Shaolin Monk Meditation

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A Comprehensive Guide To The Secrets of Shaolin Monk Meditation

Originating centuries ago in China, Shaolin monk meditation techniques have become a fascinating part of popular culture and films. If you are a big fan of martial arts movies, you must have seen those captivating scenes where monks effortlessly switch between Kung Fu for physical training and meditation for mental prowess. 

But have you ever wondered what Shaolin meditation really entails and what sets it apart from other meditation techniques? This article will cover the topic of Shaolin monk meditation and the related techniques, postures, training, benefits, and diet habits followed by the Shaolin monks that make their practice distinctive.

What is Shaolin monk meditation?

Meditation is a lifestyle for Shaolin Monks, who practice it to free themselves from negative emotions and discover inner strength. Shaolin’s philosophy – a blend of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism – is reflected in the monks’ daily life. Shaolin meditation focuses on cultivating inner energy or ‘Qi,’ while promoting mental tranquility, physical well-being, and spiritual insight. It is known for its close connection to martial arts.

The practice of meditation in Shaolin was first introduced by an Indian priest named Daruma, who also set up an exercise regime focused on body weight. These exercises eventually evolved into Kung Fu. Monks implement meditation into their life through their routine of:

  • Waking up early
  • Practicing meditation
  • Training
  • Eating
  • Training
  • Meditating
  • Sleeping

The Main Principles of Shaolin Meditation

The Shaolin monks strive to live a lifestyle away from today’s world and its hustle and bustle. To cultivate this lifestyle, the monks keep several things in mind, such as:

  1. Making time for yourself: Meditation helps you spend time alone, catch up with your mind, and stay calm and composed. This is vital for everyone. Taking breaks from work, socializing, and media is supported by science. Using these breaks to bond and relax with your inner self can help boost your physical and mental well-being.
  2. Caring for the body: Shaolin monks see the body as a tool to nurture the mind. As they prioritize mental strength, they understand that proper body care is essential to achieving the peacefulness and stability meditation can bring.

To reach this goal, Shaolin Monks:

Eat nutritious food, practice Kung-Fu and keep a strict sleep schedule

  1. Adapting to Change: Shaolin’s teachings focus on living in the present and shedding the past. It is a reality that everything around us is constantly changing. When we cling to the past, it can constrain the way we live our lives. We also often attach negative feelings to the idea of change, making it difficult for us to grow. Shaolin meditation encourages us to reflect and embrace change, enabling us to open up our minds to new possibilities.

What religion do Shaolin monks practice?

The Shaolin Monks primarily practice a denomination of Buddhism called Chan, widely known as Zen Buddhism in the West. The term “Chan” itself is derived from the Sanskrit word “Dhyāna,” which means meditative concentration or contemplation. This school of Buddhism was introduced to China in the early 5th century and heavily emphasized meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual awakening.

The USA Shaolin Temple states that Chan Buddhism encourages the idea of personal awakening and understanding. It is the philosophy that the Temple is everywhere, and one can pray and meditate in any position.

Chan Buddhism then spread to Japan, where it took the form of Zen Buddhism. Many of the meditation techniques utilized by Shaolin monks may appear similar to those used in Zen meditation.

How to Practice the Shaolin monk meditation techniques

Shaolin meditation is an easy practice that you can do at any time, in any place. The primary Shaolin meditation technique is like many other types of mindfulness meditation that revolve around the breath.

Below are the steps to follow:

  • Step 1: Get ready to meditate in the Shaolin way. Find a quiet spot in your house and turn off any sources of distractions like phones and TVs.
  • Step 2: Sit on the ground in a crossed-leg or lotus position, and keep your back straight. To make yourself more comfortable, you may want to put a cushion under your butt. Close your eyes.
  • Step 3: Start the Shaolin meditation by concentrating on your breath. Take deep breaths with your stomach for a few minutes, trying your best to clear your head. Your stomach should expand when you’re breathing in and contract when you’re breathing out.
  • Step 4: Visualize negative energy leaving your body when you breathe out. It’s important to stay in control of your feelings when practicing Shaolin kung fu.
  • Step 5: When your thoughts begin to wander, pull your attention back to your breath. Count with each inhalation, and when you get to 10, count backward to one. If your mind strays, start the count again.
  • Step 6: Meditate for 30 minutes before and after training for martial arts. Meditation helps to focus and calm the mind, which is crucial for martial arts.
  • Step 7: Feel free to add more meditation sessions as needed. Some Shaolin kung fu masters meditate before going to bed, or whenever they feel stressed or frustrated during the day.

