Traditional Taoist meditation originates from the I-Ching and includes both the water and the fire methods. The water method, passed down from the sage Lao Tse, was taught to me by Taoist Lineage Master Liu Hung Chieh. The principles of the water method encompass relaxing, letting go, balancing and dissolving tension without strain or force.
The Water Method of Taoist Meditation is done in four distinct progressive stages:
1. Chi Gung and certain chi dissolving practices teach you to feel energy and your bodys deepest and most subtle physical sensations. These techniques strengthen your body, mind and chi, and release the trapped energy that affects your physical health and vitality.
2. Deeper dissolving practices help you to release your attachments and aversions, including embedded emotional, mental and psychic traumas.
3. As your practices mature, your mind will encounter occasional experiences of deep silence, until your inner being completely stills.
4. The final stage is internal alchemy, which ultimately leads to union with the Tao.
Taoist Water Meditation works with all the bodys major internal organs, glands, energy channels and centers. It also uses shamanic and five-element practices to release stress, attain inner stillness and become aware of your intuition. Meditation can be done moving, standing, sitting, lying down and during sex.
The Sitting Practices
Sitting practices can be more powerful than standing or moving practices because, assuming your energy channels have opened and your body strength has grown sufficiently from the standing and moving practices, you can put 100 percent of your attention and effort into the nonphysical parts of your being. This 100 percent concentration allows you to tap into the mindstream much more directly, since you are disturbed by neither insufficiently opened energy channels and deep internal body imbalances nor the physical body sensations inherently involved in a standing or moving practice. Whereas there is a limit on physical stamina as regards standing and moving practices, sitting practices are virtually open-ended on this level. Some people have been known to sit and meditate for weeks on end without moving. The longer you can sit, the more layers you can strip off the contents that hide the nature of Consciousness from your normal awareness.
Sitting is usually a more direct and rapid path to exceptionally profound inner transformation than is standing or moving. However, after sitting has given you direct, easy access first to your mindstream and next to Consciousness itself, you can use this heightened awareness to enable the moving practices to be just as profound as sitting. You can also take all the standing and moving internal chi development techniques and apply them to control your internal body and energy channel movements while sitting motionless. This allows you to sit for much longer periods of time. These internal development techniques are taken from the sixteen-part Taoist nei gung system (described in Chapter 2 of Relaxing into Your Being by B. K. Frantzis), which is normally learned first in standing and moving practices for ease of assimilation.
Body Alignments for All Taoist Sitting Practices
The basic posture for Taoist meditation requires sitting either in a chair with your feet on the ground, or cross-legged on the floor. Sitting in a chair is more practical for most Westerners, who generally do not grow up sitting or squatting on the floor as most Asians traditionally have. While sitting in a chair, keep your spine straight without leaning to the front, back, left, or right. To straighten your spine initially or when it begins to sag, you will find it to be more effective to lift upward from the front of the spine. The more you can relax the front of your throat, chest, and belly, the easier this lifting will be, and vice versa. If you tire and feel the need to bend your spine forward, focus your mind on relaxing the back part of your spine.
In sitting, apply the usual chi gung principles of posture, as follows:
The tailbone points downward or forward (Fig. 5F)
The midriff (the space between the top of the pelvis and the ribs) and kwa are lifted (Fig. 5E and 5C)
The spine is straight (Fig. 5B)
The armpits are kept open, with the arms slightly away from the torso (Fig. 5D and 5.1L)
The chest and shoulders are relaxed and sunk (Fig. 5.1J)
The head should be lifted gently from the top of the neck (Fig. 5A), and positioned directly over the pelvis (Fig. 5.1I)1
The bodys left and right channels are aligned (Fig. 5.1K)
The bodys central channel is aligned (Fig. 5.1I)
The Taoist sitting position differs from the standard yoga or Buddhist sitting postures in that, using the Taoist method, you do not arch your back, throw your shoulders back, or breathe from your chest. Rather, the Taoist posture emphasizes achieving the natural relaxation of a baby. It calls for breathing from the belly, the back of the lungs, and the spine, as opposed to breathing from the chest.
