Thursday, 4 July 2013

How to Practice Taoist Meditation

What is Taoist Meditation?
Taoist meditation is a form of physical and mental practice that is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism).
Taoism has its roots in ancient Chinese animism and traditional Taoism involved several superstitious beliefs and practices - such as consulting oracles, alchemy and theology - that are no longer credible or useful in the modern world. 

However, one of the most beautiful and useful aspects of this technique is that Taoist meditation does not require or involve these other beliefs.
The pure Taoism of meditation practice is a philosophy of life, based on some simple observations and reflections on natural processes.
This means that it can be applied and practiced by anyone, regardless of their religious background.
Furthermore, it requires no special equipment or any other paraphernalia.
It is a simple, pure technique that can be easily acquired and readily encourages a sense of calm and well-being to enhance daily experience, lower stress and increase happiness.
Tao Te Ching
"The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name"
 As with any meditation technique it requires a little practice to get the habit but once it is achieved, the benefits are considerable and on-going.

There are many forms and expressions of Taoist meditation, from the dance-like moving meditation of Tai Chi Chuan, to a sitting meditation, walking and prostrate meditation.
This article will give you all the information that you need to understand the meaning of the Taoist philosophy and step-by-step instructions for beginning your Taoist meditation practice.
What is Taoism?
Taoism is a philosophy of life founded on the observation that all things are subject to natural laws of existence. This natural, universal principle of 'the way of things' is known as 'the Tao'.
The concept of the Tao was formulated sometime in the period of the political philosopher Confucius, in ancient China. It is attributed to the philosopher, Lao-Tse.
Lao-Tse was the author of a book of poetic meditations called the 'Tao Te Ching' which expresses the Taoist philosophy.
Taoist meditation practices are founded on this understanding and aimed at cultivating a conscious awareness of and sense of unity with, the natural way of the world, the Tao.
The Tao is not supernatural and it is not a god. It is simply the way of things, the sum of natural law, the 'isness' of the universe.

Tai Chi Chuan
The most popular form of Taoist meditation in the west today is Tai Chi Chuan.
It is sometimes surprising to people who have already seen or experienced something of the graceful elegance of the slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan that it has its origins as a form of fighting and self-defence.
The name actually means “The Supreme Way of Energy Boxing”.
The supreme way is the Tao.
The energy is the essential ‘energy’ of living which is called ‘chi’ and can rationally be interpreted as the breath.
The character ‘chuan’ indicates boxing or a martial form.
For a very able demonstration of the full 24 step form of tai Chi Chuan, watch the beautiful video below.

Tai Chi Chuan 24 Steps
However, while it is good to understand the original fighting applications of this form of Taoist meditation it is not necessary to apply the martial aspect in order to obtain the physical, mental and emotional well-being that this practice also develops.
You do not have to use Tai Chi to fight a threatening assailant (although that could also be useful) but to fight off stress, anxiety, lethargy and poor lifestyle.
Making Tai Chi part of your daily meditation practice will bring you stability, clarity, health and longevity.
It will enable you to integrate thought, emotion and action in a unified, balanced dynamic that leads to wholeness.
This is Tai Chi Chuan.

Qi Gong
The Chinese words Qi Gong and pronounced 'chee-kung' signify 'energy cultivation.'
The energy is what is referred to in Chinese as 'chi' and can be understood as the energy that maintains life, namely the breath.
Qi Gong is also known as 'internal martial arts.' That is to say, that the exercise is undertaken in a relatively still posture and the focus of the practice is on breathing, muscular posture, circulation of the blood and so on.
In the martial arts it is used to 'cultivate energy'. In practice this means that it strengthens the muscular core, increases oxygenation and proper circulation of the blood and develops mental concentration.
All of these results are beneficial to humans, regardless of any possible martial application.
There are many forms of Qi Gong exercises and meditations. Below is an example of a typical Qi Gong meditation.

Wu Dang Qi Gong Five Animals Meditation

How To Choose a Tai Chi Instructor

Some handy tips for choosing a teacher:
·         In the first instance, try out a few different classes as you will need to find a teacher with whom you feel truly comfortable and can trust.
·         Look to see if your teacher is a qualified member of a respected national or international Tai Chi or Martial Arts association.
·         Most reputable teachers will offer you your first 'taster' class free of charge. Make sure that the on-going fees are within your budget.
·         Talk to other students to see how they feel about the class.
·         Once you have chosen a good teacher, attend the classes for at least three months before you decide whether it is right for you. These practices can be challenging at first, so you must be patient.
How to Learn Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan
There are several books and DVDs available that can help you learn Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan.
However, there is a very sensible and realistic tradition that suggests the only way to properly learn these practices is from a qualified and experienced teacher.
Fortunately, there is no longer need to seek out mysterious masters in the mountainous regions of China in order to find a teacher!
Tai Chi and Qi Gong training courses are available now days in most sport centers, health centers and community centers throughout the western world.
A quick search in the telephone directory, library or the internet will almost certainly reveal a class within your reach.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that not all these classes are reliable. Always check your teacher's accreditation and qualifications. Being Chinese is not a necessary qualification but being a competent and able practitioner is!
Aside from your regular weekly class, it is important that you integrate your meditation practice into your daily life. A little every day is of far more benefit over time than hours of work one day followed by weeks of inactivity.
Taosit Sitting, Walking and Laying Down Meditation
Aside from the practices of moving meditations such as Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong and their practical applications, there is a powerful contemplative tradition in Taoism expressed in the sitting, walking and laying down meditation practices.
Whichever posture is adopted - sitting, laying down or walking slowly in a circle - the principle inner activity is the same.
The focus of Taoist contemplative meditation is the 'emptying of the self' and becoming 'one with the Tao'.
“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” 
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
With each of these postures, the first act is to relax the body while maintaining a straight spine. Then, with the eyes lowered towards the abdomen, concentrate the mind on the slow, natural in and out rhythm of the breath.
When thoughts and feelings distract you, gently draw the focus back to the breath.
And that is it.

When sitting, some practitioners will use an object of focus - typically a flower or stone or other natural object - to aid concentration.

The key is to seek, over time, to calm the rush of thoughts and the whirlwind of emotion. In the inner stillness that results from this practice, comes an understanding of the Tao.

If you are interested in exploring this further, I recommend the following books and DVDs:

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