Qigong with Shifu Yan Lei at Shaolin Temple UK

Colleen with Shifu Yan Lei at Shaolin Temple UK

Earlier this year I suffered a knee and calf injury that put me out of action for several months. No exercise but plenty of pre-booked travel resulting in weight gain.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’ve mentioned Qigong on my blog. Whilst travelling I like to ensure that I take care of my health. Not only do I tend to eat healthier when I’m away from home, I also like to practice exercises that are location independent. It’s not always possible to get accommodation with a gym and jogging outdoors isn’t so much fun if the weather is poor.

I’ve spent recent weeks trying to get back into an exercise routine, starting with low intensity and gradually developing this as my strength improves. The lack of exercise has also impacted my travels, I couldn’t jump on a push-bike and pedal my way around a city anymore and walking was incredibly painful after more than a couple of miles. It’s best described as a nuisance that I am glad to be recovering from.

As part of my ongoing development, I joined a workshop at the Shaolin Temple UK, run by Shifu Yan Lei, a 34th generation fighting disciple. It was one of the first few classes that I have attended in London for several months but I was prepared to have a go, knowing that it was the first step to get back in-tune with my body.

With roots backdating 4,000 years in Chinese culture, Qigong is not just for martial artists, but is invaluable for maximising energy, alleviating stress, boosting the immune system and helping to achieve optimum health. Being inactive had certainly made me feel sluggish and outright lazy – not traits that I like to associate with my body.

Entrance to the Shaolin Temple UK, London

With this being an introductory workshop, it attracted a mixed bag of participants. Martial artists, boxers, Qigong aficionados and then people like me. Enthusiastic beginners. As I prepared for the class, it would be an understatement to say that I was nervous. I knew not to expect a walk in the park. It would be certain to push the limits, challenging my body to listen and react to instruction, a practice that I felt I had lost. Within a few minutes of the class starting, I was breaking a sweat, a pleasing sign of the efforts that I was making.

Shifu Yan Lei patiently guided the class of around 30 people through a series of lessons; movements and motions that work to strengthen the body. With his instruction, we worked through eight lessons, broken down to ensure a smooth process of learning. There was a lot of emphasis on control of the movement, focussing upon the timeliness of the inhale versus the exhale, the hold of the pose and the transition to the next, all the time keeping the discipline of balance and learning to listen to your body. It was a complete process of mind over matter. Pushing the body beyond its comfort zone but into something that was calming yet effective.

The core principles that were taught at this level were:

  • Intentional movement: careful, flowing balanced style
  • Rhythmic breathing: slow, deep, coordinated with fluid movement
  • Awareness: calm, focused meditative state
  • Visualisation: of energy flow and motion of the body

Additional training then developed to combine:

  • Softness: soft gaze, expressionless face
  • Solid stance: firm footing, erect spine
  • Relaxation: relaxed muscles, slightly bent joints
  • Balance and Counterbalance: motion over the centre of gravity

Qigong is able to be practised with minimal space, provided that you can create the right atmosphere for yourself – calm, minimal distractions and in comfort. I can’t wait to learn more about the discipline and incorporate this to my trips.

Do you have any particular exercises that you do whilst travelling? Jogging, gym, swimming. What works for you and why?

You can learn more about Shifu Yan Lei and his London based-school here.

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