Taoist meditation is a powerful practice that originates from ancient China.
But how does it work?
And how do you begin practicing Taoist meditation?
In this guide, you'll discover everything you need to know including techniques, exercises and Tao prayers to expand your practice.
Let's jump in...
1. What Is Taoism?
Taoism (also known as Daoism) is followed by millions of people around the world.
It's recognised as a religion because of it's following.
However, Taoism is more like a philosophy.
It actually originated from Laozi, an ancient philosopher from China.
This philosophy is about discovering universal truth:
But not just understanding it - you have to live in harmony and accept those universal truths too.
1.1. What Are Tao Meditations?
Tao meditations are a practice used alongside Taoism.
This form of meditation has been used for many centuries.
This form of meditation focuses specifically on mindfulness, concentration, visualization, and contemplation.
Sometimes Tao meditations are referred to as “returning to the source” or “embracing the one.”
Although other forms of meditation are similar to Tao meditations, they aren’t the same.
According to Project Meditation, the mild movements used in Taoist meditation are made spiritually as you’re moving physically.
Spiritual grounding is a big component of this practice.
“To understand the limitation of things, desire them.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
These meditative applications are related to similar meditations used alongside the practice of Buddhism. In fact, guan or “observation” was incorporated into Daoism meditation after being inspired by Tianti Buddhist anapanasati or “mindfulness of breath” in the sixth century.
However, what makes Taoist meditation different from Buddhist meditation is that Taoist meditation focuses more on energy or chi, also sometimes spelt qi.
Taoist meditation techniques also have a close correlation with Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine.
Through engaging in Taoist meditation regularly, you can gain a higher state of awareness and a stronger understanding of the self.
Likewise, you can gain mental clarity and physical health benefits, like lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan, as a result of engaging in Taoist meditation.
It’s said that by harmonizing with yourself through Tao meditation, you’ll be able to harmonize with others.
In turn, this can help us achieve a more harmonious universe overall.
2. Taoist Meditation Techniques
There are multiple techniques of Taoist meditation depending on the goal you want to obtain.
These power techniques are often divided into three different categories:
Before engaging in Tao meditation, however, it’s important to first understand what this form of meditation entails.
Joining a Tao temple can also help better familiarize yourself with the practice before delving into Tao meditation.
Now here's some examples of Taoist meditation techniques...
2.1. Breathing Meditation (Zhuanqi)
This Taoist meditation technique emphasizes focusing on your inhalation and exhalation breathing patterns.
Breathing meditation is also often used alongside Buddhism and Hinduism.
In Taoism breathing meditation, it’s important to continue until the “breath becomes soft.”
Here's how to get started:
- While maintaining good posture, find a comfortable spot to sit.
- Close your eyes halfway. Fixate your eyes on your nose.
- Put your right hand on the center of your stomach and your left hand on your chest. These placements will help you partake in the breathing exercises correctly.
- As you breathe deeply, pay close attention to how your chest and stomach move against your hands.
Tip: If you’re engaging in breathing meditation correctly, you should notice that your stomach moves outwards and inwards more than your chest.
2.2. Emptiness Meditation (Zuowang)
For those dealing with stress, anxiety, or other internal conflicts, emptiness meditation is a great Taoist technique to engage in.
The purpose of this type of meditation is to clear the mind of unwanted concerns, negative emotions, or an overabundance of thoughts or mental images.
Emptiness meditation is a little more complex than other types of meditation.
If you have difficulty with this type of meditation, try visualization or Qigong as an alternative:
- While maintaining good posture, find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- Scan your body for any signs of tension or discomfort.
- Take your time as you relax each body part and muscle on your body.
- Experience the space around you.
- Next, bring your awareness to the space of your mind. Focus on the emptiness of your mind with no thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or emotions.
- If you must, you can visualization “emptiness” in your head in the form of darkness. This may help you experience mental and emotional emptiness as well.
- When a session of emptiness meditation is complete, you should feel a great sense of inner peace or emptiness ( samadhi).
2.3. Visualization Meditation (Cunxiang)
In Taoist meditation, visualization is a technique that involves imagining visuals and then connecting those visuals to mental stimuli.
