As I started my month-long digital and professional break, I started by seclusion for a few days at the Shaolin Temple Europe. The goal was to live under its precepts, philosophy and routines through a special program called “Bootcamp”, an intensive program. It was based on Shaolin practices.
Living with Shaolin monks at Shaolin Temple Europe
The experience has gone beyond what I could imagine. I was not going with the idea of achieving anything, nor was I going to exceed any limits or challenge myself. Although I have not only encountered that, but I have had to use myself thoroughly; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally (in order of demand), almost more than in any life experience I have had in recent years.
To explain this “peak experience” (life experience), I have prepared a summary that contains the aspects that caught my attention, learnings and lessons, discoveries, impressions, quotes, explanations, stories and most relevant conclusions of living, studying, working and training at the Shaolin Temple Europe.
I have arranged the sections by days, by activities and in a list format, for a greater understanding and to mention the most important parts more simply without having to read all the text.
This ensures greater efficiency in terms of utility.
Day 1 at Shaolin Temple Europe — activities and summary
Shaolin Temple Europe Introductory Ceremony:
(Aspects that caught my attention)
- The hierarchy regarding greetings (prostrations)- the teacher always prostrates after the student (novice) or disciple.
- The oldest eat first (by age).
- Each meal, before and after, will be blessed with a specific type of prayer.
- The term for the teacher is “Sifu”.
- “This is not to entertain you; you are not our client; this is not Disneyland Paris; this is not designed to keep you happy and satisfied all day. We are here to grow, learn, flourish, practice, train and repeat “- said by Shi Miao Hai, the novice who guided the ceremony.
- “This is a Shaolin program, in an intensive one, there is something for sure, that will make you go through the valley of pain. You better walk it with a smile “- Shi Miao Hai.
Welcome training at Shaolin Temple Europe:
(Learnings, discoveries and impressions)
- Brutal training like never before, long, with endless repetitions, maintaining postures. And starting with an unannounced run below 4:30min/km that left us all breathless.
- You don’t expect, even if you manage your expectations correctly, to start this wildly.
- It was two hours, as Ben (a Shaolin Temple Europe disciple who comes from the US and has trained with the Marines) said, of Shaolin’s version of Navy SEAL training. It was 90% strength and power, one set after another. I don’t remember anything other than trying to resist without fainting.
- Before starting the run, I had to go and drop off my suitcase, when I came out they had already left, only a disciple (people who spend a period of learning with a teacher of 2 years to deepening as a Shaolin) waited for me, which then meant that we had to catch up with them, running at 4min/km. I remember saying to myself “sh*t what a start, thank goodness that I’m fasting and I didn’t eat before…”
- Great learning and progress: when we were still running, the disciple (that’s what they should be called, or by his Buddhist monk name that I don’t remember) told me that I was good at running, and I said “really, really”, and we smiled. At that moment, if I was competing, and before releasing the story of challenges, adventures, Ironman, Ultraman, I looked inside myself, and said “when everything is over, on the last day I will tell you my story. I prefer not to speak from the ego, the search for recognition and create a safe zone that identifies me as a ‘winner’ or ‘achiever’, do you agree? “ and he did. Guess what happened on the last day: neither of us remembered to tell and listen to the story, it was not necessary.
- A curious fact was that in all that time our Master, Shi Heng Yi (click for the podcast interview), barely spoke, he only said what was necessary, the instructions and corrections.
- I remembered the tip from the opening ceremony; to smile just when you feel the most pain. However, when I took on the suggestion, I realized that he had been smiling for some time. I am fully aware of every moment that I had to resist the training pressure when I had to stop because I couldn’t continue with the exercises’ instance.
- Something surprisingly “nice” that I noticed was that I was more prepared than I thought because I realized how demanding those two hours were.
- People were not ready for what happened; it was a beginning that crushed 100% of the participants (2 girls and 10 boys).
Rest and mealtime:
After experiencing the experienced, the best thing was to be prepared, and I did so by eating two rice plates with vegetables and tofu.
