With Kevin back at home this summer and travel severely curtailed, I decided to dedicate much of my free time in Shanghai to working on my Taiji. After all I had hours and hours to do it.
In this, my second year of learning Taiji, I have also been learning to teach the basic moves to others and since September 2021 I have taught a few of the teachers on campus after school. It is my retirement plan ambition to return to the UK and teach the skills that I am learning here. I believe that there is a growing interest in the west, in ,health benefits of Taiji but there are a limited number of good quality teachers. I regularly see requests on Taiji and QiGong Facebook sites for ‘in person’ teachers. My Shifu has students all over the world who would normally travel to see him but who now have to make do with zoom only classes. Many are based in Europe and would maybe come to see me for a lesson.
During the lockdown period I also taught a few online classes. My Ayi was lonely and cooped up in a one bedroom apartment and the lack of daylight was affecting her. I taught her some exercises and she very much appreciated the chance to get some good quality exercise in a confined space.
Taiji was a sanity saver for me during the lockdown period as I was able to stretch out my shoulders between zoom sessions and do longer meditation in the afternoons (as I was not commuting). Once we were permitted outside in the compound I would practice in the grounds as often as I could and attracted quite a bit of attention.
Several of the Chinese ladies who live here saw me practicing and asked me to teach them (the irony of me teaching Taiji to the Chinese was not lost on me!) For a while at the beginning of the summer I had some quite large groups which gave me a different experience of teaching.
This is because teaching Taiji is not like teaching other exercise regimes such as Yoga or Pilates. Each person has their own bone structure and their own posture problems so each student is treated individually. After the group warm up exercises everyone progresses through the routine at their own speed and people manage some moves more easily than others. I discovered that groups of about 6 are ideal if you want to be able to give everyone some individual attention.
Teaching is an excellent way of consolidating your own learning and I have had so many health and well-being benefits that I want to share them with others. Doing Taiji and meditation has helped me to keep calm during some stressful times and helped me to cope with the stress of missing the family weddings.
In our modern, highly pressurized and over-stimulated society we have, in the most part, lost the ability to be still and calm and at peace with ourselves. We no longer commune with nature or regularly rest our minds in our busy world and this can contribute to anxiety disorders and depression. Meditation is a marvelous antidote to that and even if you are not depressed or anxious it helps you to keep your life in balance. But meditating can also help with a while range of healing. For instance digestive problems, migraines or painful muscles will all benefit from regular good quality meditation.
The school of Taiji that we follow is called Nei Gong which translates as ‘inner energy’. This includes the principles of Nei Dan which is all about using your inner energy for healing. It translates as ‘inner medicine’. When we have unblocked our meridians and can feel the qi moving inside us it is possible to use these balls of energy to help fix internal problems, even to rejuvenate cells and keep you looking and feeling younger. I would qualify this with the need to practice every day. As with any discipline the more you practice the more proficient you become. But the joy of practicing Taiji is that it feels SO good once you reach a high enough level.
My visa at the school stipulates that I cannot have a second job. The government is quite strict about this and no teachers can do private tuition, for example. So I am in a position where I cannot accept any payment and all my lessons are currently free. This is probably a good thing whilst I am still a novice teacher.
It is very interesting though to see how some people value the free lessons and come as often as they can whilst others don’t bother. I have observed that people attend more if they are paying. Shifu says that it is human nature to be inherently lazy and to want good results with minimal effort. Modern society is certainly very fast-paced with lots of instant gratification. He says that a high percentage of people who try Taiji quit at the beginning. Another high percentage finish after 6 months and only a small number of people persist with learning for over a year. I am extremely fortunate that two of my students are long- stay and both can now feel the qi. I am very proud of them.
In the summer months I taught outside every morning between 8-9am. Not too early as it was the holidays and people wanted a lie in but early enough to miss the heat of the day. It was extremely humid and we sweated buckets, but in actual fact sweating is an excellent way of getting rid of toxins from the body. Too much air conditioning, although comfortable, can actually damage your joints and lead to problems such as stiff or painful shoulders or knees.
Correct posture is fundamental to achieving health. Without good posture our meridians are blocked, our internal organs get squashed and our joints suffer. Many of us feel aches and pains as we get older when we get out of bed each morning. I used to, but now that I am standing, sitting and walking better I get up completely pain free. I don’t suffer from stiff joints at all. Another example of Taiji’s rejuvenative benefits.
Milun Summer Camp 2022
Given the travel restrictions in place, the annual summer camp in Chongming Island was greatly reduced. Not only were the international folks prevented from coming (again) but this year Shanghai quarantine rules made it impossible for even the Beijing people to attend.
So it was just four of us Shanghai students plus Shifu’s family which made it a much more immersive experience. We did have some day visitors a couple of times, which was nice.
This year we practiced a lot outside and learned some new morning exercises called ‘clapping’
This highlight of the camp for me was learning some TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) techniques during the afternoons such as Maaxa treatments, qi massage and cupping.
I was also asked to give 4 talks which were zoomed to the students who were not able to join in person. I was talking to people of many different nationalities all over the world. I spoke about my Taiji journey, my meditation journey, a brief analysis of the similarities and differences between God and Dao and the study of some Chinese characters using picture imagery.
Shifu didn’t let up on the practical side though and we trained hard on the applications and the routine learning new movements and deepening our experiences of the qi.
You can find out more about the summer camp at http://www.miluntraditionalkungfuschool.com
My life has changed. I no longer need caffeine to wake me up or to keep me going through the day. I no longer crave alcohol to help me relax and enjoy myself. I go to bed early, even if it means being a party pooper and I generally get good quality sleep, which is a huge bonus these days. I rise with the dawn (or earlier) and exercise to energize myself for the day ahead. I feel that my life is simpler and more balanced.
Being a Shifu has taught me a lot. Taiji is like an onion with many many layers. You cannot learn all the techniques, philosophy and wisdom from books alone. You need to feel and experience all the sensations and watch people around you in your daily life. And if I have realized one thing from being a (junior) Shifu, it’s how much that I still have to learn…