There are 8 major types of Taoist meditation techniques, including Zhan Zhuang, neiguan and “Emptiness”. They’re famous today mostly because they’re the Bruce Lee meditation techniques that he spoke about in his movies and interviews.
Lots of people ask me whether Bruce Lee did meditation. The answer is a resounding Yes. Bruce Lee did Taoist meditations. I should clarify that he was not a Taoist. His principal training was in Chan and Zen Buddhism. However, he did use Taoist meditation techniques. And no wonder, because they are some of the most powerful meditations ever [READ: Best Meditation Techniques].
If you listen to Bruce Lee on meditation you will hear him say such things as, “There is nothing to try to do, for whatever comes up moment by moment is accepted, including non-acceptance.”
This is the philosophy of Taoism. It is all about acceptance. By using Daoist meditation techniques like neiguan meditation, numerous breathing meditations, and movement meditations like Tai Chi and Qigong, Bruce Lee was able to train himself to have complete acceptance of reality. And you, too, can achieve the same thing.
In this tutorial I will share with you the Daoist meditations Bruce Lee used, along with their benefits.
Introduction to The Taoist Meditation Techniques Bruce Lee And Lao Tzu Used
Today I ‘m going to share the Taoist meditations Bruce Lee, Lao Tzu and other masters used, including both beginners and more advanced meditations. Some of these are so deep they nearly made it into my list of the deepest meditation techniques.
But first up: What is Daoist meditation all about?
Taoist meditations are a way to clear the mind so that we can have clear perception and acceptance of reality. They are also used to cultivate and control chi, the energy that is the life force behind all living things.
It all started with Lao Tzu’s meditations
Taoism (or Daoism), is one of the three main religions in China. Approximately 13 million Chinese people identify as Taoist, and there are approximately 20 million Taoists worldwide. The most famous of all time is Bruce Lee, who made Taoism popular in the West.
Taoism (Daoism) began in the 6th century BC with Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu. Indeed, most meditations used in Daoism are Lao Tzu meditations (we’ll look at Lao Tzu’s meditation techniques in just a moment).
Lao Tzu believed that it is important to live in harmony with nature--both our inward nature and the outward natural world. This is the core belief of Taoism.
In order to achieve this, he created a philosophical and practical belief system to enable us to live with acceptance. Through the Tao (the “way”), he taught how to purify the mind and live in inner peace, in harmony with the natural world. One of the most important training tools for achieving that are the meditations Lao Tzu created.
Observe what is with undivided awareness. -- quote from Bruce Lee on meditation
Ultimately, Taoists believe in harmony, self acceptance, and following “The Way”.
You’ll probably notice how so many movies cover these themes, such as Star Wars, which even portrays Taoist techniques when Yoda meditates [speaking of which, here is how to meditate like yoda].
Now let’s look at how to do the exercises.
Guide to The Taoist Meditations That Lao Tzu Created and Brue Lee Used
Taoist meditation techniques all revolve around living in the present moment, accepting the self, and purifying the mind.
One of my favorite quotes by Bruce Lee on meditation is: “The less effort you put in, the more powerful you will be.” What he is saying by this is that we should stop striving and allow ourselves to be precisely what we are. We should live the truth.
This is the central philosophy of Taoist meditation techniques. Whichever Daoist meditations you do, you should strive for quiescence.
When describing meditation, Lao Tzu said:
“Abide in stillness.
The ten thousand beings rise and flourish
While the sage watches their return.
Though all beings exist in profusion
They all end up returning to their source.
Returning to their source is called tranquility.”
This quote by Lao Tzu on meditation explains the philosophy of Daoism.
Taoist Breathing Technique
Most of us have not cultivated the inner serenity of a monk. We’re not quite at Bruce Lee’s meditation level. And so, we must prepare. We must start with some easy methods.
Most of us need a little help producing quiescence. When we meditate, many of us fidget, stretch, become distracted. Inner stillness is an art that needs to be learned. One of the best ways to cultivate that inner stillness is with Taoist breathing techniques. The best way to learn the art of stillness is with Taoist breathing techniques.
This Taoist breathing technique will help produce the right mental foundation.
NOTE: If you wish to meditate for a long period, it is best to mix seated meditation with moving forms like Qi Gong and Tai Chi.
