Ever wanted to learn how to do Taoist meditation? Are you a beginner? Then this guide is perfect for you.
We all want to enjoy mental health and happiness each and every day. And the smart ones among us understand that to be mentally healthy, you have to put in a little bit of effort.
It’s not different to physical health. To be fit and healthy you need to exercise a little every day. And to be mentally healthy you need to use mental exercises every day.
Meditation is one of the best forms of mental exercises because it helps virtually every part of your body and mind. (You can read about this in my guide to the benefits of meditation).
There are lots of different meditation techniques you can try. But today I would like to talk about Taoist meditation techniques.
There are lots of different Taoist meditation techniques. Some are for beginners. Some are more advance. But no matter what level of meditation you are currently at, you will find a suitable technique in this guide.
Taoist meditations are one of the best ways to clear your mind, to control your chi, and to create longevity and well-being. Plus, these are the types of meditation techniques that Bruce Lee used … so… there’s that.
Before we dig into the rich soil of Taoist meditation, let’s take a look at Taoism as a belief system.
An Introduction To Taoism
If you would like to try Taoist meditation, it’s good to know a little about Taoism first.
Taoism, which is also called 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 Lzo Tzu. And the majority of Taoist meditations come from Lao Tzu (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. And so he devised a philosophical and practical belief system to enable us to do precisely that. Through the Tao (the “way”), he taught how to purify the mind and live in inner peace, in harmony with the natural world.
So, what do Taoists believe in? Harmony. Self acceptance. And following “the way”.
Not only do Taoist beliefs offer an enlightened spiritual perspective, there are also lots of benefits of Taoism.
The Benefits Of Taoism And Taoist Meditation
Writing for UrantiaBook.com, Meredith Sprunger says, “This early Taoism was more a philosophy than a religion. it was concerned about the quality of life and had little interest in the heavens, gods, rituals, or life after death.”
So, 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 is about creating, transforming and circulating inner energy, which Taoists call “chi”.
You’ve probably heard the word “chi” In pop culture. It’s used in lots of movies and animes, and it’s also the inspiration behind The Force in Star Wars.
Taoists believe that chi is the universal life energy that resides in all living beings. And this energy is incredibly important to our health and wellbeing. Most Taoist meditations center around the flow of this energy.
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.”
This Lao Tzu quote is at the heart of all Taoist meditation.
Taoist meditation is about liberating the energy in your body and mind so it can flow freely, unobstructed.
One of the real masters of Taoist meditation is Bruce Frantzis. He describes Taoist meditation this way,
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.
Releasing these blockages, and letting chi flow freely, is very beneficial to your heath and 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.
With that in mind, let me ask you a question:
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, at its core, is about removing blockages and freeing energy in your body.
One of the main reasons for a blockage is lack of self acceptance. It is hard to flow when you do not accept yourself. And so, just as Buddhist advocate self love and self acceptance, so too do Taoists.
Writing for PersonalTao.com, Casey Kochmer says,
‘The path of 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.
Taoist Meditation VS Buddhist Meditation
Many people begin with Buddhist meditation practices. If that’s you, you might be wondering what the difference is between Buddhist and Taoist meditation techniques.
There are actually lots of similarities between Buddhist meditation and Taoist meditation. Both are about purifying the mind and letting go. And both advocate living in the present moment.
However, Taoist meditation focuses on energy (chi) far more than Buddhist meditation does. And because of this, many Taoist meditation techniques involve movement (tai chi, Qi Gong, etc.) where traditional Buddhist meditation is generally done while sitting or standing (except for certain techniques, such as Zen Walking).
For this reason, it can be a good idea to combine the seated Buddhist meditations with Taoist movement meditations (QiGong, Tai Chi etc).
How To Do Taoist Meditation Techniques
As we’ve discussed above, Taoist meditation is about living in the present moment, accepting the self, and purifying the mind.
Whichever type of Daoist meditation you try, you should strive for quiescence. As Lao Tzu says,
“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.”
As you practice Taoist meditation, bear this Lao Tzu quote in mind.
