How Bruce Lee Used Meditation for Self Care

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Black and white photo of Bruce Lee punching a bag inside his studio


Bruce Lee understood the importance of not only working out the body but also exercising the mind. In Volume 4 of the Bruce Lee Official Collector's Edition, we take an intense look at the Dragon's commitment to personal growth through cultivating a habit of meditation. Below, read an exclusive excerpt from the new Volume 4 and be sure to get your copy here.


"As martial artists, we understand that meditation techniques can bring a sense of calm and centeredness that's especially crucial in chaotic situations. Whether we're talking about raining, real-life combat or just everyday life, having the right state of mind in the face of adversity is something we all desire."


— Dr. Robert Wang, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, in Black Belt Magazine (2014)


As more Americans explore ancient techniques for mindfulness as part of their self-help, yoga or other routines, they are beginning to understand something martial artists have known for centuries: Taking time to quiet your mind is just as important to your wellness as a daily workout or multivitamin.


In 2019, there is an unbelievable number of ways to take advantage of the centuries' worth of material available about meditation—apps, online courses, books by gurus and fitness experts, and an increasing number of classes at gyms, dojos and yoga studios. But the most important thing novices should understand about meditation is that it isn't just sitting cross-legged and reciting a mantra. In fact, when it's done with the intent to become an unconscious observer—almost anything can be meditation. As long as an activity "[frees] the mind from all motives" as Bruce Lee himself said, it is meditation, with all the physical and spiritual benefits that come with it.


For Bruce, whose childhood nickname, given to him by amused relatives, translated to "Never Sits Still," sitting on the floor wasn't the best way to clear his mind. For such an action-oriented person, the cliched image of a person in meditation would have been unsustainable for more than a few minutes. So it was movement—whether that meant going for a walk or run, practicing punches and other strikes, or spinning on his stationary bike—that Bruce used to meditate. He did so every day, making time in his busy schedule for contemplation, just as he made time to strengthen his arms, legs, back and core.


Bruce Lee with goatee in shorts in kick form


Bruce understood that without a mind as sharp and unburdened as possible, none of a martial artist's skills can possibly function at their full potential. The greater understanding of oneself that comes with a routine of daily meditation can inspire confidence in abilities, acceptance of faults and the ability to operate clearly in the moment. In fact, the notion of "quieting the mind" associated with meditation is one of the primary reasons the practice is so frequently explored.


In a 2005 random trial published in the International Journal of Stress Management, a group of health care professionals reporting high levels of stress were placed in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which featured routine meditation. At the conclusion of the program, the majority of the subjects reported reduced stress levels.


As an athlete, Bruce also knew meditation as he practiced it puts one more closely in touch with their physical body, as well as their mental being. Body awareness, one of the most important skills a martial artist has, is honed with meditation through movement, making the right maneuvers a part of one's muscle memory. But meditation can also aid in the recovery process for athletes like Bruce, who dedicated hours every day to his fitness. "Mind over matter" is a phrase often nonchalantly suggested when someone is experiencing physical hardship, but it may as well be the mantra of meditation for pain relief. With the mind grounded and channeling positive energy, many believe the body can overcome some sensations of pain. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neurosciences examined mindfulness meditation's influence on pain in a group of participants exposed to noxious stimuli. At the conclusion of the four-day trial a 57 percent reduction in pain/unpleasantness was examined while pain/intensity ratings dropped by 40 percent following meditation training.


When it's done properly, Bruce Lee's style of meditation through action can become an integral part of a truly beneficial wellness routine. It's important to understand, however, that when Bruce meditated by running, walking, practicing, or spinning, he didn't have the TV on in the background or headphones over his ears. He wasn't catching up on podcasts or coming up with script notes. He was present in the moment, contemplative and observant but without motive. Anyone can be as well: it just takes some time to discover exactly what kind of activity offers you the best chance at these results, as well as the discipline to engage in it. Whether that means going for a walk, taking a hot bath, doing your preferred cardio or even trying it the old-fashioned way with crossed legs and oms, there's a way to queit every mind.