What Is Zen Yoga?

Those who prefer gentle forms of yoga with as much emphasis on physical exercise as on spiritual growth may find their path in Zen yoga.

This practice merges yoga poses and breathing exercises, movements from Tai Chi, and meditation from Zen Buddhism.

Read more to find out what Zen yoga is, how to practice it, and where to begin your exploration of this yoga style.

Zen Yoga Definition

Zen yoga was founded by a teacher called Aaron Hoopes, who merged exercises and techniques from several East-Asian schools and adapted them for modern society. The practice combines yogic exercises with Chinese movements and practices of Tai Chi and Quigong.

Zen yoga was designed to make yoga and meditation accessible to everyone, including those who are less athletic and don’t enjoy classic exercise. Hoopes’ goal was to appeal to people who wouldn’t otherwise want to try exercising in a classic yoga or Tai Chi center.

Related: Yoga vs. Meditation

Zen yoga mainly focuses on flexibility, increasing circulation through the joints, improving the length and strength of muscles, and allowing the energy to naturally flow in the body. Therefore, the practices aren’t only physical but also psychological and spiritual. In this manner, the Zen yoga approach aims to harmonize and connect three aspects of the being: the body, the breath, and the mind.

Body Work

Zen yoga includes classic yoga poses, and the physical aspect of the class is similar to Hatha yoga. These exercises help develop endurance, flexibility, strength, and balance. They are also believed to unblock the flow of vital energy in the body.

Yoga poses are performed in sequences, and there are both dynamic repetitions and static holds. The practice often also includes groups of exercises from Tai Chi, which are performed rhythmically. The rhythm sets the emphasis and the goal of each class.

Zen yoga highlights the significance of relaxation. Relaxation should be maintained in both a still and active state. By learning to relax during a class, a student may also learn to enjoy relaxation and the present moment in everyday life.

Zen yoga seminars can also include therapeutic techniques, like postural diagnosis, massage, nutrition education, and corrective exercises. The goal of these additional methods is to improve physical alignment and posture awareness, which we can then use to establish a proper sitting position in meditation, as well as to build a habit of having a correct posture in everyday life.

Breath Work

Zen yoga is based on the idea that our way of breathing reflects the state of our mind and body. Shallow and fast breathing indicates an unhealthy body and a confused mind. By influencing the breath, the students also learn to affect the state of the mind and body.

For this purpose, Zen yoga incorporates deep abdominal breathing and linking breath to movement.


The final aspect of Zen yoga practice is harmonizing the mind. Although both body and breathwork directly impact the mind, physical practice alone isn’t enough for true evolution and transformation.

Zen yoga teaches techniques to train the mind to be still and be in the present moment. This training is done in the stillness of the body, using the zazen method of sitting meditation. Mindfulness or returning to the present moment is also a part of Zen yoga, and it is designed to help transform and release our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual blockages.

The higher goal of the practice is to reach the union of body, mind, and breath – and attain Samadhi, or higher consciousness – just like it is in classic yoga.

Benefits of Zen Yoga

Benefits of Zen yoga may include

  • Improved strength and flexibility
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved circulation
  • Relieved chronic pain and tension
  • Reducing stress and combating inner-conflict
  • Learning to breathe more deeply
  • Finding inner peace and joy in the present moment
  • Increasing mental clarity and improving decision-making
  • Working to reach a state of higher awareness

Zen Yoga Poses

Zen yoga poses include:

How to Practice Zen Yoga

Zen yoga classes are ideal for beginners in yoga, as well as advanced students who prefer more gentle forms of exercise. The classes are easy to follow and are accessible to everyone, regardless of experience, age, and body shape.

The main principle of Zen yoga is maintaining an erect spine and a correct alignment. This will both ensure you are practicing poses with proper form and help release blocked energy channels in the body.

Not every Zen yoga class is the same, as the goal is different – some may focus more on strength, some on flexibility, and others on mental work. For this purpose, you can expect to encounter a variety of techniques. These include physical poses from yoga and Tai Chi, corrective exercises, meditation, breathing exercises, and massage.

Mats aren’t generally used in Zen yoga, but you can still use them if you feel you need them, especially when you’re just starting. This style is practiced barefoot, in clothes that allow freedom of movement, and without background music and other outside tools.

Start Zen Yoga at Home

Check out these follow-along videos if you can’t make it to a Zen Yoga studio or want to try it out at home.

Zen Yoga | 10 minute Beginner Yoga | Sean Vigue Fitness

Zen Yoga for Winter Master Class ~ with Julian Daizan Skinner

Zen Yoga Workout with Danny B

Zen Yoga FAQs

What Is a Zen Yoga Class?

Zen yoga class incorporates traditional asanas or postures from Hatha yoga, as well as Tai Chi exercises and Zen meditation techniques. It’s a gentle practice, accessible to people of all ages and athletic levels. It improves flexibility, breathing, strength, and calming the mind. The final goal of practicing Zen yoga classes is to unify the body, breath, and mind and reach a higher awareness state.

How Can I Learn Zen Yoga?

The best way to learn Zen yoga is by visiting a licensed studio and learning from a professional teacher. If you don’t have access to a Zen yoga studio, there are also resources online, including free resources on YouTube. Take time to learn Zen yoga – start with foundation exercises and move on up to more challenging methods (for both the body and mind) only when you feel comfortable doing so. Even if you are learning from home, it might be a good idea to occasionally visit a Zen yoga teacher or a live workshop to receive diagnosis and advice on adapting the practice to your own needs.

What to Expect in a Zen Yoga Class?

The class will be much slower and gentler than dynamic forms of yoga, like Ashtanga and Vinyasa. Along with classic yoga poses you might already be familiar with, you will also encounter zen meditation techniques and movements from Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Zen Yoga for the first time if you have any injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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