Tai Chi for everyone

I came to China to practice Kung Fu and Tai Chi. I still practice Tai Chi. It’s such a big part of my life, so I want to share some of my personal experience about it.

More and more research is showing how Tai Chi can help you to stay healthy or to help older people to maintain balance, a normal blood pressure, a healthy heart and much more.

In fact, most people still see Tai Chi as something for old people. Even in China, most people forgot about the benefits and the ancient art of Tai Chi and see it just as exercise for the old to keep fit, a bit like aerobics for the elderly.

Nothing can be more from the truth. Tai Chi is more than that, as I will tell you from my personal experience.

When I was younger, I was already interested in martial arts, so I practiced judo and karate, but just as a recreational sports, not for competitions. So, I only practiced twice a week. I was sometimes into running, but was never good at it (2 or 3 km, at most 5km, and I was as red as a tomato and was panting for the next hour).

I loved exercise and I went to the gym frequently, but now I realize that I was never pushing myself. I was never trying to improve much. I just went along with the coach, e.g. during a spinning class, or was just trying to lift heavier weights, but never enough to improve my fitness level.

Until now, I didn’t realize what I was doing. I thought I worked on my health and that I was fit enough. Little did I know.

I hang out with people now who are into mountaineering, marathons and ultraruns. Compared to them, I am in really bad shape. But, I am also amazed at my current fitness level. I can’t run a marathon, but the girl who could only run 2 or 3 km, can all of a sudden run 16km without much preparation. Rock climbing? Ok, I’ll try and to my surprise I can finish routes that are a bit above IMG_20150531_063721beginner level (with pushing myself hard and people shouting encouragement from 20m down, yes, it’s also about overcoming a fear of heights).

How come that I can run 16km in 33 degrees celsius, while my more than 10 years younger self was panting at 3km in a colder climate?

The answer I got after reading some books and after some self-evaluation, is because of my Tai Chi.

Tai Chi gives you good balance, so I will put my feet and my body in a good way, which will make me less prone to injuries. The most important change is my breath. Tai Chi teaches you to breathe deeply and properly, the abdominal breathing. This way of breathing gives me more oxygen, which gives me more endurance. Tai Chi is a fully integrated system: the different movements let all your muscles work and because you practice them in a soft flowing way, you are more aware of what is going on in your body. If you put a foot or other body part in a different position, you will be more aware of it and you will adjust it faster. Another important feature is that it gives you a better posture, so my back is straight all the time. Every time when I curve my back or I slouch a bit, my body will correct itself immediately. This is important for running, but also in our every day life. As we are spending more time behind the computer or on the couch, a good posture is inevitable to stay healthy and fit into old age.

So, Tai Chi gives you a lot of advantages and not only when you are old, you can benefit from it at any age. That said, Tai Chi is no miracle cure too. You should always listen to your body and give your body enough rest after you do strenuous exercise like running. But, as Tai Chi will teach you, be aware of what is going on in your body and you will know when to stop or when to take a rest for some days.

I invite everyone to try some Tai Chi classes and feel the difference yourself.

Exclusive Tai Ji retreat in Bali!!!

I will organize a Chen Tai Ji retreat in Bali from 18 May 2015 till 25 May 2015. This is mainly for beginners to give them some immersion in the world of Tai Ji and Qi Gong in a beautiful setting. So, they will be able to concentrate on Tai Ji during these 7 days, ask questions and practice by themselves. Places are limited! Please help me spread the word. If it’s popular, I will do this more often and invite more teachers – guest speakers to contribute.

This is the program:
18 May: welcome dinner

19 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: 2 hours Tai Ji
evening: 15 minutes meditation + question round and share experiences

20 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: 2 hours Tai Ji
evening: 15 minutes meditation + question round and share experiences

21 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: guest speaker (someone who has been living many years in China, learned
Tai Ji, Qi Gong, acupuncture, Chinese medicine will give a lecture
evening: Balinese evening with dance and buffet

22 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: 2 hours Tai Ji
evening: 15 minutes meditation + question round and share experiences

23 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: free afternoon to do your own training or go into town and explore Ubud
evening: 15 minutes meditation + question round and share experiences

24 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: 2 hours Tai Ji
evening: 15 minutes meditation + question round and share experiences

25 May: morning: 1 hour Qi Gong; breakfast; 2 hours Tai Ji – lunch
afternoon: last 2 hours of training
evening: free

The total cost is 1000 EUR, included a room in a very nice resort in Ubud, Bali, breakfast and lunch included, 1 welcome dinner, 1 Balinese evening, 1 spa treatment, guest speaker and all lessons + video of the form you learned.

