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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 Wisdom develops heartfelt awareness because it sublimates base desires like greed and fear. How are desires and rejections building into a habit of relating our personal "self" to our experiences? Are we our experiences or actions? This is a call to observe and not an intellectual deduction nor an argument. When a baby is born pretty much all she does is to observe, eat, 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 can be suspended or quit. The path of wisdom is returning to that earlier puerile innocence which didn't see the world through permanent divisive categories or absolute judgments: we could call this practical 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 its full scope. 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 acquired habits that cloud it. There are many ways to purify one's wisdom, but these all have the same flavors of becoming fully aware of our own self-caused suffering and that this narcissism is not the entire picture nor permanent at all. Yogis can go as far as to train heartfelt awareness which connects to everyone 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 our fears and disdain without taking up victimhood. All the things we would rather avoid and not confront are the very same poisons which when taken in correct doses and with good skill become safe antidotes and healing medicine that sets us free from these compulsions. 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 in what the masters advice over inquiring about one's limiting conceptions of self and how none of it has real permanence. An essential part of accessing wisdom is having a stable heart, so we should have awareness and care over our own emotional regulation. First, I would offer good and short videos that talk about compassionate awareness, perceptions of stress, how people themselves can give rise to real life changing skills and realizations. The core offering here is that if you want to change yourself and your sense of self, then you should first have a healthy and happy 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 the sincere practitioner all the way to great merits and yogic accomplishment I recommend getting to know about Shanrendao and its virtue healing tradition. 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, but work these for everyone's favor. 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 humanizing and emphasizes that cultivation truly isn't about this or that formal technique but becoming wise and genuine person with a crystal-clear conscience. The lessons of virtue are especially important in our age because, in my opinion, there is growing neglect in teaching classic virtues like patience and self-sacrifice. Unvirtuous behavior such as blaming others, worrying over myriad possibilities, and anxious rationalizations easily lead to escalating tensions in the body and sourness that taints human connections. By avoiding faults and honing ourselves instead of others, we can engage in good speech which is timely and harmonizing, and therefore our words will stay ageless and gentle to the heart. 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. Below is a diagram that shows Wang Fengyi's Shanrendao tradition's insights into the classic Five Elemental Processes and how they connect to different human frameworks. These can also be useful in diagnosis which is clearly presented in the clinical healing cases of Liu Yousheng's magnificent book. 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 traditionally Chinese flavored spiritual cultivation that I have found anywhere. Wang Fengyi skillfully illuminates the similarities and differences in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Teachings about Open Awareness, Meditation and Nondual Wisdom C T's excellent topic is a treasure trove of both Buddhist and universal wisdom: 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 prolonged 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 outflows to spend that restlessness. All practitioners need to cultivate earnest patience that allows feeling stable and unshakable. Don't expect miracles overnight, but work on your expectations and not making a big deal about yourself. The most critical foundation for internal training and safe energetics is that any disruptive emotions must be healed through what could be called a process of acceptance, balance, and integration. The development of patience is crucial: If emotions flare, then the body's vital energies are diverted into excessive tantrums that weaken the whole body-mind complex. This thwarts any healing that is supposed to happen naturally, and strong emotions are a contraindication for formal meditative practices because strong upsets may deviate the how the vital energy operates in a healthy manner. Therefore, it's an incontestable premise that calmness of heart is the way to lasting 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 that only provide masks of happiness. You see, bliss and pleasure seeking are often convenient masks for not wanting to deal with uncomfortable emotions or traumas. There is nothing wrong in bliss and pleasure as such, but forceful desires and optimism over them will not calm the heart. How to give a physical boost to improving emotional balance? 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 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 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 there also are other types of exercises designed to foster relaxation and healing like the Dharma Drum's Eight-Form Moving Meditation. Supported by Compassion and Good Words Praying fervently but without hope or fear for the sake of others is a great way of making the heart happy, regardless of one's religious or spiritual views. For those who are engaged in Mahayana Buddhism of any flavor, I would give additional advice: cultivate bodhicitta continuously! It's my understanding that there are some particularly suitable Buddhist mantras and dharanis that would benefit just about any internal practice, but advising about recitation practice is tricky because the Buddhist path is comprehensive and not a collection of isolated methods that can be offered to just any audience without reservation: Teacher's advice would matter the most to the tenured practitioner, while the beginner would need a learn a large framework starting with the correct view, ethics, taking refuge in the Three Jewels, dedication of merits, etc. to make recitation practices truly useful. Nevertheless, I'm making few references here in case anyone wants to look up their merits: Getting into Cultivating Vitality There are following main factors that make a given 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 relative 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 only claim high mastery in Kungfu or meditation without modifying the 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 nor 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. Simplicity invites trust. Visualization practices are an endless mire because they don't easily offer the mind to relax 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 the ordinary beginner's mind such that Flying Phoenix Qigong 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. You will have to seek my suggested formal practices from authoritative sources. I have linked the best I could find. Video Instructions 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. Flying Phoenix - Features breath sequencing that quickly activates spinal energy, which makes its static standing exercises uncharacteristically very safe and powerful for self-learning. It also features moving and sitting meditations. Fragnant Qigong (Xiang Gong) - Very simple movements and powerful effects, but the practice has a lot of prohibitions. There apparently are flawed public demonstrations circulating in the Internet, so it must be learned from an authentic source. Wu Wei Qigong by George Xu - Supposedly activates an esoteric wheel in the belly to cultivate energy throughtout the day, which is similar to Falun Gong's Qigong but without its limitations. Written Instructions These written instruction often are the best of complete arts that were detailed in popular booklets during the China's booming Qigong craze. These are simple enough instruction that they could be printed out and distributed. Relaxation Qigong (Fang Song Gong) - Relaxation as a way to deep meditation, therefore dismisses forms and takes it the easy way. For advanced practitioners it provides a cool way to do meta-acupuncture for oneself. Longevity Self-Massage (Bedside Baduajin) - A quick and simple set of external massages, but supplements with an internal aspect that is a great way to get into Buddhist flavored Anapanasati meditation. Final 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. Thank you for reading! My special thanks go to @C T, @dwai, @steve, and @freeform for their helpful suggestions and inspiration they have kindly provided.