During that rest time, I took the opportunity to stretch because I knew that I would not move the next day.
Qi Gong practises (training):
Reflections and learnings:
- You are wrong (at least I was) if you think you will posture like in the videos I have trained with for more than 180 days. Qi Gong movements were latent, there was no doubt about it, but what predominated was the time they were maintained.
- I came to identify, by checking in on myself from the inside out, that I was not suffering or feeling great pain. By their faces, sounds, and movements, I could control what everything seemed that the others were not resisting. I was able to control my postures well, I was able to control the pain, even my mind, because it was there, right there, nowhere else. And I was there, breathing, smiling, even out loud at times (inconceivably), especially when I couldn’t take it anymore when my body was shaking and almost fainting.
- I noticed that I didn’t stop observing our “Sifu” throughout the practice. Besides, I was really interested in his gestures, movements, words, how he corrected others, myself, how he treated his disciples and us, the invited students. And I was watching how he moved, with gentleness and grace but with a precision and speed that I had never seen before. I paid attention to his actions and behaviour. Again, there was a harmony mixed with great forcefulness, immense self-control, temperance, compassion, and empathy in everything.
- As I said, the movements were similar to those I practised in the Shaolin Temple Europe videos. Others were new, but they weren’t fluent, it was holding them and getting into position, I guess to build confidence. Sometimes we held postures for more than 5 minutes. I have to admit that I was so focused, awake and flowing that I had a “freak out” after I finished.
End of the day at the Shaolin Temple Europe with the “thank you” ritual:
A short Buddhist practice to honour the Buddha by reciting some sutras and praying — about 20 minutes.
Extra comments day 1:
We were training as if we were in hell from 3 pm to 5 pm. I did not expect something that left me learning that we would do what we do not expect to go through.
I have not been able to think about anything or anyone; how to implement it in what I can offer to clients and companies.
Day 2 at Shaolin Temple Europe — activities and summary
Spiritual practice — meditation:
(Interesting events and observations)
- The day starts at 7 am, so if we compare it to something like Vipassana (which at 5 am you are already meditating), it is quite bearable.
- Both the opening ceremony and the meditations were led by the novice Shi Miao Hai, a fascinating young man (over 25 years old) who I will interview the next time I go. In this first session, he explained the correlation between training and meditation, practice and Nirvana.
Breakfast and 1st workout of the day:
- I decided to commit to spending as much time as possible with my eyes closed to see what happened.
- Following the logical script that my expectations drew in my head, I had a big breakfast, the first time I tried porridge. Of course, with such a succulent breakfast, I would never, under any circumstances, believe that we would do such intense exercise, what were they thinking of? What a successful mistake I made here.
- Guess how this first training started, with a 7km run at an average of 4:25 min/km. I still don’t understand why I didn’t vomit. Also, every two kilometres we stopped and did between 30 and 40 push-ups (all with clenched fists — because that’s how a Shaolin warrior trains)There were three 300-meter sprints with 20–25–30 push-ups before starting the series when we thought it was over.
- The training that follows (the above was the previous warm-up) was pure resistance training by practising Kung Fu positions for 2–5 minutes.
- That’s what they call the 90 minutes of work that you do on the required maintenance activities at the Shaolin Temple Europe. On this occasion, we had to remove weeds from various places where the crops were grown.
Lunch and rest time:
- I recharged my energy with vegetable gratin. This time I was sure that nothing could go wrong afterwards. We had already had a good physical beating; it was impossible for there to be a second-half with such intensity.
- At least I took a 1:15hour nap.
- Here, my legs were beginning to suffer.
2nd physical practice:
(The most important)
- When you think it is impossible to be caught by surprise again by your own expectations, it goes and happens again… Second run on the same day, and this time in an unofficial competition format, five kilometres. In the end, sit-ups, hold between two and three minutes and then finish with an Indian race, a relay format but in an individual row.