The Beginners Taoist Meditation
Most of us have not cultivated the inner serenity of a monk. And so, we need a little help producing quiescence.
When we meditate, many of us fidget, stretch, become distracted… stillness is an art that needs to be learned. And the best way to learn the art of stillness is to sit still and meditate on the breath.
This beginners Taoist breathing meditation will help produce the right mental foundation.
Take five or ten minutes out of your day (if you have meditated before you can go for a longer session of twenty minutes to half an hour). Unlike other belief systems, Taoists do not advocate sitting still for very long periods of time. This, they say, will cause your energy to become stagnant. 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.
- Sit with good posture. Sitting in lotus position is optional and certainly not necessary. What matters is that we it 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, similar to the position used in Zen meditation, which is a mudra called the Cosmic Mudra.
- 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 Taoist meditation (and other forms) 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 also 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 fifteen 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 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).
Advancing The Basic Taoist Meditation Technique
Now that we’ve practiced just sitting still, we can begin to advance the basic Taoist meditation 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 (I know some of you guys like to nod off while you meditate in bed, so try to avoid that).
- Next, do a quick body scan meditation (click the link for a guide).
- Now, 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 techniques 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.
And we are done.
This is one of the very best Taoist meditation techniques for deep relaxation and purity of mind. I hope you have 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 at some of the best Taoist practices.
Emptiness Meditation Technique
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 meditative bliss and inner peace.
You may have heard of the Confucius technique “Heart Mind Fasting”. Emptiness meditation technique is similar. 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. It is about letting your thoughts and feelings rise and fall without interference, so that your mind flows as freely as the tide upon the shore.
I’ll share a tip with you. The secret to performing this meditation technique successfully is to let go of your mind. Let your thoughts rise and fall as they will without trying to control them. If you would like help with this, let me know.
Even though this technique sounds incredibly simple, it can be challenging. Many people become distracted. If this happens to you, you might prefer to use a more involved technique, such as tai chi, which gives you something to actively do so you do not lose focus.
Zhan Zhuang is a Taoist practice that is 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 meditation” 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 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 Zhungi is one of the best ways of mastering stances. If you are into tai chi or Qigong, Zhan Zhuangi 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, it improves our focus and inner stillness.
If you would like to know how to do Zhuang Zhuang, I recommend this article on Tai Chi Basics. To quote,
“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.”
Zhuangi (Taoist Breathing Meditation)
Zhuangi is Taoist breathing meditation. It’s a technique that is used to bring your mind into harmony with the flow of chi. It is very similar to other breathing meditations.
When he was explaining Zhuangi, Lao Tzu said we must, “focus vital breath until it is supremely soft.” This can be done while sitting still, similar to 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 Lao Tzu quote 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”)
Neiguan is an advanced Taoist meditation technique that I would not recommend for beginners. In Neiguan meditation 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, or alternatively there are several good books on Taoist meditation that you might like to try.
QiGong translates to “life energy cultivation”, which perfectly describes when the practice is all about. Qi Gong is a mind body exercise that promotes health and well-being and that also give you a gentle workout. The movements are slow and very controlled. Whenever I practice Qi Gong 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 techniques that are used to nourish mind and body.
Because QiGong is so in-depth, it is best to learn from a book or DVD, or via the National QiGong Institute, which you can reach via the link above.
Tai Chi is very similar to QiGong, and for most intents and purposes the two can be grouped together. Although there are some differences, both are about cultivating chi, both involve slow and gentle movements, and both are a form of dynamic meditation. Probably the biggest difference to anyone in the West is that Tai Chi is currently more popular, so there are far more resources for learning tai chi than there are for Qigong.
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.
If you are interested in learning Tai Chi, I highly recommend BodyWisdom Media’s Tai Chi For Beginners DVD. Pick up a copy here. http://amzn.to/2mQ7N7K
In this guide to Taoist meditation we’ve looked at the best Daoist meditation techniques and how they can help as part of a healthy, conscious lifestyle.
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