Three Basic Chair-Sitting Postures
As noted, to meditate the Taoist way, you do not have to sit on the floor in a full or half lotus position.2 In the West, many people suffer from back problems or an injured or stiff hip, knee, or ankle, any of which can prevent them from attaining the full or half lotus. These conditions are so prevalent in the West that ergonomic chairs are designed for desk-bound workers to accommodate or avoid such physical problems. The critical goal for anyone practicing meditation is the freeing of the spirit, not sitting on the floor with your legs twisted beyond your capacity. The chair-sitting meditation posture described herein has been used by Taoist meditators and in times past by many Chinese emperors, members of the Imperial Court, and senior Chinese officials and magistrates.
Thoughts on Sitting Positions for Meditation
Before my back was severely damaged in a car accident, I had no trouble sitting in the half or full lotus position for hours on end. Over a twenty-year span I had practiced stretching my body doing martial arts, Taoist yoga, and hatha yoga. For two years in India, like the Indian population in general, I sat on the floor, not in a chair, and I squatted to go to the toilet. But after my car accident, I found that owing to the shifting realities of body pain I could progress further in meditation by sitting in a chair rather than on the floor. Liu Hung Chieh, who was trained in the classic Chinese tradition, also practiced sitting in a chair as well as sitting on the floor. You do not have to sit like a yogi to be able to meditate.
Three Ways to Sit and Meditate in a Chair
There are three ways you can meditate while sitting in a chair.3 These same chair-sitting techniques can be adapted to any type of office work, especially to work involving computers.
1. When sitting in a chair, keep both feet flat on the floor, with the outsides of your feet being no wider than your shoulders (Figs. 5H and 5.1N). If you can, rest the palms of your hands on your kneecaps (Fig. 5G), your fingertips -ideally pointing straight ahead. Your elbows should be bent and loose, not stiff-armed (Fig. 5D); keep your elbow tips gently moving downward toward your thighs. If you raise your elbows your shoulders will raise, and your spine will then tire more rapidly. Move your elbows gently to the sides. This move will create space inside your body where your spine can move easily and be more easily held straight. In an alternative method, place your palms along the bodys -center line, directly in front of your lower tantien. Your palms may be touching surface to surface with hands lightly clasped (Fig. 5.2), or the back of one hand may rest on the palm of the other (Fig. 5M), palms facing up (which hand is on top may be alternated over time). If at all possible, do not touch the backrest of the chair with your spine (Fig. 5 and 5.1). Your body should be at ease, and your spine in particular should remain relaxed and straight(Fig. 5B).
2. You may find that all of these unsupported back positions are too straining or painful for your back or neck. If so, sit back in the chair as you slide down the backrest (Fig. 7a), and press your upper buttock muscles backward and upward to lift against the back of the chair (Fig. 7b). This motion allows your buttock and back muscles to connect without gaps. The motion pushes your lower back muscles up against the back of the chair (Fig. 7c), thereby stabilizing support of your lower back, just as a flying buttress in a gothic cathedral supports a wall. In contrast, if your buttock muscles push downward into the seat of the chair, the muscles of your lower back can also be pulled down. A downward muscle movement increases the arch of your lower back, compressing your vertebrae and straining your lower back muscles. This progression can then pull the vertebrae of your lower back out of alignment. So keep your spine straight, without any rounding or slumping. Keep your spine away from making contact with the middle and upper part of your chairs backrest (Fig. 7c-1). Only your rear end touches the back of the chair to push your lower back muscles upwards, adding back support.
3. If you still experience too much physical pain, then allow your back to be fully supported by the back of the chair. This is best done in two stages. First, as you sit consciously use the pressure of the chair against your back (Fig 8a) to keep as much space as possible between each of your vertebrae along the whole length of your spine. You can use the adhesive quality and friction of the fasciae of your back to stick to the chairs backrest, similar to the way a wet T-shirt sticks to your skin. Second, when being fully supported by a backrest pay attention, at regular intervals, to equally lifting and lengthening all parts of the spine (Fig 8b), with the idea of keeping the spinal cord lightly stretched and not compressed. Uneven compression of the spinal cord will eventually result in the back collapsing somewhere, straining muscles or causing vertebrae to misalign. Sitting correctly relieves these problems. Your sitting time should be spent working on your internal meditation techniques, rather than squirming or being distracted by physical discomfort.