The Benefits of Shaolin monk meditation

Some of the significant benefits of practicing Shaolin monk meditation are:

Improved Mental Clarity, Focus, and Concentration

Shaolin monk meditation helps individuals achieve a state of mental calmness and clarity. The practice allows for sharpening focus and enhances concentration by clearing away distractions and unnecessary thoughts.

Increased Physical Strength, Stamina, and Flexibility

The practice of Shaolin monk meditation often involves combining physical exercises, like martial arts and Qigong, with mindfulness techniques which lead to increased physical strength, stamina, and flexibility.

Better Sleep Quality

Practicing Shaolin meditation regularly helps regulate sleep patterns and improve sleep quality. This is achieved by calming the mind and releasing stress, which in turn enables the body to enter a deeper state of relaxation, leading to uninterrupted and restful sleep.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

One of the most significant benefits of Shaolin monk meditation is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. By focusing on breath and mindfulness, meditation allows the practitioner to clear their mind, acknowledge their emotions without judgment, and learn how to respond positively to stressors.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

This meditation technique helps promote a healthy heart and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Through regular practice, the practitioner experiences lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and enhanced blood circulation.

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation can lead to chronic diseases and health issues. Shaolin monk meditation has been shown to help reduce inflammation by persuading the body to release anti-inflammatory chemicals.

The Shaolin Monk Meditation Postures

When you’re attempting a Shaolin monk meditation posture, it should feel comfortable and natural. You shouldn’t have to put any strain on your body to execute a certain pose. With enough practice, you can learn to maintain an alert, dignified, and relaxed state of mind and body.

The top 5 Shaolin monk meditation postures are:

The Burmese Position

If you’re looking for an accessible pose to practice on a cushion or mat, the Burmese position may be perfect for you. All you have to do is sit on the mat with a cushion if needed, bend your legs with the right foot on the outside, and pull your feet gently towards your pelvis. For best results, make sure the tops of your feet are touching the mat.

The Lotus Position

The three main lotus meditation postures are the quarter lotus, the half lotus, and the full lotus.

  1. The quarter lotus is the simplest and most recommended. You sit on a cushion, pillow, or mat with your right foot resting on your left calf and your knees beneath your hips.
  2. The half lotus intensifies the pose. You place the left foot close to the pelvis while the right foot is closer to the trunk and rests on the left thigh.
  3. The full lotus requires more flexibility. You start with the right foot on the left thigh, then place the left foot on the right thigh. It may feel tough at first, but meditators and yoga buffs get used to it and find that it helps them stay aligned during their practice.

The Seiza Position

If you’d like to try something different, meditation while kneeling is a great option. In Japan, the seiza pose is a very popular Zen Buddhist meditation practice that involves sitting on the knees. You can use a cushion, pillow, or meditation bench under the buttocks to help support your spine and alleviate pressure on your knees.

Sitting on a chair

Whether you’re trying to reduce knee and leg pain, improve mobility, or just find a comfortable way to sit, a chair is often the best option. Optimal sitting posture involves keeping the back straight and the hips slightly higher than the thighs and knees. A thin cushion or pillow under the buttocks and/or between the chair and your lower back can help provide extra support.

One of the benefits of sitting on a chair is that you can meditate just about anywhere without drawing unwanted attention. Believe it or not, some Buddhist texts even depict the Buddha of the future seated on a chair. So even when you’re on a chair, it’s still possible to sit in a way that allows you to meditate properly.

Corpse pose

Corpse pose, also known as savasana, this calming meditation posture is typically practiced after a yoga session. To do this pose, lie flat on your back and stretch your hands out, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. This position is particularly useful for people with back problems. Though it’s gentle on the body, it can be difficult to stay alert while lying down. The corpse pose can also be used to soothe aching muscles between sitting sessions.

These five postures are excellent meditation postures for beginners and advanced meditators. To make sure you get the best out of your meditation session, choose a comfortable posture. It’s always better to stay in a relaxed pose for 15 minutes rather than suffer through a  whole hour of pain.

The Shaolin Monk Meditation Training  

Shaolin Kung Fu was once a secret tradition practiced by monks in remote temples in China. However, its popularity surged in the 1970s thanks to Bruce Lee’s flying kick in Western cinema. While it may not focus on real-world techniques as much as MMA, Shaolin Kung Fu places great emphasis on spiritual and mental training for combat. Monks lead an ascetic lifestyle, prioritizing study, exercise, pain, and meditation – all of which contribute to their remarkable abilities.