According to the NorthShore University HealthSystem, when one imagines calming visuals, it becomes easier to calm the physical body and tackle stressful thoughts on a mental level.
Visualization alone is a very powerful meditation technique on its own or in combination with other forms of Taoist meditation.
Apart from improving relaxation and decreasing stress, it’s said that it has the power to reduce depression, aid insomnia, improve immunity, and even relieve chronic pain and headaches.
Here's how to practice this technique:
- While maintaining good posture, find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes. This can help you focus on mental visuals and detract yourself from physical visuals.
- Completely clear your mind. Instead, focus your attention to your breathing.
- Think of a positive visual, something that makes you happy, comfortable, relaxed and/or positive.
- Slowly inhale, and slowly exhale as you release love and positivity to the world.
2.4. Neiguan (Inner Observation/Vision)
Through this Taoist meditation technique which has been around since the seventh or eighth century, the goal is to delve into tranquility and peace as you discover your genuine life path.
Nei means “inner” while guan translates to “view.”
Via this meditative practice, you’ll be visualizing both inside your mind as well as within the body.
Specifically, you’ll visualize your thought processes, your organs or “inner deities,” and your vital force or “qi” movements.
Neiguan meditation has correlations with traditional Chinese medicine.
Each of the five main organs that are visualized via Neiguan meditation helps you connect with your body in a deeper way.
Each organ of traditional Chinese medicine is connected to one emotion, one color, and one of five elements in Chinese philosophy.
Through Neiguan meditation, you must be able to join the breath and the body together, which isn’t always easy for beginners meditators.
- While maintaining good posture, find a comfortable spot to sit cross-legged on the floor.
- Close your eyes halfway. Fixate your eyes on your nose.
- Take three deep breaths via your nose.
- After letting your body settle and relax, start to feel the inside of your body. This may take a few minutes.
- Once you are able to feel the inside of your body, begin to visualize what’s inside.
Tip: Due to its complexity, it’s often best to join a Taoist group, get a personal teacher, and/or read a book for this form of meditation.
It takes significant practice to be able to visualize each of the five organs in the body. Thus, it’s a good idea to study traditional Chinese medicine as well as Neiguan.
2.5. Neidan Meditation (Internal Alchemy)
Neidan meditation is another complex form of Taoist meditation.
Via this technique, one engages in a combination of visualization, concentration, movement, and breathing exercises.
It’s recommended that you focus on concentration/visualization, movement, and breathing exercises alone before building up to Neidan meditation.
Because of the intricacies involved in this form of meditation, it’s also recommended that you get help from a professional and/or read a book on Nedian meditation.
3. Taoist Meditation Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques are an integral part of many Taoist meditations.
In fact, those who practice Taoism believe proper breathing is essential for good overall health.
However, most people have poor breathing habits:
The purpose of Taoist meditation breathing techniques is to build your qi, induce relaxation, and improve internal organ functioning.
Taoist breathing typically involves four stages: inhalation, retention, exhalation, and pause.
Here's a few techniques for engaging in Taoist breathing...
3.1. Embryonic Breathing (Tai Xi)
Embryonic breathing is sometimes referred to as “stopping the breath.”
However, in this case, stopping the breath isn’t synonymous with holding your breath.
Rather, through this breathing technique, one no longer becomes aware of their breathing because of how natural it occurs.
This technique is especially great for those who tend to focus too much on their breathing, which may result in unintentional and accidental hyperventilation, hypoventilation, or breath-holding.
Holding a feather in front of your nose, you’ll notice that your breath doesn’t make the feather move or may very subtly make it move.
This can help you to learn to breathe more naturally and not focus too much on your breathing itself.
3.2. Natural Breathing (Shun Hu Xi)
As expected, natural breathing refers to the breathing we engage in daily.
However, many of us still fail to engage in a proper natural breathing technique.
Natural breathing involves contracting your diaphragm as you inhale, pushing out the belly, and inflating your lungs.
The opposite occurs as you exhale.
