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question Internal Practices Suitable for Self-Study

I have a question! Maybe I can get some answers too, huh?

In all seriousness, asking good questions can be difficult sometimes. It's good to have clarity in mind because too vague and too self-serving questions may hinder getting meaningful answers.

Energetic conflict(s):      None. Only usual carefulness is asked.

Precaution(s):     
  1. Emotional Balance (training can become risky if one's heart is not calm)

Discussion premise:      Comparative study (e.g. formal cultivation methods across different traditions, generic Qigong training principles, folk traditions, etc.)

Roots of Virtue

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Internal Practices Suitable for Self-Study​


Some people want to train internal arts independently without a teacher. What are internal practices suitable for self-study?

It's an interesting question with two complementary answers. There is the perspective of complete formal practice that allows the practitioner to advance from complete naivety to mastery within its self-contained systemic framework. The other view is that of wisdom and insight into what is this thing "self" that we consider as defining, or confining, us. This wisdom aspect is a vitally important element which enables the formal routines to provide abundant benefit and success.

Wisdom​


The general benefit of wisdom deals with karma, both positive and negative, which is our desiring and rejecting habitual view of relating our personal "self" to our experiences. This is practical observation and not an intellectual deduction argument. When a baby is born pretty much all she does is to shit, cry, and smile. The baby doesn't have any functioning conception of self-worth for herself or for others. This doesn't prevent her from experiencing life and reality naturally like a human baby does. Only later in the childhood would she learn that people assign worthiness to their experiences and infectiously project these out on personal level. A labeled world of good and bad phenomena is traded around like a collectible card game, and the only way out of this is to realize that it is a game that can be suspended or quit. The path of wisdom is returning to that earlier puerile innocence that didn't see the world through permanent divisive categories or absolute judgments: we call this non-duality. It asks for genuine inquiry, curiosity, and considering the context of experiences. The world and its people reveal themselves as they are: sometimes sweet, sometimes annoying, often helpful, and rarely committed to wisdom. None of these observations are anything but transitory insights into human condition, which makes no impact to our innate worth and how we are free to evaluate and judge our worthiness or just leave it as undefined like it naturally is.

It's about opening up instead of closing in. Please do not see what I described as any sort of nihilism or radical equalization of all experiences. Defaulting views to nothingness or indifference are marks of not having much understanding nor insight. The high point of wisdom is to train and live through a natural relaxed and flexible view that easily defaults to undefined. The real you is spontaneous and true to your own innate goodness underneath those impulsive habits that cloud it.

There are many ways to approach purifying karma, but all have the same fundamental flavors of becoming fully aware of your own suffering and that this limited view is not the entire picture or permanent at all. Yogis can train their familiarity with the open which awareness all living beings have in common or they can offer their selfless service to the world in the face of abuse and scorn, up to the point of martyrdom. Make no mistake: The real challenge of wisdom is in facing all your fears and disdain. All the things you would rather avoid and not confront are the very same poisons which when taken in correct doses and with good skill become antidotes and salvific medicine that sets you free from these compulsions. Suddenly you feel liberated: much lighter and healthier. What a bliss, what a silly way it was to trap yourself in such a meaningless bubble!

In the Western world we have relatively little active culture into the study and preservation of universal wisdom. This problem can be solved through studying some living wisdom tradition and looking into the process of inquiring into one's limited conceptions of self.

For this purpose, I have looked into some good and short videos that give insight into how people's compassionate awareness into their perceptions of stress and themselves can give rise to real life changing skills and realizations. The core wisdom here is that if you want to change yourself and your sense of self, then you should first have a healthy and strong sense of self.

Assorted Videos about Self-Compassion and Emotional Welfare



Getting a Clue about Wisdom and Virtue (De)​


For a good introduction to a wisdom tradition that can take you all the way to complete enlightenment I recommend Shanrendao. It's inspired by the Confucian tradition where the central teachings is that the person should seek to perfect his role and function in the society and within his family, gracefully and gratefully accept all "polishing" others may unkindly serve him, and still remain true to himself and not suppress his emotions nor desires. The formula is simple, but difficult to master because people might be unable to express their emotions in a true or meaningful way. More about this later.