If you or any people you know are interested, send me an email at: healthy-body-mind@outlook.com

Getting ready for the competition

24 October is the World Championship Competition of Tai Chi here in China. And, I am selected in the Belgian team to compete with the Chen Tai Chi form. I am very happy and feel privileged to be able to join such a big competition!!

But, with it comes hard training… I am in Huizhou now, to learn from a different Tai Chi master. I am here 1 week now and have progressed a lot. My first training, she told me that I can’t possibly join the competition, that my Tai Chi is really bad (thanks for the heads up :P). Anyway, that didn’t put me down, because she really has a high level in Tai Chi and I already consider myself a winner just by being able to learn from her and this all in the Chinese language (which sometimes gives a lot of miscommunication as well).

1 week with practicing for more than 4 hours every day and she has given me a lot of exercises to work on, my body is getting stronger, but I am also getting tired, all my joints hurt like hell and I think I pulled a tendon in my hip. But, I am not giving up. I am counting on Chinese medicine to do a little bit of magic. Only 1 more week to get ready and my master is happy about my progress. She told me that I learn fast, which makes me want to try my best more and not to let her down.

I now have decided to look for a job here next year and learn more from her. She is amazing! And I am glad I found a Tai Chi master who wants to teach me thoroughly (for foreigners it’s difficult to find someone like that, because they don’t put a lot of effort in teaching foreigners properly. Most Tai Chi schools have become very commercialized, unfortunately).

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The square where I practice Tai Chi every morning and evening.

Huizhou is a beautiful city as well, very clean, not so polluted as other Chinese cities and I am staying with a lovely couchsurfer, who gives me more local information.
From here, I can work on my new business idea as well: teach Tai Chi and give workshops. Huizhou is near Shenzhen and Hong Kong, which gives me a chance to go to companies and give workshops as a form of team-building, and work together with travel agencies to teach Western tourists as well. I want Tai Chi to become more popular in the world and want more people to know what it’s all about. A girl may dream, no?

How about you? What dream do you want to fulfill? Did you put your heart and soul in something you are passionate about?

Who suffers from stress? This is the cure for it!

Do you have stress? Here is a way to get rid of it!

According to recent studies 77% of all people have stress and stress-related symptoms. Some of those more important symptoms are:

  • Fatigue (51%)
  • Irritability or anger (50%)
  • Headache (44%)
  • Feeling nervous (45%)
  • Lack of energy (45%)
  • Upset stomach (34%)
  • And the list goes on…
What if I could help you in an easy way to get rid of all these symptoms and give you a feeling of satisfaction and success?
You don’t need to do a lot of effort to achieve all you want in your life. With minor changes you can have:

  • Better balance
  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • High level of health
  • High life satisfaction
  • Positive affect and well-being
  • And much more…
Check my indiegogo project: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/who-suffers-from-stress-this-is-the-cure-for-it/x/6746087
With a little funding, I help you to get rid of most symptoms through skype sessions. If you want more advanced help, I can come to you and give a workshop.
Go and do it now for a better, fulfilling life, because you are worth it!!

Starting as Health Coach

A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.

I have decided to do my life’s work as a job. I have always been interested in health: did several health courses, am reading a lot of books about it, did a Teacher Training course of yoga in Rishikesh, India and studied kung fu and tai chi in China.

I think it’s time to reconsider my life and do something with the knowledge I gained. I want to teach people what is good for them and I love the ancient Eastern philosophies. We can learn so much from them and we learn to move and think about our body in a totally different way.

I am amazed by the benefits I had with eating and moving in a healthy way: I got rid of my allergies, I am almost never sick anymore (before I had a cold or the flu at least a couple of times every year) and I am more flexible and my body is more balanced (I feel I move in a different, more grounded way). It would be so nice to let people see the benefits it can have for them for themselves.

Later this year I will start with a website where people can book for online advice or for a private session. My lesson plans for yoga and tai chi will also be on it. People could book me for a workshop near their place if it’s doable for me.