Taoist Sitting Meditation: Using the Breath, Vibration, and Ultimately the Mind to Awaken Internal Sensations
In the Taoist water method, as in many other schools of meditation, including Buddhisms Vipassana and Zen traditions and many schools of Chinese chi gung, the first and most commonly used sitting practice is to increase your awareness by following your breath as it enters your body. As you pay close attention to your inhaled breath, you will find that doing so over time will enable you to feel the chi that is moving inside your body. After a period of practice, through contact with the chi, you will feel the quality and movement of your insides, including blood vessels, muscles, joints, glands, internal organs, spinal cord, and brain. For example, if you were to close your eyes (to enhance your concentration) and breathe in through your nose or mouth while at the same time trying to feel energy breathing into your hand from outside your body, then sooner or later you would find that you could feel tiny sensations in your hand that you previously could not. By practicing more, the level and refinement of the sensations become such that you can eventually feel the blood moving through the vessels of your hand. Over time, you then can develop the ability to focus your breath and awareness and control the flow of blood in your hand.
Eventually, after much practice, you will be able to do without the support of your breath and can just use your mind to direct the flow of blood in your hand. This activity will eventually lead to a mind/body fusion, in which by relying purely on your intent you can directly feel and control chi movement within the bodythe foundation on which all Taoist chi practices are based.
A second preliminary method used with variations in both the Taoist and some Indian and Tibetan yogic traditions involves emitting a range of both high- and low-pitched sounds to focus vibrations inside the body. Vibrations increase awareness, and the awareness gradually leads to the ability to feel. In the beginning, these sounds need to be done quite loudly, so you can feel the vibrations shaking up your insides beyond a shadow of a doubt. By degrees, the internal vibrations become stronger while the sounds themselves become progressively quieter and ultimately inaudible, causing you to more clearly feel and differentiate ever more subtle sensations. These vibrations agitate the chi inside the body, making it easier to feel your insides. Breath work may be coordinated with the vibrations, or your awareness may focus purely on feeling what the vibrations touch and penetrate. Again, after these vibrations stabilize your ability to feel your insides, thus making your often hidden inner landscape more fully alive and consciously aware, you can next begin to use only your mind/awareness for this purpose.
There are a number of situations in which we can naturally feel the connection between the inside of our body and our external environment: for example, from our nose all the way to our lungs when we breath, from our mouth down our throat and into our stomach when we eat, from our anus during elimination, and from our genitals during urination and sex.4 In the beginning, you can focus either on your breath or on vibrations, or you can alternate between them, depending on which makes it is easier for you to feel inside. After you have gained an initial access to the sensations of your interior world by breathing or vibrating your insides, you can then practice by leaving these preliminary training aids behind and concentrating on using only your minds awareness and intention to penetrate inside yourself. Normally, some people find it takes time (weeks, months, or even years of sustained practice) to penetrate even one inch inside the body. Over time, however, you want to be able to progressively feel every cubic inch of space inside your body.
After practicing this mind-only technique, many delude themselves, certain that they can feel their insides when in fact they cannot. It may help to remember that once you can feel the inside of your body clearly, with some effort you should be able to move any given part of your internal body at will, no matter how slightly. You could simply have someone with sensitive hands give you a reality check as to whether or not your perceptions of your abilities correspond to what is actually happening.
In sitting meditation we start from such places in the body where we can feel something, then learn to feel further into the body, ultimately into all the places where we are ordinarily numb. Presented here are four techniques that can be applied to begin the work of going from the outside of the body inward.5
1. Focus attention on your breath or any vibrations you deliberately generate into your nose when you inhale, and feel your physical breath move slowly inside your body. Follow your inhaled breath as far as you can on the inhale, then retrace your path back to your nose on the exhale. Practice this technique for a while until you can do it easily and comfortably with no gaps in your awareness, down your jaw to the base of your throat.
