us. We can leave all of what it is.
• “Before you react to an event, you may see what everybody else is doing, and then you can make decisions. We are always aware that something is going on around us, but it’s up to us how we feel about it. We want to start realizing that,” Shereyk said. “Don’t worry that you have one thought after another in your mind – that’s just natural. As long as you’re focused on your posture and breathing, your mind will follow and settle down in the end.”

Reporter’s Experience

• Unprepared for a hands-on Zazen experience, I (the reporter) wore a skirt to the workshop. Unable to sit cross-legged, I was allowed to join in straight sitting (“seiza”).
• Sitting quietly with my eyes fixed on the floor, clouds of thoughts about the deadlines, stories to write, things to do at home, and so on tried to assault my mind, as they usually do. But here, there was nothing I could do about them other than just sitting.
• As I sat up straight and breathed deeply, the weight of my hands went away. Then I felt the weight of my body was gone out of my senses, except the awareness that the edge of my buttocks was sitting on the arch of my feet.
• All the while, all I was aware of was the ease of the buttocks sitting on the arch of my feet and the wondrous sensation of not feeling the weight of my body. And I realized that the usual pressure and stress from everyday life had gone.
• When the 20 minutes of meditation were up, my legs were neither hurting nor sleeping. It was an extremely pleasant experience.

• Following the Zazen meditation practice, Shereyk instructed an Integral Stretch workshop. Integral Stretch is a practice designed to “release physical and emotional discomfort” through a series of stretch movements. With its goal of awakening the body and mind, the exercise gave a sense of cleansing through deep breathing.

Zen Body Zen Mind by Rick Gendo Testa

• A Zen monk and Aikido instructor, Testa says breathing is deeply related to meditation and has a lot to do with our awareness of body and nervous system.
• His workshop began with a practice of slow inhaling and exhaling, counting it each time. A series of different levels of breathing exercises followed:

* Chinkan-kishin:
• Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place right hand palm onto left palm. Relax your shoulders, elbows and wrists.
• Place both hands in front of the lower abdomen, and gently shake the hands to create a rhythm that feels natural. After several minutes, switch hands and repeat the exercise until you are unaware of the hand shaking.
• This exercise is to release tension from the body and awaken the “hara” and quiet the mind.
• Another exercise is to sit on the edge of the chair and practice slow, soft breathing. This will help you learn to slow down.

* Circular Breathing
• Practice slow, soft inhaling through your nose. Gently fill your stomach without tension. Exhale through the mouth softly. Continue for a few minutes, picturing the ocean waves in your mind.
• Pick up your chin and let the air in to your lungs.
• Tilt the head to left and drop the left shoulder at the same time; repeat on the right side.
• Drop into a slight horse stance and feel the spine settling into the pelvis. Roll your shoulders from front to back as you breathe in, and then drop your shoulders as you exhale. Feel the pulling of the scapula down and toward the spine. Repeat five to 10 times.

• Breathing practice like these help you understand how the body and mind are interconnected. It also helps open your mind and bring pleasant sensations.

* Breath pattern 4-4-6-2
• Slowly count to four as you inhale through the nose. Hold breath and slowly count to four.
• Exhale as you count to six slowly. Hold your breath and count to two.
• Repeat this for five to 10 minutes. You can also do it sitting on the edge of the chair.

• For information on future Zen workshops hosted by the Japanese Culture Center, visit the website at www.japaneseculturecenter.com.

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About the Instructors

Ron Shereyk was introduced to Zen meditation through Aikido and now has more than 23 years of experience. He is a certified practitioner of Integral Bodywork® (founded by Everett Ogawa); certified Level 2 practitioner of TRE (founded by Dr. David Bercell); licensed massage therapist (Illinois); 5th Degree Black Belt (Godan) in Aikido, Aikido Association International & Aikido Hombu Dojo; and certified instructor of Aikido and Regional Testing Committee member of the Aikido Association of America. He graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Rick Gendo Testa studied Aikido under the tutorage of Fumio Toyoda, the founder of the Japanese Culture Center and an Aikido teacher. Following the footsteps of Toyoda, who was also a Zen priest, Testa is an ordained Zen monk associated with Chobo-ji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Seattle. He is now Chief Instructor of Shoshinkan Dojo in Rhode Island, holding the rank of 4th degree black belt (Yondan), and Eastern Regional Director of the Aikido Association of America. In 2008, he founded a nonprofit organization to provide Aikido training to at-risk youth. He is also a practitioner of Integral Bodywork®.


Ron Shereyk instructs an Integral Stretch workshop.


Ron Shereyk, Zen Meditation and Integral Stretch instructor


Chinkan-kishin practice by Rick Gendo Testa (c)


Priest Rick Gendo Testa