"How can he?" you ask. How could I not? I did years, hundreds of hours of Yoga classes, to learn the forms. I was never comfortable, until recently, doing them on my own. Likewise, I spent hundred of hours in Zen meditation, often in groups (all of the longer periods), often alone. These are the tools I have, albeit modified.
I start with the Yoga. I do it after exactly one cup of coffee in the morning. I begin standing (on my yoga mat - carpet is horrible for this), breathe a few times, and do a series of sun salutations. I start very slow, and never get very fast, concentrating on my breathing and on hitting and holding asanas correctly. I've been playing music - Ravi Shankar's Chants of India works perfectly - and doing fairly elaborate variations on the salutations. I know lots of variations because I spent many hours learning them in many classes from many good yoga instructors. At the moment I've begun, because of a diagnosed problem in my upper back (from my brilliant massage therapirst) doing lots of back bends, stretching out my front body. It's easy to improvise when you know your stuff.
Then I drag out my old zafu and sit facing the wall, mediating for fifteen minutes. I find it's best to turn the music off. I often sit silent for a while. Often I chant my own version of the Gayatri. I find the Gayatri best because there are millions (billions?) of Hindus and other Vedantists who find that a good way to start the day. Or just om, or om namah shivayah. I find it useful to visualize the sun rising, though I'm indoors, because (1) I do this about sunrise, (2)I think visually, and (3) the sun, in the Northern and Vedic cultures with which I most indentify, to honor the sun , as Surya, as Savitr, this I find most honorable, suitable, intuitive and pleasing.
Note that this is all devoid of ritual, usually (sometimes I'll light a candle or bow to the cushion). I don't have an altar of any kind set up, though I could. I would kind of like a Siva altar, but I can't really see worshipping a huge penis to begin my day.
That's all. That's simple. And it changes everything, optimizes how my day starts. More yoga than that might exhaust me, and the point is to get me up and aware, get my body warmed up, and set the stage for my meditation. My meditation is not zen meditation. It's permutated over the years. I started in zen, Shikantaza, when I was doing the really long ones. For a little over a year when I had left zen and joined an Asatru kindred, then joined the Rune Gild, I incorporated their Nine Doors program (really a magical development program crafted by Edred Thorsson based largely on the books of Franz Bardon, among others). Then the more of the Vedas I read, the more of the Vedas I liked, and that's the tendency drawing me lately.
Which is to say, I didn't start out like this. I started doing Yoga in 2000 to stretch my hamstrings, and did challenging classes, mostly vinyasa yoga in which the teachers made their own modifications to basic Ashtanga series, until my body learned a lot of the poses and knows enough to give me options when I need to modify for a specific purpose. It takes a lot of kinetic training to learn to do Yoga right. The best way to get the training is in a class, from a good teacher. You can't see your posture from the outside to correct it, at least not in the beginning. Then you learn how it feels and you can internalize it.
Likewise, though nothing is simpler than seated meditation, it's extremely unnatural for most people and has to be taught. There's not a lot to be taught. I've taught many people to do simple Shikantaza in ten minutes or less. What they do with that teaching, is their deal. Most of the techniques they teach you in Zen are bullshit, and are meant to drop off anyway. Follow your breath, if you like, but don't count them. Don't try to control your thoughts. Become aware otherwise. And then just sit.
Caution: I'm not saying not to do long meditation practice, for hours a day for days on end. It's a good learning tool. But as a daily practice, it's not only very hard to work in, but I think in the end destructive. Long meditation is like dropping acid. Doing it a few times will teach you something. Doing it every day harms you mentally. And some people have been doing that for thirty years or more, many because they just don't get it. Fifteen minutes for me is enough to let tapas arise, but not to let it burn out. Especially avoid people who tell you it's about 'being there' or 'presence' or 'mindfulness'. They are vexations to the spirit. I may have already explained why this sort of thinking about thinking doesn't help; I'll do so more in the immediate future, I think.
And one more word: You can't stop your mind from thinking, no matter how hard to try, or to 'let the thoughts go' without more coming. You will stop thinking when you stop breathing, which the people at these Zen 'centers' hope does not happen on their watch. I did discover the simple technique as a teenager of letting images arise instead of words. But all that is up to you.
In fact, it's all up to you. But you do need to learn things, and to learn those things you have to go to the people who know them. But remember those people are these to teach you a technique, not how to run your life. Because most of those people run pretty shitty lives themselves (the Yoga teachers seem to fare better than the Zen ones).
So find something that works for you. More later on what other schools I've worked through, and why.
AUM BHOOR BHUWAH SWAHA,
TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASAYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YO NAHA PRACHODAYAT.