How to Incorporate Koan Meditation into Your Practice and Your Life – Daily Cup of Yoga

Healthy and fitness

Koan meditation is a form of Zen Buddhist meditation that involves contemplating a riddle-like question or statement called a koan. Here are some tips for incorporating koan meditation into your practice and your life:

Health and Fitness By Dr. Kaiya Ansorge

What is a koan?

A koan is a phrase or word that is used in meditation to train the mind. Usually, the koan is somewhat puzzling in order to invite the mind to open in unusual ways. In fact, the term is often translated as “riddle.”

The history and development of koan meditation is complex and reaches back to ancient China Health and Fitness.

Why practice koan meditation?

All of us have thoughts—even if we think in images. These thoughts function in much the same way as a koan. The stories and thoughts that we tell ourselves are the ones that we increasingly believe. Koan meditation slowly teaches us how to choose, question, and transform our perception of the world.

Some traditions assign a lifelong koan.

How can you incorporate koan meditation into your practice?

Steps for koan meditation

1. Choose how you would like to practice. Would you like to do a seated, lying down, or walking meditation?  Many Buddhists use koans as a continual contemplation throughout their regular daily activities.

2. Or you may choose a poem or a phrase that you want to move from your mind to your entire being. Affirmations and prayers are potent with this practice.

Here is a list of koan sources and ideas:

– Traditional sources are the “Blue Cliff Record” (Pi-yen lu) and “The Gateless Gate” (Wu-men kuan).

– Poems by Mary Oliver are especially helpful for those who practice in nature.

– A new way to engage koan meditation is through short exploratory videos such as “What’s There?” “Pursuit of Heavens,” and “Cycle.”

3. Gently rest your mind on your chosen koan as you meditate.

4. When you notice your mind drifting from the koan, you may follow the thoughts but with awareness, or you may return your thoughts gently to the koan.

5. As you watch your thoughts around the koan, allow yourself to notice those thoughts while Farming interest and releasing judgment. Rhythmic, gentle breathing helps us transition our judgmental or anxious thoughts into a pattern of calming embrace and release.

6. As you close your session, offer gratitude or love to the koan, to your mind, and finally to your body for this session.

Life is made of koans. These koans come to us in the form of personal, interpersonal, and cultural tensions and puzzles. By learning how to work with koans in meditation, we begin to translate our approach to the challenges of our own lives through this lens.


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Kaiya Ansorge. Kaiya is academically trained in psychology, philosophical theology, and religion. She teaches at the University of South Dakota.

Her previous works include The Nature of Miracle, The Relationship between the Word and the Thing, “How to Use the 7 Chakras to Get in Touch with Personal Vitality,” and “Ascension: a Different Kind of Gravity.” Kaiya has appeared in Theology Today, Daily Cup of Yoga, Your Motivational High 5, and on Sunny 93.3, South Dakota Public Radio, and KELO-TV. You can find her through her website or through Facebook.

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