I will keep this blog updated about all the changes…

Out of Nothingness came Everything – From Wu Ji to Tai Ji

“In the beginning was Nothingness, Out of Nothingness came a random thought. A thought caused a movement within the stillness that generated infinite ripples, Movement gave rise to Qi, vital breath. Breath congealed into the five elements – metal, water, wood, earth, fire – symbolic of matter. Then this chaos became organized by Yin and Yang. Breathing knew inhalation and exhalation, the universe was ordered according to duality; for only in the interaction and tension between polar opposites could movement and evolution arise.”

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This is the beginning of Tai Ji (or in Western spelling Tai Chi). With our Western mind it is hard to understand the concept of Nothingness, Everything, duality and Qi. Why should everything in the world be understood in terms of duality? What does Qi mean?
Tai Ji is more than just some health exercises or a martial art. It’s a whole philosophy, a totally different way of thinking. Once you start doing Tai Ji you start at the tip of the iceberg, but there is a huge mountain hidden underneath it. A mountain that is not easy to climb down. Most of it stays hidden, or is so difficult to understand with our Western mind.

The focus of Tai Ji is not on your hands or legs, it’s on your hips and Dantian. Dantian is your energy (Qi) centre, which lies more or less 2 thumbs under your navel. When you practice Tai Ji you have to focus your mind on your Dantian and send the energy (Qi) from there to other parts of your body and send it back to your Dantian. This simple concept (at least for the Chinese) is already so difficult to grasp for us. How can we feel that we are sending our Qi from our Dantian to the correct bodypart?? My teacher always told me that I am sending my Qi only to my knees and never the whole way down to my feet, so I put too much pressure on my knees and my feet are not grounded. For years, I had no idea what he was talking about. Now, I start to understand… I think (!?) Who can ever tell but a real Tai Ji master if you have enough Qi and if it is flowing through your body?

All this makes Tai Ji very interesting. You never stop learning. You can never say that you know 1 form really well. It takes years of practice to learn a form in detail and to connect all the details together: your hips have to be flexible, your whole body should be relaxed, but your legs should be firm, your breathing should connect your movements, your hands have to be open, but not too open, and so on, and so on,…
I would recommend everyone to start their own journey into Tai Ji and feel for yourself how you get to know your body all over again in a different way!

 

Death of a Kungfu generation: Gao YenTao has left this world

Gao Yentao was a great Kungfu master in Yangshuo who embellished his family style BuDiZhen. He performed in the Guangxi opera for many years as the monkey king (the most honorable performance) and met his future wife there. Together they got 4 boys: The twins George and Peter, LaoSan en Laosi (in Chinese you name each other brother 1,2,3 and so on, so I don’t know the real names of George and Peter’s brothers). Due to poverty, George and Peter couldn’t go to school from when they were 9 years old. Gao Yentao (papa, as he was named by all his students) taught them kungfu as he saw was the only good future he could give to his 2 oldest sons. Papa was taught kungfu by his father and grandfather and he perfected the style in many ways.

George went to both Shaolin and Wudang in his late teens to learn more kungfu. The brothers’ childhood was very difficult, because of the Chinese situation (under Mao a lot of kungfu practicioners were sued and killed) and they were very poor. So, George and Peter learned their skills the hard way: they even did some underground fighting to get some money.
First, when George and Peter were adults, they were only teaching Chinese people, but after an incident where 1 of their students killed someone in the bar, they started to teach mainly foreigners. They were amongst the first ones to get a certificate to teach abroad. George and Peter were teaching in Australia for almost 5 years until Peter became very ill and had to get a kidney removed and they got problems with their visa. So, they went back to China to teach in Yangshuo again.

In 2007, I first met George and papa when I was travelling through China and stayed in Yangshuo for 2 days. Their school was in an old run-down building near XiJie. Papa was living upstairs in a small spartan room. The room had no bathroom (he had to share it with the rest of the building) and had only a bed and some cupboards. I immediately fell in love with their family style and with papa’s personality. He was a short man of 81 years old, but still very strong and he was the most gentle, honest, open man I ever met. He immediately wanted to show us a lot of things and wanted to talk a lot about the style and his life. After this experience, I wanted to go back to Yangshuo as soon as possible. The next year, april 2008, I went back for 1 month to train with George and papa as much as possible. I didn’t see much of Yangshuo and the surroundings as I was training up to 6 hours or more a day. Papa was teaching me the Panlong Guin (dragon staff), his favorite. The traditional form consists of 2 parts, but he added 2 more parts. It’s basically a form where you have a long staff to do the movements. The form has a lot of ‘flowers’ as he called it: beautiful (very difficult) movements with the staff, such as swirling the staff around your head or body or above you with 1 hand; throwing the staff up and trying to catch it behind your back,… To be able to do 1 flower it takes a lot of practice. I will never forget how he encouraged me: aaahhh, hao (good) at first, then: aaahhh, hen hao (very good). And every time: way to go! One more time. Everything was one more time for hours and hours. It seemed like he never grew tired. If I would come into the training studio at 8am he would already be there training. If George was teaching me he would stretch with 20kg weights on his legs or encourage me from the side. He even taught me the handstand against the wall (I could never really do a handstand, but when I saw papa doing a handstand, a man of 81 years old, I thought that a girl of 28 years old definitely has to do it). It took me a while to do it and all the time papa was beside me to help and encourage (aaaahhh, hao, one more time: which actually means: you still need to practice, girl).