Continuing slowly but surely, over time, with concentrated attention in association with breath, feel whatever subtle sensations naturally arise down into your jaw, neck, arms, fingertips, torso, hips, legs, feet, and below your feet, where you personally connect to the energy of the earth through your etheric body. Do this in clear progressive stages, becoming comfortable at each stage before proceeding on. Next, follow the energies and sensations generated by your breath (pressure, warmth, cold, tingling, etc.) up from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Afterwards follow the breath upward from your nostrils into your head until you can feel the inside of the skull and brain and feel above your head to the boundary of your etheric body, where you personally connect to the energies of the cosmos.
Next, stop using breath. Progress to relying on only your attention and awareness to feel inside your body, following the same up-and-down procedures. (Some who are psychically sensitive will often find it easier to feel the energy outside their body, rather than the energy inside; others may feel the reverse.)
2. Do the exact same procedures you did with your nose, only now begin the process from the mouth.
3. Next, start the process from your anus. First move your attention down to your genitals, pelvic floor, perineum, legs, feet, to below the floor. Now retrace your steps up from below the floor to your anus. Next, you will want to go from your anus in a generalized way inside your pelvis and torso to the level of your heart and then, simultaneously, move in two branches. The first branch is upward to the neck, brain/skull, crown of the head, and the point above your head where your etheric body ends. The second branch is up your upper back to your shoulders, elbows, wrist, palm, and fingers. Next, simultaneously, retrace your steps back from above your head and fingertips to your anus.
4. Beginning from your genitals, go down to below the floor and back up to your genitals following the same pathway as you did in step 3. Next, go from the genitals to the tailbone, up the spine to the occipital bone, through the brain to the crown of the head, to the energy point above your head at the end of your etheric body. Next, retrace the same pathway from above your head, down the spine to the genitals. Now upward from the genitals, through the whole of the inside of your pelvis and torso and spine to the whole of the inside of your body to the level of your heart. From there, move simultaneously to your shoulders and up the spine to the base of the neck and onward to your fingertips, the top of your head, and above your head to the end of your etheric body.
Then, at a point beginning at the top of your head (or above your head, if you can feel the energy of your aura), slowly feel your way down through your body until you reach your lower tantien, and from there go down your legs to below your feet.
It is important to actually feel your body and not to merely visualize its different parts. This process of internally sensing the body starting at the head and moving down to the lower tantien can take a long time; indeed, you can spend a one-hour session of meditation working on only a small segment of your body. After gaining experience, your ability to feel inside and penetrate your body with awareness will intensify. At this point you should be gaining the ability to actually feel your internal sensations. As you move your attention through your body, you will probably encounter areas that feel full of all sorts of internal contentthings stuck, blocked, uncomfortable, agitated, happy, depressed, and so on. These and all other Taoist meditation practices ultimately involve dissolving and releasing the energy of these blockages, as described in the next chapter, until you become internally free.
The Lying-Down Practices
The lying-down practices are the most difficult of the five styles of meditation. To have your mind, chi, and spirit stay fully conscious and to practice for hours on end while your body is totally relaxed is not easy. In fact, you may become so relaxed that you and others become aware of your bodys snoring. However, you are not dreaming, but remain wide-awake. Ordinarily, the lying-down practices are not recommended until after a person has had substantial experience with the standing, moving, and sitting styles. Consequently, the lying-down style is considered an advanced practice.
The ideal state when practicing lying-down meditation is to have your body be completely motionless. Since you may be lying completely still for more than one hour, it is best to lie on a surface that you find extremely comfortable, one that is neither too soft nor too hard. An overly hard or soft sleeping surface will most likely prevent your body from relaxing completely. Overly soft surfaces will cause your body to sag, putting pressure from internal body weight on your bones, muscles, nerves, and internal organs. These pressures can easily cause irritation that requires physical adjustment for relief. Overly hard surfaces can cause pain, which will again make you want to move. Sofas and beds with sufficient and well-constructed springs or thick futons placed on the floor usually work quite well. Once you are relaxed enough internally after some lying-down practice has been accomplished, hard surfaces are preferred, because internal relaxation is optimal when there is a strong counterpoint to the bodys innate softness. Remember that this practice has been done for millennia on cave floors and in rough mountain hermitages, as well as in comfortable homes with well-designed furniture.