Shaolin monk training requires a complete life change, and those who come expecting an easy ride or entitlements won’t succeed.

A typical Shaolin monk training day looks like this:

  1. 3:00 am – Wake, rise, and meditate
  2. 3:30 am – Breakfast
  3. 4:00 am – Kung fu
  4. Noon – Lunch
  5. 12:30 pm – Kung fu
  6. 5:30 pm – Dinner
  7. 6:00 pm – Buddhist scripture
  8. 9:00 pm – Prayer
  9. 9:30 pm – Meditation
  10. 10:30 pm – Bedtime

In addition to learning martial arts, techniques like the “Iron Head” and “Bao Shu Gong” are also taught, which involve headbutting nails into wood and uprooting trees with a bear hug. Full-time training is a difficult possibility, but some temples offer 3-month long Shaolin monk training camps as an alternative.

The practice of meditation that is hidden within Shaolin Kung Fu is supported by scientific evidence.

Where to find a Shaolin monk training monastery?  

Many Shaolin monk training monasteries can be found throughout China. But the original Shaolin monk training Temple is located in Henan Province, 90 kilometers west of Zhengzhou.

The Shaolin Monastery is closely linked to Zen School Buddhism. Established in the last decade of the 5th Century, it’s been around for over fifteen hundred years. Monasteries such as these have become a haven for discovering ancient knowledge that still holds true today. Shaolin Meditation is used alongside Kung Fu to reach a peaceful, stable mindset and heightened awareness.

The risks of doing Shaolin monk training 

  • Shaolin Warriors achieve a near-bulletproof level of resilience through continuous sparring and fighting, and enduring multiple bone-breaking training sessions. 
  • This process involves kicking, kneeing, punching, elbowing, and headbutting solid objects until micro-fractures are formed in the bones. 
  • These fractures then reshape and strengthen the bones until they attain superhuman levels of resilience. 
  • However, the process does not end there as the healed bones are broken again, and the process repeats itself for months or even years. 
  • This rigorous training, although effective, is not without its risks as serious and irreversible injuries can occur.

A Day in the Life of a Shaolin Monk

  1. A Shaolin monk’s day begins at 5:30 am with chanting, followed by Eight Treasures, a bean soup, for breakfast at 6 am. 
  2. Kung Fu training and Chanting occupy the next five hours, with a half-hour break in between.
  3. At 11:30 am, Lunch is served with five to six vegetables, tofu, and rice. 
  4. Tea and other liquids are not consumed with meals to help with easy digestion. 
  5. Lunch ends at about 12:30 pm. 
  6. This is followed by two hours of Chanting, meditation, relaxation, or a nap.
  7. Kung Fu practice resumes at 3 pm and finishes by 5 pm. 
  8. Dinner consists of noodles with black or yellow wheat bread served at 5:30 pm. 
  9. The Heart Sutra chanting begins at 6:30 pm, and the monks continue until 8 pm when they have a quiet time for meditation. 
  10. Bedtime is 10 pm.

Shaolin Temple has its hospital, which only uses Western technology and no medicines. Every two weeks, the monks go for EEG testing to monitor the progress in the brain that meditation has made. The demanding training schedule seems not to tire them out, as they do not have draining and meaningless thoughts running in their minds.

Their motto is, ‘Do daily acts of kindness. Be nice. Pray a lot. Practice a lot. With practice comes wisdom. Wisdom brings advancement each day. And pain brings growth.’ That’s how the Shaolin monks roll.

The Dietary Habits of Monks and Their Eating Practices

The eating customs of Buddhists are truly enthralling, with their strict dietary rules. As they must not take a life unnecessarily, they stick to a meek but powerful diet. Their meals normally include salads, beans, lentils, noodle soups, and steamed or stir-fried vegetables. They’re always seasonal, as monks think the foods that are currently growing on the land are intended for them to consume at that particular time of the year for optimal nourishment.

  • At the beginning of the day, they have porridge, bread, tea, and tsampa (roasted barley flour mixed with some liquid). Vegetables like cauliflower, bitter gourd, spinach, tomatoes, and daikon are served for the majority of their meals. Eating solid food after the evening is usually not allowed as digestion requires energy, and monks are keen to save the resources of their bodies. Consuming food between meals when alone is out of the question due to mindfulness.
  • To cleanse their bodies, the monks often devote parts of their time to eating a single type of food. This unpretentious means of nourishing oneself is believed to be better for their digestion as it gives the stomach a break. Also, the more our teeth grind, the less work the stomach has to do. Therefore, for less bloating, chomp, chomp.
  • Noodles with veggies are an oft-enjoyed meal. Additionally, monks refrain from alcohol. Abstinence leads to more abstinence.

