Daily meditation with the shakuhachi

Meditation with shakuhachi is different than practicing or performing. There is no artistic goal. It is full concentration and full acceptation, without judgement. I have a few standard exercises to get started, and, depending on the days, I like to experiment and try new things. I generally put on a timer and decide how long I’m going to practice.

 Breathing exercises

To begin a session, I start with concentrating on the breath and the abdominal breathing. It gives me time to forget about the daily life and just “go back to the breath”. Any simple exercise is good: sit on the floor or on a chair, and focus on your breathing. Do you feel the movement of your belly? Do you feel the cold air getting in through your mouth? Do you feel the warm air getting out? Inhale new energy and exhale that you don’t need anymore at the moment.
Then start to count: inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds, and repeat. Practice for a few minutes.
The only significant difference with a standard meditation exercise is that you inhale and exhale through your mouth and not through your nose, in order to prepare to your shakuhachi practice.

Ro-buki

Blowing “ro”, the lowest tone of the flute, is a very good warm-up and practice for your embouchure control. As a meditation exercise, try to relax as much as possible. Relax your fingers, your wrists, your arms, your shoulders. Feel the holes under your fingers, feel that you fully cover them. Relax your throat and your lips. Feel your abdominal breathing and the power of your abdominal muscles. When you inhale, send your air as low as possible in your belly. Exhale using your abs. Keep your throat open and relaxed, and your shoulders low. Keep your lips souple and your inner mouth open and round as a cave. Try to find a relaxed but active posture of your body.
Then start to count: inhale for 2 seconds, hold it for 1 second, exhale for 12 seconds, hold it for 1 second. And repeat. Practice for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you cannot get a sound or if the sound breaks off, just keep on breathing and counting, don’t get frustrated and focus on your breath.

Walking meditation

Walking is a very efficient alternative to the seated posture. It helps you to calm down and releases the tensions in your body. It gives a rhythm for your breathing and makes you feel like a komuso monk!

  • find a slow and regular pace
  • focus on your breathing following this pace
  • 1 step left breath in
  • 1 step right blow “tsu”
  • 4 steps blow “ro”
  • and repeat

Walking meditation scale

A variant or additional exercise to the previous one:

  • find a slow and regular pace
  • focus on your breathing following this pace
  • 1 step breath in
  • 7 steps blow “ro”
  • 1 step breath in
  • repeat with the next tone “tsu”

Tips:

  • never repeat a tone, always go to the next one.
  • you can practice on one or two octaves (or more!)
  • you can add meri tones and change the basic scale to another one.
  • if you “make a mistake”, don’t stop, don’t repeat, just observe it and keep blowing.
  • You can change the length of the different sections of breathing, but try to keep the same breathing rhythm within one session.
  • Blowing is movement, walking is movement, movement is life.

These are just some examples of meditation with the shakuhachi. More exercises are coming soon.

Meditation prelude

I have a selection of meditation pieces I like to play by heart for meditation, concentrating on the breathing and the structure: KyoreiHonte Choshi, Yamato Choshi or HiFuMi Ch0. You can play these pieces either seated or walking. The piece Hijiri-no-shirabe, written by Fukuda Teruhisa, can also be played as a meditative prelude. If it is technically too challenging, an easier version of it is also available.

“I can’t get a sound”

It doesn’t matter if you don’t always get a sound: keep breathing, keep blowing, never stop before the timer rings or you’re finished with your exercise (scale) or piece. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get any sound, but try to be fully aware of what you are doing. Try to move your lips, your chin, your head, and see what happens. Little by little, you’ll improve your tone quality.

Accept all the sounds of the shakuhachi, even the most “windy” ones. Be fully conscious of what you are doing and play with the different sounds you make.
If you are tired and your energy is low, don’t force it and just contemplate your energy level as if the shakuhachi was a mirror of yourself. Try to relax even more rather than using more strength to control your sound. Let it go.
If it’s going remarkably well (yes, it also happens!!), try to remember how you feel at this moment, in order to find it back when it’s going less easily.

We all have our ups and downs. Be grateful to the instrument and be kind to yourself.

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