8 Bruce Lee Meditation Techniques From Taoism

bruce lee taoist medtation article

Did you know, Bruce Lee meditated almost every day, using Taoist meditation techniques.

Taoist meditation techniques incorporate various forms of practices including mindfulness, concentration, visualizations and contemplation. These methods are now widely used, especial in martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine. And some Daoist methods are among the deepest meditations ever.

Bruce Lee helped make these meditations popular through his movies and interviews

Bruce Lee was passionate about meditation, and especially about Taoist mediation techniques like Emptiness meditation. Indeed, Bruce Lee quoted the father of Daoism Lao Tzu in many of his interviews. 

Although Bruce Less was a Zen Buddhist (read: Zen meditation techniques.) much of his philosophy was based on The Tao, the core teaching of Daoism. 

photo of bruce less meditating in Taoist style
photo of bruce less meditating

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.”

Daoist philosophy advocates accepting reality.  

Bruce Lee trained himself to have complete acceptance of the present moment through the practice of Taoist meditation techniques like Neiguan, Emptiness, and movement practices like Tai Chi meditation.  

In this tutorial, I will show you how to do the Taoist meditations Bruce Lee used, along with their benefits.

Guide To The Taoist Meditation Bruce Lee Used

Bruce Lee’s meditation training, and indeed Taoist meditation techniques in general, come in two forms: Internal Alchemy (Neidan) and Tranquil Sitting. Most of the methods are various forms of Chi meditation.

Internal Alchemy: Otherwise called Neidan, these include various esoteric doctrines and spiritual practices based on external alchemy (waidan), correlative cosmology, Yijing, and medical theory.

Internal Alchemy even includes sexual hygiene [Baldrian-Hussein 2008, The Encyclopedia of Taoism].

When we use these technologies we cultivate the Three Treasures of Jing (“Essence”), Qi (“Breath”) and Shen (“Spirit”).  

Tranquil sitting: Taoist Tranquil Sitting refers to a more common form of meditation, similar to Buddhist practices. Taoist Master Yin Shis Tzu popularised these methods in the early 1900s. Similar to Zen meditation, these methods range from simple breathing to some very deep meditations.  

What Taoist Meditation is about…  

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.

To achieve this, Lao Tzu created a philosophical and practical belief system called the “Tao”, which has become incredibly influential not just in Taoism but worldwide (for an example, read my guide to Jedi Meditation).

Bruce Lee was heavily influenced by it too, as he stated in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

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. The main way he did this is with Taoist meditation techniques.    

There are various Taoist meditation techniques:

  • Guan (observation), which includes a number of techniques and was inspired by Buddhist Anapanasati (mindful breathing). 
  • Breathing (Zhuanqi)
  • Emptiness (Zuowang)
  • Visualization (Cunxiang)
  • Inner vision (Neiguan)
  • Internal alchemy (Neidan)
  • Embryonic Breath (Tai Xi)
  • Natural Breathing (Shun Hu Xi)
  • Reverse Breathing (Ni Hu Xi).

Although there are many different techniques, they share a few core principles.  

  1. Mind concentrates on something. ( Tiao Xin )
  2. Body is relaxed ( Tiao Shen )  
  3. Breath is slow, long, and even. ( Tiao Xi ) 

   Video

Taoist Meditation Technique For Beginners To Control Chi

Bruce Lee on meditation:

If you’ve read many Bruce Lee books. you’ll notice how Taoist philosophy inspired his beliefs.

For instance, in The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee says, “All knowledge leads to self-knowledge”, which is one of my favourite Bruce Lee quotes. 

He also describes meditation in the book, saying, “Effort within the mind further limits the mind, because effort implies struggle towards a goal and when you have a goal, a purpose, an end in view, you have placed a limit on the mind.”

In the quote above Bruce Lee mirrored the following Lao Tzu quote: 

“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. They are about quiescence. 

Now, let’s look at the exercises.

 

Breathing Taoist Meditation Technique

The best place for beginners to start is with some of the simple breath-based Taoist meditation techniques. These are perfect ways to develop quiescence. Like in Buddhist meditation, in Taoist meditation techniques, we use the breath to calm the mind and 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.  Indeed, this should be your aim when you practise Taoist meditation techniques. 

Instructions

  1. Sit with good posture, preferably in lotus or half lotus. Open your hips. If cross-legged, place your right foot atop your left ankle. Place your left foot beneath your right ankle. Or simply sit in a chair. 
  2. Place your hands in your lap with the tips of the thumb touching (Cosmic Mudra).
  3. Take a moment to relax your face, including your mouth, jaw, eyes, and all other facial muscles.
  4. 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. 
  5. Focus on your breath.
  6. Breathe deep in a relaxed way, through the nose. Your diaphragm should move, and your breath should flow freely into your lower abdomen.  
  7. The flow of the breath into the body will massage the organs, producing a deep sense of relaxation.
  8. Continue to focus on breathing for ten minutes.
  9. 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 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. By placing the tongue over that spot, we complete the pathway.
  10. Notice how saliva is building in your mouth.  Taoists believe saliva is a precious substance, so precious, in fact, that they call it “golden dew”. Saliva contains hormones, proteins and other vital substances. When you notice a build-up of saliva on your tongue, swallow forcefully.  
  • 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 practised sitting still, let’s advance our practice.