Did you know? 

  • Of the 287,654 different plant species on the planet, one plant has become part of humanity’s daily lives: tea. Even monks consume it. EEG testing has shown that humans have four brain waves, two while sleeping and two while awake. The Alpha wave is the state we want to be in – awake and relaxed. This stage can take experienced meditators 90 minutes to reach, but with tea, it takes just two cups. The L-theanine in tea can bring your brain wave activity to the Alpha state. Drinking tea from tea plants also has many positive side effects, such as lower cholesterol levels and a longer life span.
  • According to Sifu Wang Kiew Kit of the Shaolin Wahnam Institute – “A lot of people assume that they need to eat meat to get enough energy for vigorous kung fu. The opposite is more likely true. Traditional Shaolin monks were strict vegetarians and had no shortage of power. How did they get it? About 80% of the monks’ energy came from heaven chi (氣), or cosmic energy, and the other 20% from grain chi, i.e., their vegetarian diet. A meat eater might get more energy from their grain chi, but since meat produces more toxic waste than vegetables and toxic waste blocks the flow of heaven chi, their net energy gain will be lower than that of a vegetarian who practices genuine kungfu and chi kung.”

Tips To Practice Shaolin Monk Meditation

  1. Comfort – Make sure to choose a comfortable meditation posture that won’t cause physical pain or discomfort during your session.
  2. Stillness – Find a sense of steadiness and equilibrium by swaying your body forward, backward, then side to side until you discover the right position for you.
  3. Relaxation – Ensure your body is relaxed and at ease, avoiding tension build-up in your neck, face, and shoulders. Utilize cushions or pillows to support your legs and maintain optimal alignment.
  4. Alignment – Keep your spine in proper alignment, adjusting your posture for maximum comfort and balance during your meditation practice.

Frequently asked questions

How long do monks meditate each day?

Every day, Shaolin monks dedicate one-three hours to meditation. A typical Shaolin monk’s day begins at 5:30 in the morning and includes chanting, training, lunch, rest, and meditation. Most commonly, meditation is done at night.

Are Shaolin monks spiritual?

Yes, definitely. Shaolin monks follow Chan Buddhism. They employ meditation to attain a greater level of consciousness, self-discipline, and inner peace.

What kind of meditation do monks use?

Anapanasati, or mindfulness of breathing, is a fundamental practice in Theravada, Tiantai, and Chan Buddhism, and is often included in mindfulness programs. For centuries, Anapanasati has been the most popular meditation technique in Buddhism for contemplating physical sensations.

What makes Shaolin meditation unique from other meditation techniques?

Shaolin meditation is similar in practice to many other breath meditation techniques and is especially close to Zen meditation due to their shared Chan Buddhism origins.

However, the philosophy between Shaolin and other forms of mindfulness meditation, such as Vipassana, is quite different. 

Vipassana focuses on non-judgment of thoughts, while Shaolin meditation is intended to help the body and mind rid themselves of negative energies and outside distractions. Through Shaolin meditation, one can find peace and calm and remove negative energies.

Do people still practice Shaolin Monk meditation?

Yes. Even though the Shaolin temple in China has become more of a tourist spot than an actual monastery, Shaolin-style meditation can still be found around the world, particularly as a supplement to Kung Fu practice.

International Shaolin temples such as the USA Shaolin Temple are established in several cities across the globe, and Kung Fu training centers teach Shaolin-style meditation, ranging from Canada to China.

Can you practice Shaolin meditation if you aren’t a monk?

Yes. The original Shaolin meditation techniques were intended for use by trained monks in temples, but you can still practice Shaolin meditation in your own home. Although it may not be the same as having a mentor present to guide you, it’s possible to pursue meditation without a teacher.

What is the purpose of Shaolin monk meditation sounds?

  1. To create an atmosphere of holiness and encourage a deeper meditation
  2. Achieving a state of peace and tranquility 
  3. To safeguard against negative energies
  4. To help keep the mind focused


Studying Shaolin monk meditation requires understanding its history, objectives, principles, techniques, and goals. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike should recognize Shaolin’s teachings as a way to promote Buddhist culture.

Shaolin monks educate us on how to use meditation for therapeutic effects as well as a long and healthy life. They also integrate meditation into a way of life, so we can learn to view it as a philosophy and for spiritual practice. Ultimately, the goal of meditation Shaolin monks is liberation or self-actualization, to reach ultimate realization and appreciation for life.