One of the impressions I have gained recently in speaking to Zen friends about practice is a certain attitude towards breathing in zazen. For the sake of brevity, and just for fun, I wish to refer to it as “samurai breathing”. I think it has its origins in the martial arts.
The “samurai breath’ goes like this: one must push down hard on the outgoing breath, concentrating on the hara (solar plexus) and in doing so, push aside any thoughts, feelings, sensations, that get in the way, smashing through them like a karate expert would smash their hand through a brick.
If you practise like this, it will give you a considerable feeling of power, like winning a contest (with yourself), and also give you a sense of purpose in a goal-seeking way (like paying off the mortgage). This type of straining zazen creates a heroic struggle out of zazen and a sense that you are trying very hard, but it is ultimately self-defeating. Perhaps it is part of the process of learning that we have to go through this struggle before we realise it is not productive.
When I see people practising like this, I have a mental picture of someone on an exercise bike...