After that month in Yangshuo, I could only think of 1 thing: how to go back to Yangshuo for a longer period and learn more about the BuDiZhen style??? December 2008 was the date: I went back to think of not returning back to Belgium for a long time. Yangshuo was my home, with my new Chinese kungfu family. Again, I started to practice kungfu for more than 6 hours a day. Every form I learned, I became more excited. Papa was telling me a lot of stories of his life, but unfortunately, I didn’t understand him. I became very close with the Gao family: they invited me to family dinners and were always generous even though they didn’t have a lot of money…
I trained with them for 2 years until life caught up with me: after those first initial months I started to work as an English teacher, so I could only train part-time. And after 2 years in Yangshuo I decided to have my own business, so I could train less frequently. Papa moved to a better place at the outskirts of town, which was much better for him, but which meant that I didn’t see him every day in the training studio. After that I met Ping, who started teaching me Chen TaiChi, I didn’t practice the BuDiZhen style anymore.
I still went to George from time to time to ask how papa was doing, but our relationship was not that close anymore, until 3 days ago.
Sunday morning George called me in tears that papa had a heart attack the morning before, Saturday 15 June. I couldn’t believe it!! Such a strong man! For me and for many other students as well, papa was beyond normal. He had a supernatural strength. An example: a student at the funeral told me: he had a friend living upstairs from papa 2 years ago and every morning around 6 or 7am, the whole building would shake like there was some kind of construction going on. One day he saw that it was papa outside practicing, banging his hand against a tree. The whole building shaked because of it. Papa was still practicing Qi Gong, TaiChi and Panlong Guin until the day he died. This, for me, is the true art of Kungfu  and the proof that it helps to enhance your body. Papa could do things in his 80s that many people can’t even do in their 20s…

Sunday afternoon, I went to pay my respect to papa and the Gao family. A funeral in China is 3 days, so it was already the 2nd day (a funeral starts as soon as the person dies, I guess it has something to do with the heat here). The coffin was inside the building with a picture of papa in front of it. Before the coffin you had some chicken and other food to sacrifice to the deceased. In front of the food you had a big pot with candles burning and a lot of incense, before that some straw and a sheet on it. Every person that comes, has to take 9 incense sticks, light them, kneel down and pray. Then, put the incense in the pot. Then take some paper that represents money and burn it, so the deceased has money in the afterlife. There are some people playing instruments (sorry, can’t say it’s music, it’s just loud noise) and firecrackers are cracking almost all the time. They gave us dinner in the evening at a nearby restaurant, but the family can’t join, they have to stay with the coffin. The whole night, the family has to stay awake near the coffin.
At 7am the next day, I went back, because they would take the coffin out of town up the hill to bury. The family is dressed in a white cloth and has a long white cloth on their head. You have several decorations in shiny colorful paper that goes first, Ping had to carry one of these. Then you have a car that throws out fake money and firecrackers. 2 people are firing the firecrackers the whole way. Then you have the family walking backwards holding some bamboo sticks. Close friends of the family support the family, because every minute they have to kneel down. I had to support George’s wife. Then you have 2 lions performing a dance and then you have the coffin. Over the coffin you have a colorful construction with on top a white crane (butterfly for women) and after that the rest of the people following the coffin. We went like that till the main road. Then they loaded the coffin in a van and drove off with the male members of the family. The women can’t join the procession up the hill (very women-unfriendly I think). We went back to the starting point. There were 2 buckets of hot water with a certain plant in it. We had to wash our hands and face and take a branch of the plant and hit with it on our clothes to purify ourselves.

That’s how his life ended, but I am sure that he will live on in the memory of all his students. BuDiZhen, papa’s legacy has to live on!