An Adept in another tradition asked me for some Taoist Meditation advice recently, so I thought it would be best to share a few tips and tricks here for the rest of those just starting out with some form of Taoist deep breath work.
• Prior to practice, remove all jewellery, watches and glasses, and loosen belts and collars. Avoid any constrictions against the surface of the body, especially the waist, and avoid any synthetic materials that might insulate you from the earth’s electric field.
• Whenever possible, practice outdoors, preferably barefoot, or in socks or leather shoes. Allow maximum exposure to the ionizing element of wind, water and sunlight, but avoid exposure to cold breezes. Practicing near abundant vegetation is very beneficial because plants enrich the air with oxygen and exude their own variety of Qi. That’s why urban Chinese like to practice in public parks. When indoors, practice near an open window in a well-ventilated room.
• Timing is important. By far the best hours to practice breathing are between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., when positive Yang energy rises most strongly in the atmosphere, and between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., when cosmic Yin energy switches over to Yang. For best results, practice twice a day: first thing in the morning, before breakfast; and last thing at night, before bed. Do not practice within the first hour after a meal, and avoid all cold drinks for at least 20-30 minutes after a session. Deep breathing packs warm energy into the ‘Sea of Energy’ below the navel, and a cold
drink tossed on top of that can cause severe conflicts of energy.
• Pregnant women and people suffering from any sort of fever or internal bleeding should not practice deep breathing.Do some form of natural stillness meditation instead.
• Keep spine erect but not rigid at all times. Cramped or stooped spines block energy along the spinal channels, thus preventing free flow of energy from the sacrum up to the head. It’s especially important to keep the back of the neck stretched, for that’s where energy enters the brain from the lower centers. The proper way to stretch the back of the neck is to draw the chin inward towards the throat.
• Eyes should be kept unfocused and half-lidded during breathing in order to avoid visual distractions. Direct eyes loosely towards the ground or floor a meter or two in front of feet. Internalize attention by mentally visualizing the region of the navel and the organs behind it.
• Shoulders tend to hunch during the final stage of inhalation, which tenses the neck and blocks energy flow into the head. Be sure to keep shoulders loose, relaxed and low throughout the session.
• Keep lips closed but don’t clench teeth. Tongue should be kept firmly pressed against palate, behind the upper teeth, throughout the exercises.
Raising tongue to palate stimulates secretion of saliva from two ducts below the tongue. This is called ‘sweet dew’ (gan lu) and should be swallowed because it contains highly active enzymes of great benefit to the stomach. However, any mucus coughed up from the lungs or drawn down from the nose should be spat out, for unlike saliva mucus is a waste product. The tongue against the palate also forms a bridge connecting the two channels of the Microcosmic Orbit, which meet at the roof of the mouth. Unless the tongue is firmly pressed against palate, energy has no avenue for crossing from palate to throat.
• Focus ears on the internal sounds of breath and heartbeat rather than letting them distract the mind by listening to external sounds. Try to practice in a quiet place without artificial external noise, although the natural sounds of wind, water, birds, etc. can actually help harmonize the spirit. Some adepts use earplugs to help internalize awareness during breathing and meditation.
• By exerting a bit of conscious control over the nasal apparatus, you may greatly enhance deep breathing. During inhalation, deliberately flare the nostrils wide open. This increases the intake of air and enhances its turbulence within the nasal passages, permitting greater extraction of Qi.Note how animals distend and contract their nostrils rhythmically with every breath, ‘testing’ the air as they ‘take’ it in. Owing to the atrophy of nostril muscles in civilized man, breathing is inhibited. Conscious flaring of the nostrils also helps focus mental attention on the breathing process.
• At the core of the entire breathing process lies the mind. The mind is a slippery little devil with a very short attention span and a strong penchant for drifting aimlessly in ever-shifting seas of thought and fantasy. Chinese Taoists call it a ‘playful monkey’ and Indian yogis compare it to a ‘wild horse’ that refuses to be tethered. We already know that ‘spirit commands energy’. Therefore, if the mind is ‘absent’ during breathing exercise, energy has no commander and strays about aimlessly, scattering and leaking instead of gathering and circulating. Recent studies in mainland China show that when deep breathing is performed with the mind firmly focused on a certain part of the body, that part registers a strong electric charge and grows warm. This accords well with the findings of Dr Chang Rui, director of the imperial medical institute during the Southern Sung Dynasty(1127-1279):
“Mind is the leader of energy. Where mind goes, energy follows. When a certain part of the body is ailing, use the mind to draw energy to the affected area and it will correct the condition.”
Taoist masters refer to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body as the ‘Five Thieves’ of breathing and meditation because they literally ‘rob’ you of the mental attention required to command breath and control energy. Adepts must therefore learn to ‘imprison’ the Five Thieves internally by consciously directing sensory awareness inward and focusing on organs and energy centers rather than external objects.
Do not be discouraged if at first your mind keeps galloping off in all directions. It’s much like raising a child: you must apply a balanced blend of discipline and patience to the task, day by day. Soon you will learn your own personal tricks for controlling your mind, such as ‘bribing’ it to shut up for half an hour in exchange for the promise of a favorite indulgence later. When you start feeling heat in certain organs or parts of the body and energy tingling up
the spinal channels into the brain, it means that you have begun to achieve unity of mind and breath, spirit and energy. Ultimately you will be able to send energy coursing to which ever organ, gland or limb requires therapy simply by focusing mental attention there as you breathe.
The harmony of mind and breath is the fundamental key to breathing exercise and energy control. Without clarity and presence of mind, breathing becomes no more than a hygienic physical exercise that tonifies lungs, massages organs and assists circulation of blood. In order to reach the stage of practice in which breathing is used to assimilate, gather and distribute energy throughout the body’s energy networks, the mind must be in complete
command of body and breath, and you must be in complete command of your mind.No small task, and we all fail at this, even those who have been doing it for years. I wish you luck and skill with your Practice, and may the Spirits hold you ever in their favor…. Stay Gold.
Art-cephalopod meditations- Copyright 2015, V.Piazza