Breathing via this technique should be slow, deep, fine, and even to ensure you’re inhaling enough oxygen and releasing enough carbon dioxide.
3.3. Reverse Breathing (Ni Hu Xi)
Reverse breathing is essentially the opposite of natural breathing.
It involves inhaling deeply, contracting your abdomen, and letting the air delve into your upper lungs.
As you exhale via this breathing technique, you push your abdomen out.
Via reverse breathing, the air you inhale moves horizontally back and forth in the stomach as you exhale.
4. Taoist Meditation Exercises
4.1. What Is Tao Yin?
Tao yin or Taoist yoga, one of the original forms of Qigong, are different types of exercises practiced by Taoists to ignite qi or inner energy.
These exercises are often done sitting or lying down but in some cases can also be done in standing position.
To goal of Tao yin is to bolster the mind, body, and spirit by creating a balance between internal and external energies.
You can also gain strength and flexibility by engaging in these exercises.
4.2. Examples Of Tao Yin Exercises
Although Taoists move slowly when engaging in different meditative exercises, you can still gain muscle and tone, lose weight, and boost your strength and endurance.
Here's some the best Tao Yin exercises you can try at home...
Exercise 1: Stomach Rubbing
This exercise is ideal if you suffer from constipation, insomnia, bronchitis, diarrhea, obesity, ulcers or stomach pain, or female-related problems.
- Begin by lying down on your back in a comfortable spot.
- Place the palm of your hand on your belly button with your dominant hand.
- Rub your stomach clockwise from the center. Start with small circles before gradually making larger circles.
- After completing the latter movement several times, you can begin rubbing your stomach in a counterclockwise motion. Again, start with small circles before gradually making larger circles.
- Repeat rubbing your stomach clockwise and counterclockwise as much as you need.
Exercise 2: Peacock Looks At It's Tail
With the Peacock Looks at Its Tail Tao Yin exercise, you’ll be able to stretch your shoulders, neck, thighs, and thorax.
- Start by lying face down on the floor in a comfortable spot.
- Place your palms on the ground at mid-chest.
- Raise your upper body by pushing up with your arms.
- Slide your right knee up underneath your chest.
- Ensure your hands are aligned with your right knee.
- Lower your spine onto your right thigh, and tuck your chin in.
- As you slowly twist your vertebrae up to the right, lean toward the right.
- Then twist your thoracics, shoulder, neck, and finally your head to where you can look at your right heel. Hold the position for about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Afterward, return to the center.
- Repeat this exercise two more times. Then perform the exercise on the opposite side three times.
Exercise 3: Deer Pose
The Deer Pose in Qigong / Tao Yin, which is related to the water element, can aid with the bladder and kidneys while also improving the body’s connective tissues.
- Begin in the Butterfly Pose. Move one leg back behind the body while keeping your other knee bent.
- If you want a deeper stretch, you keep your feet further away from your hips.
- You may keep your body upright while holding the pose, twist to the side, or even fold your front leg over.
- Switch sides once finished. Repeat each side three times each.
5. Taoist Prayer
Unlike prayer apart of many other religions, Taoists don’t pray to a specific god or series of gods.
Although many consider Taoism a religion, some state that's it's more of a philosophy.
However, prayer still plays a valuable role in the practice of Taoism.
Rather than praying directly to a higher being, Taoists pray in accordance with the Tao as they engage in meditation.
In a sense, Taoists essentially pray “to themselves.”
5.1. Taoist Prayer Examples
Prayers in Taoism are often conceived in the form of complex, spiritual poems.
These prayers may gravitate around asking for forgiveness, for blessings or success to come, or for peace and blessings for your loved ones.
When engaging in prayer, Taoists ball their fists with their left fist over their right as their thumbs are tucked, forming a Ying-Yang symbol.
As a sacrifice, incense sticks are often offered with the left hand.
Some titles of specific prayers of Taoism are as follows:
- “My First Prayer”
- “Lao-tsu’s Peace Prayer”
- “Balance Prayer”
- “Disciples of Life”
- “Save Your Servant”
- “Taoist Prayer”
- “Nature’s Course”