Be like Water -- quote by Bruce Lee on meditation (not: if you have ever wondered what Bruce Lee’s water quote means, it means to have purity and fluidity. Do not be rigid in the mind like a rock. Be free and flowing like water.)
Taoist Breathing Technique -- Instructions
- Sit with good posture. Sitting in lotus position is optional but certainly not necessary. What matters is that we sit in a way that supports good spinal health. Alternatively, it is perfectly acceptable to lie down or stand up.
- Place your hands in your lap with the tips of the thumb touching, like the position used in Zen meditation, which is a mudra called the Cosmic Mudra (see the link above).
- Imagine chi flowing straight up the spine and out the top of the head. The head and neck should be relaxed, and the chin should be tucked in a little. This helps chi to flow freely.
- While you are in this posture, make sure you are relaxed. You should feel balanced and free of tension.
- Bring your attention to your breath.
- In the Taoist method we breathe deep in a relaxed way, and always through the nose. Your diaphragm should move, and your breath should flow freely into your lower abdomen. This is the same breathing style used in other meditations and in singing.
- The flow of the breath into the body will massage the organs, producing a deep sense of relaxation.
- Continue to focus on your breathing for ten minutes.
- While you are sitting and breathing, place the tip of your tongue on your lower palette. Why do we do this? One of the more interesting parts of Taoist philosophy regards the energy pathways in the body. Like your chakras, there are certain points that serve as hubs for the energy that flows through the body. Two of the most important energy pathways in Taoism are the “du mai” and the “ren mai”. Du mai is a pathway up the back of the body. Ren mai is a pathway down the front of the body. These two pathways converge at the hard and soft palette in the mouth. So, by placing the tongue over that spot we complete the pathway, which helps chi to flow.
- Notice that saliva is building in your mouth. This is important. Taoists have a very interesting belief about saliva. They believe it is a precious substance, so precious, in fact, that they call it “golden dew”. Saliva contains hormones, proteins and other vital substances. That’s why, when you notice a build-up of saliva on your tongue while meditating, you should swallow forcefully. This will help the saliva move deeper into your body (though Western medicine may not agree with this, so you might like to ask a doctor before you try this).
- Unlike Buddhists, Taoists do not advocate sitting still for very long periods of time. This, they say, will cause your energy to become stagnant. Read: Movement meditations).
Advanced Taoist Breathing Technique
Now that we’ve practiced just sitting still, we can begin to advance the Taoist breathing technique.
- Sit comfortably on a chair or a meditation cushion, or alternatively you can also lie on the floor provided you can do so while maintaining focus
- Rest the tip of your tongue on the top palate and begin to practice deep breathing through your nose. As you breathe in, visualise chi entering your body as a pure white light. The light fills you as water fills a jug. It fills your body and your mind. Notice how the light enters areas of your mind and body that are tight and tense. And as it enters those parts, the areas relax, until you experience complete relaxation.
- As you breathe out, impurities leave your body as black mist. Using your inner eye, watch as that black mist dissipates, being replaced by white light.
- Breathing deeply and slowly, let the pure white light wash away your sorrow, worry, fears, physical tension and all other negatives. Continue this for twenty minutes.
- This Taoist meditation technique ends with palming the eyes and face. Rub your hands together many times until they are warm. Now gently, soothingly, brush your palms down your face a few times.
- Carrying the pure white light with you, come back to the present moment as you open your eyes.
This is one of the very best Taoist breathing techniques for deep relaxation and purity of mind. I hope you enjoyed it.
More Taoist Meditation Techniques to Try
We have looked in depth at one of the most important Taoist meditation techniques. However, there are many more Taoist meditation techniques that you might like to try.
Taoism Emptiness Meditation (Bruce Lee And Lao Tzu Did This Often)
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~ quote by Lao Tzu on meditation.
Taoist Emptiness meditation is precisely as it sounds. It is sitting quietly and emptying the mind of all thoughts and mental images, including feelings, imaginings and so on.
When we do this, we experience a deep state of inner peace.
You may have heard of the Confucius technique “Heart Mind Fasting”.
Emptiness meditation technique is similar. This is one of the main Bruce Lee meditation techniques that he did often.
How To do Taoist Emptiness Meditation Technique
To practice Taoist Emptiness Meditation technique, you simply sit still and allow your mind to empty. This gives your mind an opportunity to let go and to move towards emptiness, which is a state in which the vital force and spirit is replenished.
