We may think of meditation as a seated, static practice, but it can reflect the dynamic nature of life, its organic seasons and rhythms. The five categories of Taoist yoga meditation teach us how to draw our actions into consciousness. In Taoist meditation we move energy artfully, connecting breath with movement and rest, so that we generate more energy by the end of practice than at the beginning.

Often we hear the term becoming more “present.” What does it mean? To become more present is to become more conscious in our bodies, to release daydreaming and simply exist in the moment without moving into the future or the past. To be present is to connect to the breath, the through line of every art, every method.

If our intention in life is health first, then everything we eat, think, do, absorb and practice supports this core intention. When we are healthy, our life purpose becomes clear; we know why we are on the planet. If our thoughts are aligned with our identity and our purpose, then we are empowered. If our thoughts are not in alignment with our identity and purpose, then energy will be stolen from us, drained away. The beauty of the Taoist techniques is that they are very practical and simply concerned with energy cultivation – all the time.


Photo: Adam Latham

Photo: Adam Latham



Five Categories of Taoist Meditation

Instead of drawing ourselves into meditation, why not draw meditation into our daily activities? The Taoist approach to meditation creates mindfulness of the sacred nature of life. This approach is organized into five categories, which reflect the natural rhythms of life: lying, sitting, standing, moving and lovemaking.

Each of these practices is perishable: we are only as skilled as our last practice. The cultivation of energy must be continuous: eating colorful food, breathing clean air, connecting to others and knowing what we all draw in and consume is nothing less than the totality of the world around us.

Lying-Down or Supine Meditation

We spend a third of our lives lying down: before sleeping, then entering into sleep, so this meditation brings a part of our lives that is usually unconscious into consciousness. This can be particularly beneficial when we don’t feel rested, even after eight hours of sleep. It is entirely possible to feel more aligned and rested after lying meditation than after a full sleep. And to be present and experience this meditation is to sense the horizon between states of awareness, before the mind brings the world back into consciousness. This is a powerful meditation.

In lying meditation you are in a receptive position that is effective for creating calm. In lying meditation you release action, movement and striving – you simply exist, the body goes into a restorative state. This is a good way to absorb the practice and carry the wisdom into your bones.

This state of non-doing is often mentioned in the I Ching: Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese book of divination.

An aesthetically pleasing and tranquil environment can have a potent effect, producing a sense of deep, abiding calm and tranquility. Chimes, waterfalls, light, space, smells of incense or calming scents like belladonna, lavender or camomile can entice us into relaxation.


Photo: Adam Latham

Photo: Adam Latham


Sitting Meditation

Sitting meditation is the middle path, the way the Buddha spoke of balance between sensual indulgence and self-mortification or deprivation. Sitting requires more energy than lying down, yet not as much as standing. You need strength to support your back in an erect position that allows your prana, chi or qi (life energy) to flow freely.

Asana in Sanskrit literally means ‘seat’ or ‘sitting down.’ In yoga, when we place our body in asana, we take on a shape. Physical shapes create the muscle memory of potential and conscious awareness. A position in which we are seated upright brings us to wakefulness, allowing conscious breathing and awareness.

Sitting with the legs crossed and hips externally rotated is the classic form of sitting we are familiar with seeing. But meditation can also be brought into other sitting positions: kneeling, in a chair, on a cushion or bench, upright in your car, on an airplane, in the dentist’s chair, on a park bench, at dinner, on the computer, at work or lunch. Any sitting position can be a potentially mind-altering experience. Simply taking a physical and mental shape is a very powerful meditation.

If you haven’t created the luxury of time to sit and meditate daily, look at your life. If you don’t have five minutes a day, then reconsider your life. Why are you so busy? What are you running to or away from? There is a quote by the Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz, “The ship you are riding on. Look where it is heading. Your body’s port is the graveyard.” Death can be a skillful teacher; living with an awareness of death allows us to embrace life more fully. Sitting meditation allows us to remain poised between extremes, to balance, to observe the subtleties of prana.

Standing Meditation

If each meditative state is an archetype, then lying down is the healer, sitting the middle bridge, and standing the warrior, scout or sentry.

In standing meditation, we are strong, aware and patient, supporting ourselves in the world. The bolster doesn’t support us. The floor doesn’t support us. Standing is what the warrior does in the vision quest, developing power grounded in the Earth. There is a Taoist expression, “Man stands between heaven and Earth.” If you’re standing in a natural position with feet parallel and hip-distance apart, knees unlocked, back full, chest soft and released, crown of the head lifted to the sky, breathing from the belly – it supports your ability to both cultivate strength and release tension. Standing meditation has a long tradition in both classical yoga and the external and internal martial arts. In yoga, this is tadasana, the mountain pose.