I personally have a strong liking towards Confucian view of De because it is all-encompassing and emphasizes that cultivation truly isn't about this or that formal technique but becoming wise and genuine person with a crystal-clear conscience. This lesson is especially important in our age.

With Confucian healing and wisdom in mind, I highly recommend the books Let the Radiant Yang Shine Forth: Lectures on Virtue by Liu Yousheng and Twelve Characters: A Transmission of Wang Fengyi's Teachings.

There currently is another English translation of Wang Fengyi's teachings available: Discourse on Transforming Inner Nature. Both this and the Twelve Characters book are among the clearest expositions of spiritual cultivation that I have found anywhere. Wang Fengyi masterfully illuminates the similarities and differences in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.

Formal Practices​


The problem with formal self-study is two-fold: it typically hinders cultivating the peace of heart and de-stressing the body correctly. Without confessing these as the primary factors there is no true cultivation or satisfaction happening, but the genesis of agitation.

Emotions Must Be Addressed First​


Your heart is the window to your entire being. If you have a lot of wild emotions that are easily stirred, then it's guaranteed that your mind will not know peace, but always search for channels for that restlessness.

The most critical foundation for internal training and safe energetics is that the emotions must be healed through what could be called a process of acceptance, balance, and integration. If emotions flare, then the body's vital energies are diverted into excessive tantrums that weaken the whole body-mind complex. This weakens and counteracts any healing that is supposed to happen naturally, and strong emotions are a contraindication for energetic practice because they may deviate the ordinary energy work. Therefore, it's an incontestable premise that calmness of heart is the way to vitality and energy, but it must happen naturally through wisdom and not by forcing.


Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It shuns the wisdom and awareness of experiences as they are, so it sets the stage for growing psychological and ethical issues if not addressed early enough. These departures from proper practice, if perpetuated, will almost certainly lead to unwholesome trance states. Bliss and pleasure seeking are often convenient masks for not wanting to deal with uncomfortable emotions or traumas. There is nothing wrong in either as such, but forceful desires and "positive attitude" will not genuinely calm the heart.

Please this topic I wrote about psychic trance states that flawed practice and emergence of psychic shadows can cause:


For instant karmic cleansing and emotional balancing, the most rudimentary changes you could commit relate to your emotions. You could offer sincere and deeply heartfelt personal apologies for every tantrum you have projected onto others; you could try play-acting difficult emotions in a social setting like improvisation theater hobby; and you could do exercises like Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) that are designed to unwind traumatic emotions that the human body might suppress and keep inside (see the works of David Bercelli and Peter Levine).

Please consult your health care provider before trying the following exercise on your own and decide together whether it suits you.

A Simple TRE Flavored Practice

1. Lie on your back.

2. Put your feet bottoms facing together as in the butterfly pose. Your knees open to the sides.

640px-YogaClass.jpg

3. Pull your knees closer together using just the barest amount of force so that they don't actually move them any closer. You want to keep engaging this threshold of muscular activation without moving them.

4. The threshold activation of your thigh muscles will tire them so they will start to shiver and shake spontaneously. Allow these tremors expand and travel to other parts of the body if it happens on its own.

5. Let spontaneous shivering and shaking happen for 20-30 minutes. If you want and are able to, it's perfectly fine and actually recommendable to vocalize any emotions you might experience while practicing.

6. Rest a while after finishing.

Please note that this exercise is not supposed to be Spontaneous Qigong or any other type of energetic exercise. It's just supposed get emotions out and help you relax.

A Caveat about Physical Stress​


Another thing to consider that if you have a lot of stress and tension within your muscles and fascia, this probably is a sign that you have kept emotions inside in a very corporeal sense. In this case very spiritual practices can be unsuitable because they might provoke excess irritation, unstable mind, and general disconnect and floating attitude towards mundane activities. TRE is one way to help improve the situation because it removes tension, but so also is the traditional Chinese standing exercise Zhan Zhuang (ZZ). You would have to be mindful that not all ZZ teachings and standing poses are equal and that those starting with energy body activation may be unsuitable for beginners with bad health.