The usefulness of the cup is its emptiness”. -- Bruce Lee on meditation
The Taoist Emptiness Meditation Technique revolved around the idea of letting your thoughts and feelings rise and fall without interference, so that your mind flows as freely as the tide upon the shore. (Which might again remind you of that Bruce Lee water quote!).
Now let me give you a tip for when you do this method.
The secret to performing this method successfully is to let go of your mind. Let your thoughts rise and fall as they will without trying to control them.
Even though this method sounds incredibly simple, it can be challenging. Many people become distracted. If this happens to you, you might prefer to use a more involving technique, such as tai chi, which gives you something to actively do so you do not lose focus.
Zhan Zhuang (Taoist Standing Meditation)
Zhan Zhuang (Taoist standing meditation) is arguably the main meditation Bruce Lee did.
Zhan Zhuang, or “Taoist Standing Meditation”, is a method used in tai chi and martial arts to cultivate inner stillness and to create physical strength. It loosely means “pole standing”. It is precisely how it sounds: standing still.
Zhan Zhuang is technically considered a “dynamic” method, although it is usually practiced by standing in a single position. For instance, martial artists will stand in one of the fighting stances and will maintain the position for many minutes. You can now imagine why this is one of Bruce Lee’s main meditations.
You might wonder why you would want to stand still and like a pole for any length of time. There are many reasons.
Firstly, if you are into martial arts, Zhan Zhuang is one of the best ways of mastering stances.
If you are into tai chi or Qigong (which Bruce Lee did), Taoist Standing Meditation (Zhan Zhuang) helps you to become aware of how the structure of the body works, as well as practicing specific positions (such as Parting The Wild Horse’s Main).
And for all of us, Zhan Zhuang improves our focus and inner stillness.
“Zhan Zhuang is a stance practice in which the body is kept essentially still and mostly upright, though there are some stances where the spine is not vertical.”
Zhuangzi is Taoist breathing method. It’s an exercise that is used to bring your mind into harmony with the flow of chi. It is very similar to other breathing exercises.
When he was explaining Zhuangzi meditation, Lao Tzu said we must, “focus vital breath until it is supremely soft.” This can be done while sitting still, like when we practice Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) or it can be done in a way that is similar to pranayama (the way you breathe in yoga). This latter technique is abut using specific patterns of inhalation and exhalation.
A quote by Lao Tzu on meditation reads:
“To circulate the Vital Breath:
Breathe deeply, then it will collect.
When it is collected, it will expand.
When it expands, it will descend.
When it descends, it will become stable.
When it is stable, it will be regular.
When it is regular, it will sprout.
When it sprouts, it will grow.
When it grows, it will recede.
When it recedes, it will become heavenly.
The dynamism of Heaven is revealed in the ascending;
The dynamism of Earth is revealed in the descending.
Follow this and you will live; oppose it and you will die.”
Neiguan (“inner observation”)
I am not sure whether this was a meditation Bruce Lee did (if you know, leave a comment please). However, it is one of the major Taoist meditation techniques that Lao Tzu advocated it in his teachings.
Neiguan is an advanced Taoist meditation technique that I would not recommend for beginners.
In Neiguan we visualise the inner processes of body and mind.
This gives us insight into the nature of our being.
If you would like to learn this, contact me and we will book a meditation lesson.
Qigong translates to “life energy cultivation”, which perfectly describes what the practice is all about. And yes, Bruce Lee did Qigong often.
Qi Gong is a mind body exercise that promotes health and well-being and gives you a gentle workout. Bruce Lee was known to do this along with Tai Chi.
Whenever I practice Qigong, I feel like seaweed swaying under a tide. It is a soothing and relaxing style of movement.
The National Qigong Association tells us,
“Qigong is an integration of physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intentions. Qigong practices can be classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. All styles have three things in common: they all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus.”
Qi Gong is 2500 years old and over that time it has become a very detailed and in-depth system. There are very many different Qigong moves, and much like yoga, it also incorporates specific breathing exercises that are used to nourish mind and body.
Because Qigong is so in-depth, it is best to learn from a book or DVD. However, it certainly is one of the best Daoist meditation techniques.
Tai Chi is very similar to Qigong, and for most intents and purposes the two can be grouped together.
This is another of the movement methods Bruce Lee helped make famous in the West.
