We have been fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a 3 day Tai Chi retreat this summer. The husband of one of our Mandarin teachers is a Tai Chi and Kung Fu Master and is running the retreat on Chongming Island which is a 2 hour drive from where we live but still within the Shanghai area, which is good because it means that we don’t have to do the 14 day quarantine again before going back on campus.
Chongming is China’s 3rd largest island after Taiwan and Hainan. It is situated in the mouth of the Yangtze River, which is about 12 miles wide at this point and the drive in the tunnel took ages.
The island is a few degrees cooler than downtown Pudong and is mostly farms or newly constructed houses for the wealthy.
Our hotel is also a farm and it was pear harvest season while we were there. All around us huge pears were being packed into boxes for delivery. Chinese pears are rounder than ones grown in the UK and were so juicy and fresh.
On arrival we we told about the Chi and how the energies affected all body parts. Tai Chi is about harnessing and releasing the energies in the body. It is very gentle as you are in a state of alert relaxation. Blockages of energy can affect your health and well-being so even some simple exercises can not only make you feel better and improve your mood but also give you more energy for your day.
We learned the correct stance for exercising and then oddly, the correct way to walk!! We’ve been doing it wrong all our lives. Who knew?
We had to practice for ages walking slowly and intentionally and it used muscles that we don’t normally use so even that was tiring.
The good thing about this retreat is the frequent rests (even if the bed is traditional Chinese and rock hard!)
In the evening we did more mindful walking this time down by the lake as it grew dark. It was beautiful there with a full moon and a gentle breeze tugging at the warm air.
Then we lay down on the decking and did some meditation and to my amazement as we gazed up at the starry sky a shooting star appeared. It was the first time I have ever seen one, it felt quite portentous.
One of the benefits of Tai Chi is that as it releases your energies it helps you to sleep better. I did have a reasonably good night despite the board-like bed. Kevin, on the other hand was kept awake by a cat howling just outside our window all night. It must have been the effect of the full moon!!!
The next day began for us at 7am with exercises in the rose garden. All very slow and controlled but apparently designed to wake up our meridians. I have to say that my meridians have never had so much attention.
Breakfast was traditional Chinese so no tea or coffee, just water to drink and congee to eat which is a very bland watery rice porridge. This can be flavored with a sort of scrambled egg or vegetables. It was all extremely healthy!
Our morning was spent doing standing meditation (there is a knack to it and you have to align all your bones so that it is comfortable to just stand) and other basic Tai Chi moves. Here we are using the chi to push the other person away.
Our Tai Chi master is extremely patient with us and very encouraging when we do something correct. By the end of the morning I did feel some tingling in my hands and fingertips which is apparently a ‘good sign’. I was releasing my energies which helps to keep the chi flowing well. Much of the energy flow follows the bloodstream but I guess that anything which improves your circulation can’t be bad.
From time to time the master would gently realign your posture and your limb would tingle strangely. Then he would stroke the energy away, called ‘letting go’. It was all extremely controlled and powerfully relaxing.
This was a typical meal. All fresh and organic. One day we had silk melon which I had never heard of before.
In the afternoon we learned about acupressure but strangely it didn’t involve putting any pressure on or even touching. There was a burning stick which I think was some special grasses and they were coated in something smelly. At any rate it was red hot and a slow burn. The idea was that you made special circular, repetitive movements over a certain point on the body which then corresponded to an organ.
Here I am doing the spot which is going to help Kevin’s heart (and help him to get a good nights sleep) allegedly.
And here Karin is working on Fernanda’s blockage (we were all blocked there apparently) It was a little scary at first as the tip of the stick was red hot and I was were worried that it was going to burn my skin or at the very least drop hot ash but after a while i relaxed into it.
My gall bladder is now doing great after much smoke was wafted over a particular point on my calf. In fact it has never had so much attention.
The evening was chinese massage and here Kevin is being shown the correct position.
Today we had a calligraphy lesson. It’s not as easy as it looks as you need to let your chi flow.
Many of my efforts looked like spiders in acid but I managed a few passable characters in the end.
And Kevin did a Tai Tree
We finished off with something which I never though I would ever be able to do: a 15 minute standing meditation. And I didn’t even realize that it had been 15 minutes. Wow! By the end my whole palm was tingling- a good sign of the chi flowing.
Kevin made a friend, 5 year old Shao Ma (means little horse) our Tai Chi Master’s son who was quite taken by the hairs on Kevin’s arms. He kept stroking them and giggling. At the end when we did a group reflection Kevin’s hairy arms had been his highlight and he wanted his dad to grow some. Lol.