Standing meditation is most effective just before dawn, before the world is awake or at last light as the sun sets. In Chinese medicine, this predawn time of 3:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. is the lung time, because this is when the energy pathways to the lungs are most receptive. The lungs take in breath and life, opening us to new experiences. In Ayurveda, these hours of darkness represent the vata (air and ether/space elements) time of day, characterized by a sense of expansiveness. Predawn is ideal for cultivating energy because there is less interference from traffic, radio waves, ambient noise and children.

The Practice of Standing Meditation

Stand on a natural surface, preferably barefoot. To absorb the Earth’s energy, stand outdoors on the Earth herself, or a wood floor or natural fiber rug rather than a yoga mat for this practice, since rubber is not conducive to transmitting the Earth’s energy. The life force prana or chi is similar to electricity. An electrician wraps tools in rubber to protect them from a current, so look at how you are insulated in those moments of standing meditation when you need to remain open and receptive to the flow of energy from the earth. Five to twenty minutes of standing meditation allows time to connect to the Earth and draw energy from her bounty.

The great Tai Chi master, Chang Man Ching once said, “Tap the Earth’s strength and swallow Heaven’s chi, preserve life through softness.” This saying embodies the essence of standing meditation.

Moving Meditation

Moving meditation is the meditation of action. The archetype of the warrior takes on new meaning here, in motion, with an open heart. In a moving meditation our footsteps leave an impression on the Earth, symbolic of the impact of all our actions. Whether we touch the world with peace and openness or leave a scar depends on our ability to be present and on the quality of our meditation. Presence can be used either constructively or destructively. Dictators can be present and do a lot of damage, so it is not just about being present, but being aligned with the creative forces, developing patience and strength rather than aggression. To cultivate a positive presence, we must release the past and the future, aligning our intent with both our breath and our actions.

In moving meditation practice, we shift our focus from internal to external points of reference. To move effectively, we must retain our connection to the Earth. To move is to dance with gravity.

Walking is a simple moving meditation. While walking, you can measure each inhalation and exhalation until your breath is even with your steps. To do so, notice how many footsteps comprise an inhale, then an exhale. In this way, you link breath, awareness and movement.

Other moving meditations include: walking with a partner, pushing a stroller, holding a child’s hand, walking a dog, practicing yoga asana, qigong, tai chi, martial arts, slow dance or even sports.

Recruit your senses, one by one: feel the Earth, let your eyes soften so that you can see what is around you and allow light to come to you, notice smells. Listen to faint melodies and let the air caress your skin. If your mind wanders, return to the rise and fall of the breath. Use the gateways of the senses to transform movement into meditation.

Movement is complex. It unites muscle, intention and breath in alignment. Our consciousness expands to fill up the tiniest moment.

Lovemaking Meditation

The fifth category of Taoist meditation is lovemaking; this is also a practice of the Tantric path. Lovemaking meditation is focused on cultivating consciousness and respect. According to Taoist philosophy, jing is a precious yin substance similar to ojas (basic strength and immunity), not to be released without respect. Every time a man loses semen he loses sacred jing. Tantric techniques create the environment for this energy to be absorbed or reabsorbed. This initiates the heightened experience, radiance and strength without a corresponding loss of energy. These techniques can become complex as the man learns specific breath techniques to facilitate the absorption of female energy and gift her with yang or masculine energy. In this way sexual alchemy becomes a conscious act of meditation that can be beneficial for health.

Lovemaking moves us from duality to integration, from external to internal with breath as the link. The act of consciously making love creates the living entity of the relationship itself within the partnership. The energy of our most intimate experience with another person becomes a link to the sacred, a way we can bring the divine into the world.

Meditate and Live

In some ways, all meditation concerns the release of duality, or moving from non-presence to presence. As meditators, we are continually looking for awareness, releasing grasping and attachment to objects and everything that separates us from truth. All of life’s positions can become meditation, in the Taoist view. The rhythms of our routines, both active and in periods of rest are opportunities to cultivate meditation in every moment. With this commitment, with health, comes the awareness of how to live a more creative, aware and meaningful life.

Matthew Raymond Cohen teaches his signature Sacred Energy Arts method at Sacred Energy Arts in Santa Monica, California, and at workshops and trainings worldwide. He wrote about these practices just before leaving on a teaching pilgrimage to China.


By Matthew Raymond Cohen

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