Did you know, Bruce Lee meditated almost every day, using Taoist techniques.
Taoism (or Daoism) is one of the three main religions in China and began in the 6th Century BC with philosopher Lao Tzu. Approximately 13 million Chinese people identify as Taoist, and there are approximately 20 million Taoists worldwide.
The main Taoist philosophy is The Tao, through which 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.
Taoist meditation incorporates various forms of practices including mindfulness, concentration, visualizations and contemplation.
These philosophies and exercises heavily influenced Bruce Lee and many others (indeed even the Jedi).
Although Bruce Lee was a Zen Buddhist (read: Zen meditation techniques.) much of his philosophy was based on The Tao, the core teaching of Daoism.
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”. These ideas come from The Tao.
So, if you want to meditate like Bruce Lee, what should you do? Try the exercises below.
The Taoist Meditations
Like in Buddhism, Taoist breathing meditations 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. Try to have this mentality as you do the following technique.
- 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.
- Place your hands in your lap with the tips of the thumbs touching (Cosmic Mudra).
- Take a moment to relax your face, including your mouth, jaw, eyes, and all other facial muscles.
- 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.
- Focus on your breath.
- Breathe deep in a relaxed way, through the nose. Your diaphragm should move, and your breath should flow freely into your lower abdomen.
- 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.
- 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 “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.
- 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.
- Note that, unlike Buddhists, Taoists do not advocate sitting still for very long periods. This, they say, will cause your energy to become stagnant.
2: Advanced Breathing Method
- Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
3: Zuowang Emptiness
“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
Emptiness meditation technique is precisely as it sounds. It is sitting quietly and emptying the mind of all thoughts and mental phenomena, 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 is similar. This is one of the main techniques Bruce Lee did.
- 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.
- Gently tuck your chin down to help elongate your neck.
- Breathe deeply and focus on the movement of the breath
- Focus your mind on a point of absolute quietness and space. Let your mind rest there.
- Let your thoughts and feelings arise and fall unimpeded so that your mind flows as freely as the tide upon the shore.
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.
4: Zhan Zhuang
Zhan Zhuang (Taoist standing meditation) is arguably the main meditation Bruce Lee used. It’s a method used in tai chi and martial arts to cultivate inner stillness and to create physical strength. It loosely means “pole standing”.
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 he did), Taoist Standing Meditation 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.
- Stand with your feet facing forward, shoulder-width apart. Grasp the floor with your feet. Slightly extend the tip of your toes.
- Imagine your head gently floating towards the ceiling
- Let your hips sink down a little. Keep your knees bent and not locked.
- Roll your shoulders once and then let them relax
- Rest your arms at your sides. There should be a small space at your armpits
- Relax your hands with your palms facing towards your hips.
- Gently tuck your chin down a little
- Soften your gaze and look straight ahead
- Place your tongue on your palette
- Stand in this position for five minutes while meditating on your breath
Zhuangzi is an exercise used to bring your mind into harmony with the flow of chi. It is very similar to other breathing exercises.
Lao Tzu said,
“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.
6: Neiguan (“inner observation”)
Neiguan meditation is an advanced exercise 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.
- Sit comfortably with your legs crossed or kneeling (you might like to place your knees on a cushion).
- Close your eyes and breathe through your nose
- Take ten mindful breaths
- Observe your mind. Notice how thoughts and feelings come and go. Simply observe these things.
- Now imagine the inside of your head, with your skull, your eyes, your nose and so on.
- 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.
7: Qigong and Tai Chi
Qigong translates to “life energy cultivation”, which perfectly describes what the practice is all about. It is a mind-body exercise that promotes health and wellbeing.
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.”
Tai Chi is very similar to Qigong, and for most intents and purposes, the two can be grouped together. Both are 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.” .
To learn more I recommend watching Yang Jwing Ming on Youtube.
Internal Alchemy and Tranquil Sitting
Taoist meditation comes in two forms: Internal Alchemy (Neidan) and Tranquil Sitting.
Internal Alchemy: Otherwise called Neidan, these include various esoteric doctrines and spiritual practices based on external alchemy (waidan), correlative cosmology, Yijing, and medical theory. Tese technologies cultivate the Three Treasures of Jing (“Essence”), Qi (“Breath”) and Shen (“Spirit”).
Tranquil sitting: 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.
Bruce Lee’s philosophy
If you’ve read Bruce Lee’s books. you’ll notice how he often mentions Taoist philosophy. For instance, in The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he says, “All knowledge leads to self-knowledge”, which is a very Daoist philosophy.
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.”
This reflect the famous 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.”
More Taoist meditations
- 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.
- Mind concentrates on something. ( Tiao Xin )
- Body is relaxed ( Tiao Shen )
- Breath is slow, long, and even. ( Tiao Xi )
Benefits of Taoist Meditation
There are significant benefits of Taoist meditation 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 is about creating, transforming and circulating inner energy, which Taoists call “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.”
No surprise that a core part of Taoism is enhancing the flow of chi, which is done partly through meditation.
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.”
Self-acceptance is another core element. 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.”
In this guide, we’ve looked at the best Taoist meditations and at Bruce Lee’s meditation practices. We’ve also seen how these exercises enhance health and wellbeing.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison