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group study Female Practice and Femininity in Spiritual Cultivation

Group study openly invites people to exchange thoughts together based on premises that are always explicitly pointed out, however loose they might be, and when any fixed outcome isn't called for. It's good to keep mindful and respectful of both what is and what isn't relevant for discussion though.

Energetic conflict(s):      Warning. Extra attention and care with correct instructions are needed.

Precaution(s):     
  1. Advanced (beginners would not benefit from trying to sidestep laying the correct foundation)
  2. Teacher Needed (learning is too difficult without teacher's detailed assistance or supervision)
  3. The Great Work (internal arts are difficult and life's challenges range from temptations to harmless diversions, but it's important to persist in everything correct)

Discussion premise:      Comparative study (e.g. formal cultivation methods across different traditions, generic Qigong training principles, folk traditions, etc.) — Please try to uphold this point of view so that the discussion always returns to it.

Roots of Virtue

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Hereby we shall have a general discussion thread about female practice and femininity in spiritual cultivation.

This is not meant to be a ladies' bathroom, but a women's interest group. Men can also participate if they show dignity and respect.



The Premises for Female Practice​


  • Men and women are psychologically, energetically, and anatomically different enough that it's wise to be aware that not everything works the same for both biological sexes: the womb, the ovaries, and the reverse polarities of the side channels are the most distinguishing features separating women from men. (I am graciously leaving all gender identity out of this consideration because it's completely irrelevant here.)
  • Women's Neidan or internal alchemy works 1.5x as fast as men's if both train under ideal conditions. This is because the female physiology and energy circulation is naturally more supple and less stiff than the male's.
  • Women access intuitive wisdom easier than men, but they will have to sort though their natural reliance to emotions later on.
  • Female fertility, menstruation, and pregnancy are unique conditions that men don't experience.
  • Women have had hard time in many societies: restrictive social roles may offer little chance of pursuing independent spiritual practice. Also, much of spirituality and religion has been designed for men first because men need good role models and rules to keep themselves checked, and this has lead to a shortage of the female perspective. (The social problems with patriarchal institutions are not a discussion topic here.)
 
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Roots of Virtue

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Pregnancy Tolerance as a Litmus Test for Great Practice​


I have a long term interest in safe and effective formal cultivation methods, and a special concern for women has been close to my heart: the practice should be equally good for both men and women throughout their lives. Women's pregnancy is a particular issue that puts strict limits into place.


Qigong styles indicating how many full months it's safe to practice​


My investigation tells that some teachers have given how many months into pregnancy it is safe to continue practice. I think this is a good and objective measure with a single digit to tell it all, but unfortunately there's not much readily available data for a comprehensive listing.

Sleeping Qigong: 9 months
Eva Wong's Qigong: 0 months — https://www.dechencholing.org/program/qigong-and-meditation-retreat-02-04-2017/
Soaring Crane: 0 months — https://www.mountainspiritqigong.com/About_Qigong/soaring.html
Fan Teng Gong: 3 months — https://daoyuan-fan-teng-gong.net/?p=1713
Fragrant Qigong, level 1 & 2: 9 months & 5 months — http://www.qi.org/fragrant/frag1.PDF
Flying Phoenix: 8 months
Sheng Zhen: 9 months — https://shengzhen.org/the-forms/
Stillness-Movement: 6 months

Please note that I'm not giving any endorsement here, but merely making clear what the styles and teachers themselves say.


What kind of practices and practical principles are contraindicated?​


  • Unsuitable physical movement where belly gets in the way such as bending over deeply.
  • Spontaneous or very active movement.
    • There is elevated risk and uncertainty with these.
  • Having mental focus on the belly region or specific acupoints that can trigger early delivery.
    • The acupoints can be manually activated also, which is why women shouldn't be doing any combat sports or rough massage after pregnancy is confirmed.
  • Inducing coarse or fierce energetic circulation.
    • It may harm the baby.
  • Breath retention.
    • As above.
  • Dynamic tension and external conditioning.
    • Tension really isn't good for anyone. External conditioning can be risky even for healthy individuals.
  • Accelerated karmic cleansing.
    • These will lead to excessive emotional stimulation and uncomfortable experiences, which is not good while pregnant.
    • Almost every type of tantra practice is designed to provoke past traumas and emotions in order to cleanse karma fast. Buddhist tantra is no different.
    • Extensive mantra work may lead to ungentle purging experiences.

What are some great practices then?​


I have found that Flying Phoenix and Fragrant Qigong have very subtle calming energy despite the fact that they are strongly activating. They also are physically relatively undemanding and don't have anything to do with the Classical Chinese Medicine or Daoist internal alchemy models that often require some extra considerations. Therefore, both styles seem to be particularly well fitting for pregrant women.

I asked I Ching how easy would it be to find better Qigong styles for pregnant women and this was the response: Hexagram 33 Retreat: ml 4,5,6 => 15 Temperance. My interpretation is that the oracle is empathically saying "Nuh-uh, curb the enthusiasm to find anything more powerful or stimulating".

I also specifically confirmed with the I Ching that prayer and and Buddhist Guruyoga tantra is basically good, but it would be better if there already was at least a year's worth of practical experience before pregnancy. Compare these two results 4 Inexperience: ml 3 => 18 Repair and 14 Wealth. This apparently is because the inexperienced can feel the tide of blessings brought by the practice as overwhelming and the resulting mind purification as new and confusing.


A book recommendation​



I really like the book Let the Radiant Yang Shine Forth: Lectures on Virtue by Liu Yousheng. It has an appendix called Precious Record of Physiology which shares advice about which days are good for conceiving a child and which not. The book itself tells of Liu Yousheng's personal experience on practicing Shanrendao virtue healing. It's not meditation, but a modern reinvigoration of how Confucius taught impeccable ethics as the means of gaining health, wisdom, and Enlightenment. There are many clinical cases how sick people recover their health after confronting past situations when they had lost their calm to a fit of temper and started reacting in a hostile manner to other people. The key is in sincere confession of wrong-doing and repentance. The book tells such touching cases like when a child's congenital heart condition is permanently healed after the mother repents the hatred she had held in her own heart. Truly, having healthy family relationships is one of the chief causes of happiness and all-around success in life.

Understanding and applying the principles of this book will be of great joy and benefit to every family.
 
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lotusofpeace

Lotus of Peace
I'm wondering how different the specific practices are for men and women's cultivation. As much as there are common practices, my sense is that Womb consciousness is something key to women's development.

I've been reflection on how women's practice may need to consider, where the woman practitioner is along their monthly cycle. In terms of nutrition, I've become aware that my body has different needs and internal movements (emotions), depending on where I am just like the energies of a new moon and full moon. Something to consider, especially for teachers who encounter women. Any experiences with this? Are there differences in intensity of practice or choice of practices across the cycle?
 
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Roots of Virtue

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I'm wondering how different the specific practices are for men and women's cultivation.

I have seen in some practical instructions that during menstruation women shouldn't keep their gentle intent (yi) in their lower belly nor visualize red colored light there: either could easily lead to more profuse bleeding and unnecessary loss of vitality. The instructions have then specified that women could instead hold their intent in their middle dantian and visualize blue color in that region.

Please note that keeping gentle intent and visualizing colors are from completely separate practices and only fragments of longer exercise routines.
 
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Roots of Virtue

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Spiritual Alchemy for Women: Introduction​


This short treatise on Taoist meditation for women was written for one Cao Zhenjie, a married woman described as "more learned and knowledgeable than men," in the year 1899.

The distinction made between men and women in ordinary Taoist practice is part of the science of this life and has to do with the physiological difference between the sexes. As seen in the work of Sun Bu-er, the feminine Tao of life includes the practice of deliberate and harmonious menopause as part of mastery over the physical body.

In the present treatise, it will be seen that the primary distinction made is in the location of the attention when generating psychosomatic energy to circulate through the body. Men ordinarily use the lower abdomen, but this is proscribed for women, who are to use the sternum instead.

The inner circulation of psychosomatic energy is commonly used for health and well-being, but misapplication of the collection procedure is universally held to be harmful.

Those familiar with present-day Zen cults of Japanese origin will immediately notice in the following text the distinction made between Taoist practice for females and males in terms of the location of the attention in beginning sitting meditation.

One of the unfortunate results of the uncritical importation of deteriorated forms of Japanese Zen Buddhism into Western countries, where a relatively large number of women attempt to practice Zen, is that many women have been taught to sit with the attention in the lower abdomen, a method Taoists claim is harmful to females.

It is in fact nearly impossible to find any indication of this practice in authentic traditional Chan or Zen texts of China or Japan. It was popularised by the famous eighteenth-century Zen teacher Hakuin, but as part of a therapeutic regimen, as it had been in the comprehensive Chinese school Tiantai Buddhism from which Chan partly derived.

There is no evidence, furthermore, of Hakuin having taught any of his many female students to keep their attention in the abdomen as a regular practice, but many later Zen teachers seem to have made it a standard procedure for everyone regardless of other conditions.

Perhaps this distortion was fostered by the popularity of Zen among males of the samurai caste, and later by association of Zen with martial arts, in which the focus of attention in the lower abdomen has a special function.

In martial arts, of course, the motion of the practitioner has the effect of rapidly redistributing the accumulation of energy and thus offsetting the attendant dangers of this technique. According to the Taoist science of life, focus of attention on any part of the body involves potential danger and should not be done too long or too intensely. Specific dangers accompanying attention on the lower abdomen in females, and attention on points in the head in both females and males.

In Japan, the deterioration of the original system of which concentration on certain physical locations forms a part is evidenced in the use of the term tanden ("elixir field") exclusively for the lower abdomen. The original Taoist system defines three elixir fields, not just one; the lower abdomen is but one of these, called in Taoism the lower elixir field. Again, it might be to theorized that the fragmentation and oversimplification of this system in Japan might have been due to centuries of dominance of male military associations with Zen.

The present treatise on spiritual alchemy for women also makes it clear that this type of exercise is done only in the beginning of practice, until a certain effect is realized. Here again Zen cults of Japanese derivation that have people repeat the same exercise—particularly the exercises of placing the attention in the abdomen or on the breath—over and over again for tears on end present clear evidence of stultifying deterioration.

The etiology and specific symptoms of the deleterious effects of such practices among modern devotees Zen or Taoist sitting and similar disciplines are not necessarily self-evident to either prescribers or practitioners, because of the very limitations of the systems that prescribe these practices indiscriminately. In view of this, and in consideration of the benefits of less obsessive and more technically well-informed procedures, this text on feminine Taoist practice may be considered of special importance for the many women of today who are attempting to user interior meditation methods to enchance consciousness and life.

Source: Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women (North Atlantic Books, 1996), pp. 81-83, translated and edited by Thomas Cleary

Please note that this entire source material has been included in the comprehensive compilation volume The Taoist Classics (Volume 3): The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary.

 
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