Tai Chi and Qigong are both about cultivating chi, both involve slow and gentle movements, and both are a dynamic method.
The best way to think of Tai Chi is as a gentle and soothing exercise that creates mental and physical well-being.
The Tai Chi For Health Institute tells us,
The flowing movements of tai chi contain much inner strength, like water flowing in a river, beneath the tranquil surface there is a current with immense power—the power for healing and wellness.
Benefits of Taoist Meditation Techniques
There are big benefits of Daoist meditation techniques and Taoism in general.
Writing for UrantiaBook.com, Meredith Sprunger says:
“Taoism is more a philosophy than a religion. It is concerned with the quality of life and has little interest in the heavens, gods, rituals, or life after death.”
Taoism is more about well-being than about religion. And because of this, there are very many real-world health benefits of Taoism.
At a glance, Taoist meditation techniques are about creating, transforming and circulating inner energy, which Taoists call “chi”. You’ve probably heard Bruce Lee’s meditation quotes when he speaks about cultivating your inner energy. That inner energy is chi.
Taoists believe that chi is the universal life energy that resides in all living beings. It is a soft, flowing energy, but a powerful one.
A famous Lao Tzu quotes says,
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
You can understand the real purpose of Daoist meditations from this Lao Tzu quote. It is about liberating the energy in your body and mind so it can flow freely, unobstructed.
You can learn more about this in my guide to chi meditation .
Taoist Meditation Techniques for Chi
One of the real masters of Taoist meditation is Bruce Frantzis, author of the excellent Relaxing into Being
Frantzis tells us,
Meditation can be defined as the process of releasing any blocked energy that is attached to any thought… Meditation is the ability to let go and change the structure inside of you.
Taoist meditation techniques are about removing blockages to improve the flow of chi. Think about Bruce Lee’s meditation interview when he discusses being free like water. Water flows freely. And so should your chi.
“Blockages” are a big deal for our wellbeing.
When we think about how we feel when we are ill or unhappy, compared to how we feel when we are healthy and happy, we realise that the former feels like a blockage, and the latter feels like a free-flowing state.
When were you most happy in your life?
Bring that memory to mind. Do you remember that you felt free, that it was like you were flowing unobstructed?
Now think about the last time you were ill or unhappy.
When I was 30, I went through depression. My mind was absolutely stuffed full of negative thoughts. I was fixated on negativity. There was zero flow in my mind. Just in the same way, when I was a pudgy-faced kid I suffered from asthma very badly. I was in hospital often. And to this day, when I think back, I can still feel the blockage in my chest. Funny how asthma and depression both gave me the same feeling of blocked energy.
- When our energy flows freely we are healthy and happy.
- When it is blocked, we are unhealthy and unhappy.
Taoist meditation is about removing blockages and freeing energy in the body.
One of the main reasons for a blockage is lack of self acceptance.
It is hard to let go and be happy when you do not accept yourself.
And so, just as Buddhists advocate self love and self acceptance, so too do Taoists.
Writing for PersonalTao.com, Casey Kochmer says,
‘The path to understanding Taoism is simply accepting yourself. Live life and discover who you are. Your nature is ever changing and is always the same. Don’t try to resolve the various contradictions in life, instead learn acceptance of your nature.”
Already, we can see that Taoism and Buddhism are similar. And you might be wondering about the difference between Taoism and Buddhism.
Taoist Meditation VS Buddhist Meditation
How do Taoist meditations compare to Buddhist methods?
There are lots of similarities between Buddhist meditation and Taoist meditation. Bruce Lee did both.
Both styles are about purifying the mind and letting go. And both advocate living in the present moment.
However, Taoist practices focus on energy (chi) far more than Buddhist exercises. Because of this, many Daoist practices involve movement.
Taoist movement meditations include:
- Tai chi and Qigong meditation
So, Taoist meditations are movement based (but not always), and traditional Buddhist meditations are usually done while sitting or standing (except for certain methods, such as Zen Walking).
There are other spiritualities that are like Taoism. For instance, there are chi methods used in Hawaiian Huna.
Because of the similarities, it is a good idea for beginners to practice Buddhist and Taoist meditations. See which works best for you (personally I do both).
Now you know how to meditate like Bruce Lee And Lao Tzu
In this guide we’ve looked at the best Taoist meditation techniques and how they can help as part of a healthy, conscious lifestyle.
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