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair or a cushion, or alternatively, you can lie on the floor provided you can do so while maintaining focus.
  2. Rest the tip of your tongue on the top palate and start breathing deeply 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Carrying the pure white light with you, come back to the present moment as you open your eyes.

This is one of the best Taoist meditation techniques for deep relaxation and purity of mind. I hope you enjoyed it.

 

 Zuowang 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.

“Whoever realizes the void is filled with life and power and the love of all beings.” — Bruce Lee meditation quote

The Emptiness Taoist meditation technique 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.

Instructions

  1. Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Sit either in seiza (kneeling) or in one of the forms of lotus. For instance, you can sit with your legs crossed and one foot on one ankle. Your spine should be straight but relaxed. 
  2. Gently tuck your chin down to help elongate your neck. 
  3. Breathe deeply and focus on the movement of the breath
  4. Focus your mind on a point of absolute quietness and space. Let your mind rest there. Should thoughts or feelings come, simply let them flow through you.

“The usefulness of the cup is its emptiness”. – Bruce Lee on meditation

The Emptiness Taoist Meditation Technique revolves around the idea of letting your thoughts and feelings arise and fall unimpeded so that your mind flows as freely as the tide upon the shore.

To perform this method successfully, 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 meditation)

Zhan Zhuang (Taoist meditation technique 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.

Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet facing forward, shoulder-width apart. Grasp the floor with your feet. Slightly extend the tip of your toes.
  2. Imagine your head gently floating towards the ceiling
  3. Let your hips sink down a little. Keep your knees bent and not locked.
  4. Roll your shoulders once and then let them relax
  5. Rest your arms at your sides. There should be a small space at your armpits
  6. Relax your hands with your palms facing towards your hips.
  7. Gently tuck your chin down a little
  8. Soften your gaze and look straight ahead
  9. Place your tongue on your palette
  10. Stand in this position for five minutes while meditating on your breath

Zhuangzi (Traditional Breathing Taoist Meditation Technique)

Zhuangzi is a breath-based Taoist meditation technique. 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.” [Evidence for Stages of Meditation in Early Taoism, Harold D. Roth]

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, Confucius 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. However, it is one of the major Taoist meditation techniques that Lao Tzu advocated 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. 

Instructions

  1. Sit comfortably with your legs crossed or kneeling (you might like to place your knees on a cushion). 
  2. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose
  3. Take ten mindful breaths
  4. Observe your mind. Notice how thoughts and feelings come and go. Simply observe these things. 
  5. Now imagine the inside of your head, with your skull, your eyes, your nose and so on. 
  6. Continue slowly down your body. Visualize each part of your body and its function. For instance, visualize how your heart pumps blood around your body, and how your lungs expand to allow air in. Essentially, you are visualizing the entirety of your being. 

 

 

Qigong and Tai Chi (dynamic Taoist meditation techniques)

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 the 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. For learning Tai Chi, I personally recommend the teachings of Paul Lam.

This is another 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.”  

Benefits of Taoist Meditation Techniques

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 water quote).

You can understand the real purpose of Daoist meditations techniques from this Lao Tzu quote. It is about liberating the energy in your body and mind so it can flow freely, unobstructed. 

Unblocking chi

One of the universal benefits of Taoist meditation technique is that they cultivate chi. 

In Relaxing into Being, Bruce Frantzis says, “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 thirty, 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.

Self-acceptance

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.”

 Naturally, you can also expect the other general benefits of meditation. For instance, Taoist meditation techniques stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system while quietening the amygdala and reducing cortisol to help with stress. They also exercise the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which helps with cognitive functioning. And they boost the feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.   

Already, we can see that Taoism and Buddhism are similar. And you might be wondering about the difference between Taoism and Buddhism. The main difference is that Taoist meditation is all about cultivating the flow of chi, where Buddhist meditation is about understanding the mind. Both, however, advocate acceptance and mindfulness.

 

  

Summary

In this guide, we’ve looked at the best Taoist meditation techniques and at Bruce Lee’s meditation practices. We’ve also seen how these exercises enhance health and wellbeing.

My mission with this blog is to create inner peace for a million people by teaching mindfulness. That is also why I give meditation lessons online. If that is a purpose that resonates with you, why not book an online meditation lesson with me today.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.