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.
Despite the fact that he was mostly Zen Buddhist, Bruce Lee did Taoist meditations, which are some of the most powerful methods 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.”
The idea, of accepting reality moment by moment, is the core philosophy of Daoism.
Bruce Lee trained himself to have complete acceptance of the present moment through the practice of Taoist meditation techniques like neiguan, Emptiness, and movement meditations like Tai Chi and Qigong. And you, too, can achieve the same thing.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to do the Taoist meditations that Bruce Lee used, along with their benefits.
Introduction to the Taoist Meditations Bruce Lee and Lao Tzu Used
Today I ‘m going to share the Taoist meditations that 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.
Through Taoist meditation we cultivate acceptance of the present moment and we learn to live as our true selves.
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.
The word “Guan” is used to describe meditation in Taoism, and was inspired by the Buddhist practice of Anapanasati. The methods used in Taoism include breathing (Zhuanqi), Emptiness (Zuowang), visualization (Cunxiang), inner observation (Neiguan), internal alchemy (Neidan), Embryonic Breath (Tai Xi), Natural Breathing (Shun Hu Xi), and Reverse Breathing (Ni Hu Xi).
There are three core principles about Taoist meditation:
- The mind concentrates on something. ( Tiao Xin )
2.) The Body is relaxed ( Tiao Shen )
3.) The breath is slow, long and even. ( Tiao Xi )
Lao Tzu’s philosophy
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.
Taoism (Daoism) began in the 6th century BC with Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu. Indeed, most meditations used in Daoism are Lao Tzu methods (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, Lao Tzu created a philosophical and practical belief system called the “Tao”.
Through the Tao (the “way”), Lao Tzu taught people to purify the mind and to live with inner peace, in harmony with the natural world. And the main way he did this is with Taoist meditation techniques.
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 a Jedi].
There are lots of pop-culture reference to Daoism. However, not many people in the West know how to do Taoist meditation techniques properly. So let me show you how.
Guide to The Taoist Meditations Bruce Lee Used
Taoist meditation techniques are about living in the present moment, accepting the self, and purifying the mind.
One of my favourite quotes by Bruce Lee on meditation is: “The less effort you put in, the more powerful you will be.” This expresses the core principle of Taoist Meditation. When we stop striving, we become our true selves.
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 Lao Tzu quote reveals the basic philosophy behind Taoist meditation techniques.
The best place for beginners to start is with some of the simple breath-based Taoist meditations.
These are perfect ways to develop quiescence. Like in Buddhist meditation, in Taoist, we use the breath to calm the mind and to cultivate inner stillness.
Speaking about meditation, Bruce Lee said, “Be like water,’ by which he means that we should be free to flow with the moment in an accepting way. That is what you should aim for when you do Taoist meditations.
Try this technique.
Taoist Breathing Technique – Instructions
- Sit with good posture. Sitting in the 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 Zazen, 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 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, certain points 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 palate in the mouth. So, by placing the tongue over that spot, we complete the pathway, which helps chi to flow.
- Notice how 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 to 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. This, they say, will cause your energy to become stagnant).
Advanced Breathing Method
Now that we’ve practiced just sitting still, let’s advance our practice.
- Sit comfortably on a chair or a cushion, or alternatively, you can lie on the floor provided you can do so while maintaining focus
- Rest the tip of your tongue on the top palate and start deep breathing through your nose. As you breathe in, visualise chi entering your body as 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. 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.
Let’s take a look.
Emptiness Meditation (Bruce Lee 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 Emptiness Method
To practice Taoist Emptiness Meditation technique, 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 revolves around the idea of letting your thoughts and feelings rise and fall unimpeded, so that your mind flows as freely as the tide upon the shore.
The secret to successfully performing this method is to let go of your mind. Let your thoughts rise and fall as they will. Do not try 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 Taoist meditation, such as tai chi.
Zhan Zhuang (pole standing)
Zhan Zhuang (Taoist meditation when standing) 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 practised standing still in specific stances. For instance, martial artists will stand in one of the fighting stances and will maintain the position for many minutes (possible why this was one of Bruce Lee’s meditations).
So why would you want to stand still like a pole?
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 practising specific positions (such as Parting The Wild Horse’s Main). It is also a great way of developing your concentration.
Zhuangzi is a Taoist breathing method. It’s an exercise 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.” You can do this sitting (as you do in the Buddhist Anapanasati method).
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.”
I will not provide precise guidance because none was ever written in the ancient texts. Rather, Zhuangzi is described in loose terms as a sort of letting go and silencing of the mind so as to achieve oneness with the universe.
Otherwise referred to as Heart-mind fasting, Confucious described Zhuangzi this way: “Maintaining the unity of your will, listen not with your ears but with your mind. Listen not with your mind but with your primal breath. The ears are limited to listening, the mind is limited to tallying. The primal breath, however, awaits things emptily. It is only through the way that one can gather emptiness, and emptiness is the fasting of the mind.
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 wellbeing and while also providing a gentle workout. Bruce Lee was known to do this along with Tai Chi.
Whenever I practise 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 meditation Bruce Lee helped make famous in the West.
Tai Chi and Qigong are both about cultivating chi, slowing down and being mindful of movement.
The best way to think of Tai Chi is as a gentle and soothing exercise that creates mental and physical wellbeing.
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.
There are significant benefits of Taoist 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.” The philosophy of Daoism is ultimately about health and wellbeing, and because of this, it offers substantial health benefits.
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.” (note that this was the inspiration for Bruce Lee’s own water quote).
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 .
Taoism and 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” of chi are detrimental to health. Simply think of how you feel when you are happy and healthy—free and flowing, correct? Now think about being ill; you feel blocked and obstructed. Hence, health can be thought of as a natural unobstructed flow of energy.
When I was 30, I went through depression. My mind was absolutely stuffed full of negative thoughts. My mind and chi were obstructed. It was the same when I was a pudgy-faced kid. I had asthma and was often in the hospital. 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 leading causes of blocked chi is a 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, letting go, and living in the present moment.
However, Taoist meditations focus on energy (chi) more than Buddhist ones do. Because of this, many Daoist practices involve movement.
Taoist movement meditations include:
- Tai chi and Qigong meditation
Many Taoist meditations are movement-based (but not always), where the majority of Buddhist methods are done sitting (with the exception of some dance meditations and Zen walking).
Because of the similarities, it is a good idea for beginners to practice Buddhist and Taoist meditations. See which works best for you (I do both).
In this guide, we’ve looked at the best Taoist meditation techniques and how they enhance health and wellbeing.
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