For this style of meditation, you may assume any lying-down position. Most people, however, prefer to lie on the left or right side of the body rather than on belly or back. When lying on your stomach make sure your pillows are arranged in such a way that you have plenty of air. When on your back, place pillows around your head, neck, buttocks, and backs of your knees so you feel no strain whatsoever on your back, neck, or hips.
If you opt for a sideways position (Fig.8.1), it is best to choose your right side so the weight of your body does not compress your heart and impede the blood circulation. You may cross your left knee over your right knee. If your back or hip is weak or injured, you may want to place a pillow between your knees or around your hips or neck for support. As in the third method of sitting in a chair, it is important for the same reasons to adjust your body in such a way as to lightly stretch, rather than compress, your spinal cord.
How to Practice
Begin every lying-down session by closing your eyes, relaxing your body, and establishing your breathing. Lying down with eyes closed, let go of as much tension as you can, using your awareness to scan internally down from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, progressively releasing all tension you encounter.
Next, still lying down, practice Taoist internal breathing to relax the inside of your body and mind to the maximum extent possible, until eventually the whole inside of your body releases fully. At this juncture, your breathing should have become completely soft, long, deep, and silent. At the point when your breathing becomes so soft it has seemed to disappear, you will, when you breathe, begin to feel a sense of energy coming into your body. Continue breathing until you feel your body filling up with a clean, strong sense of energy from head to toe. It is this vibrant sense of energy that will keep your mind totally awake, even if parts of your body fall asleep.
Again, this practice is not easy. It usually takes a beginner three to five hours of continuous breathing without moving to get a complete release without falling asleep. This amount of practice time must be built up gradually, adhering to the 70% Rule to avoid strain. Once you have done this practice daily for a few months, you should be able to reach the release point within five minutes, effortlessly.
The 70% Rule
The 70% Rule means you must take the limits of your concentration only to a maximum capacity of 70% of your capacity. (This is a general rule for all modes of practice.) This guideline allows a comfort zone for your body, central nervous system and ability to remain relaxed while meditating, to reduce rather than increase stress. As you get better and significantly extend your capacity with practice, if you stay within the 70% rule, you will be able to accomplish the meditation in a relaxed, comfortable and effortless state of being.
1 This lifting is done so that the weight of the head does not cause any pressure or compression to the uppermost cervical vertebra. This slight head lift allows the back of the brain to remain unimpinged. If there are impingements, the messages to and from the brain will be partially blocked. Such blockage will often cause the sitting meditator to confuse neurological body noise with states of consciousness.
2 A full lotus position is one in which your rear end sits firmly on the floor, both legs are crossed, both knees are touching the floor, your left foot rests on your right thigh, and your right foot rests on your left thigh. In a half lotus, only one leg is on the opposite thigh, with its knee resting on the opposite foot or on the floor.
3 The chair you use for meditation should be one with a flat, unmoving bottom (not a canvas chair) with at least an inch of free space on each side of your hips and a solid, unmoving, straight backrest set perpendicular to the chair bottom. The chair should be the height of your knees, so you can sit with your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at an angle of approximately 90 degrees (Figs. 5 and 5.1).
4 Nine orifices are used in this Taoist practice: the eyes, ears, and nostrils (two of each), and the mouth, anus, and urethra. One other opening is at the crown of the head, at the fontanel, which breathes (opens and closes) in infants, but not in most adults without a period of training.
5 There are separate techniques for each of the nine orifices of the body and the fontanel. Only four are described here for the sake of brevity. Depending on how open an individuals body is, varying results can be achieved in hours, days, months, or even years. It is best to learn directly from a teacher.
Reprinted with permission of the author, B.K. Frantzis, from The Great Stillness: The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Vol. 2, Clarity Press, © 1999.
This excerpt was published in Qi Journal, Summer 2001 issue.