Static standing exercises like Zhan Zhuang in internal martial arts offer simplicity and stability, but finding the correct beneficial physical alignment on your own can be very difficult, and especially so if starting when in ill health and a tense body. If your Zhan Zhuang doesn't make your cry or challenge your comfort zone while standing extended periods, then you probably should look into finding better instructions because getting that deep-seated tension off your body really requires facing discomfort. It's a painful process for the unaccustomed for a while, but when done carefully and correctly, you will be much relieved.

Getting into Energetics​


There are following main factors that make the formal internal practice good for self-study:

1. Safety (It's difficult to fumble with the practice. Should be mostly safe even for the pregnant woman and her developing baby.)
2. Effectiveness (Brings good and clear results every time.)
3. Ease (Allows good practice from beginner level to complete mastery.)
4. Completeness (Not a sprawling system, but a clear sense of defined practices and gaining progress through them.)

All these together lead to the summit that the practice is self-correcting and can be well traveled without any teacher's supervision, continual corrections, or amending with advanced instructions.

It's an evergreen fare that people come looking for practices to satisfy some fixed personal desire. Often this fixity is then channeled as meeting some whimsical aim and urge to take forceful control that deviates from the laid-back wisdom of true contemplative and peaceful heart. Therefore, there's a lot of room for creating errors.

Not only are many people dissatisfied with simple and efficient exercises, but they want also to modify what they have previously seen or create their own brand-new fad methods to evoke a sense of external mastery. Some are more modest and publicly only claim high mastery in Kungfu or meditation without making alterations to established standards. All these are signs of self-initiation in contrast to an open minded and respectful self-study.

Yes, it's entirely possible to train energy in a multitude of different ways, but not all of them are beneficial in the long term or fostering fair character development. Safety is another factor that can't be neglected especially when learning on your own. Please see the following topic I wrote about Qi deviations:


There are simple moving exercises in many Qigong styles, but even in these people may err while learning on their own or forget to uphold the correct physical relaxation. Also, I have witnessed many occasions when a disgruntled practitioner lashes out against his teacher because the physical movement apparently invites overtly critical examination and experimentation. Therefore, I have a bias against recommending very physical practices for people wishing to study on their own.

Visualization practices are an endless mire because they don't easily offer the mind to really relax and diffuse the baseline agitation nor shed the desire to imagine new ways to cut the practice short. How could it then result in correct outcomes?


The most difficult part really is that no instruction is foolproof for teaching how to not stir the heart, but gracefully accept even difficult emotions and thoughts that may surface and witness them with laid back awareness. If this obstacle is overcome, then the self-study has a chance to bear fruit. Some practices are more forgiving with them such that Flying Phoenix doesn't require mental stillness for effectiveness and Fragrant Qigong encourages an idle mind so strongly that it's okay to watch TV while practicing.

I really am recommending you to ponder how you would like to practice, what are your lifestyle restrictions, and what you are after. This is good to think through because there are upsides and downsides to every practice. Some styles don't mix well with others and some require adhering to specific precautions for good results.

Video instructions only rarely feature complete exercises without withholding the internal development and lineage skills as closed secrets, but there are few exceptions.

Those that I have found and presented below have in-built safety mechanisms that also reinforce good results, unless deliberately acted against that design. However, the characteristic feature always is simplicity and effectiveness.





I am very happy that both Sifu Terru Dunn and Sifu John Dolic accepted my invitation to join this forum because it's really rare that Qigong instructors with their level of practice experience and skill are so accessible.

You can join Sifu Terry and Sifu John at these forum branches respectively:



Closing Words​


It's my sincere wish that you find a practice that well resonates with you, and it's not a shame to find such outside of my list of recommended practices. I really wish that I could share more recommendations, but I am quite conservative in that regard because my quality control is strict and I don't want to advertise unfamiliar practices either.

In the future I may add about Buddhist Tantra and Dzogchen Atiyoga practices, but the issue I really feel is that practical Buddhism is more Sangha or community oriented and requires a regular contact with teacher. How well that would fit the principle of self-study is debatable.

Thank you for reading!



Free discussion about my article and practicing without a regular teacher contact. Discussion is open if others want to offer practice recommendations or insights for self-study.
 
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