- As they progressed, the previous thing was only the warm-up, then we began with Sifu Shi Heng Yi, the exercises of Kung-fu practice. The goal was for every one of us to perform a hundred kicks at different heights and angles, first with the left and then with the right. We add maintaining postures between five and six minutes and strength exercises with repetitions and balance and speed through coordinated commands. The final part was always holding the plank for ten to fifteen minutes and then seventy push-ups with closed fists.
Snack / dinner:
I took advantage to recharge with salad, vegetables with tofu, hummus and vegetable gratin. The truth is that the quality and abundance of the food was increasing as the days passed.
3rd Physical Practice — Qi Gong approach:
(Highlights, quotes and points of interest)
- As Master Shi Heng Yi explained that the key to both Qi Gong and Kung-fu is to connect your whole body as if it were a single, solid block.
- Seamless, without applying too much tension and distributing energy, focus, strength and breath so that you can feel your whole body evenly. This is the most decisive part of both practices.
- Once this was explained and put to practice, that’s what I felt: everything disappears, you feel that your body, your mind and your spirit are unified.
- We were always almost at the limit, how? The combination between postures, when you practice Qi Gong, where you hold for 13 minutes, and a mix between HIIT and Calisthenics exercises.
I have noticed how the training helps me connect my body differently from what I have known before. In the words of our Sifu: “if you want transformation, you have to go deeper, if you want technique, you have to train more.”
- Other phrases that resonated with me were the following: “If you don’t sweat, you’re not doing it right.” / “If you don’t tremble, it doesn’t count.” / “You are a single structure, where the points to watch are the joints.” / “Distribute the energy throughout your body.”
- There is a word used in the Chan tradition before starting the practices and the meditation and the ceremonies. It says “Namo Amituofo” which means: infinite light, infinite life, infinite wisdom.
Conclusion of the day:
Connect with your whole body and unify it so that your energy is everywhere you decide to go.
Day 3 at Shaolin Temple Europe — activities and summary
Initial meditation (7 am-8 am) and breakfast (8–8:30 am):
- It is worth mentioning the concept “stay calm” within the meditative practice because our body responds to emotions. If we don’t stay calm, we won’t be able to see clearly.
- In this meditation, I felt exhausted, I saw and accepted that I was thinking too much, then I realized that it was something normal, nothing extraordinary, that helped me let it go like nothing.
- I moved my legs several times, something that I don’t usually do, my mind told me that I didn’t feel comfortable, but something in me knew that everything was normal.
- For breakfast this time, I put the porridge aside and just had raisins, sunflower seeds, apple, and oat milk for breakfast.
Training of the day — part 1:
- We didn’t run, but there was a lot of movement.
- It was a practice focused on stretching.
- We also practised the basics of Kung fu.
- We carried out small and short runs by exercising strength and the concentration of energy.
- Master Shi Heng Yi gifted us with the following key learning: “Save your grimaces, complaints, screams, suffering and whatever, and turn it into inner energy.”
Theoretical Seminar of Shaolin Order Buddhist Practices:
(Summary of the highlights of the 3 hours that Abbot Shi Heng Zong was answering the questions that we were asking in the pagoda of the Shaolin Temple Europe — below you’ll find the result of what I perceived as the most interesting according to my own experience and judgment)
- A student asked about the concept of “no atman”, and I was amazed by Abbot’s answer in this regard: “Buddhism makes it clear that the soul does not exist, it is only an illusion because people want to be more important than they are”.
- Buddhism’s greatness is that you don’t need to believe in anything — in Shi Heng Zong’s words.
- Knowing the meaning of the word Ananta, which in Sanskrit means unlimited, infinite or eternal, it also means that everything changes. What grows changes all the time, born, lives, and deserves changes until it is reborn.
- “Do not cling on to your own merits and share them with the world, with anyone.”
- The three (main) schools of Buddhism: Theravāda — contains the teachings of the ancients. It is located between Southeast Asia and India. Mahāyāna — defends that anyone can be enlightened (Nirvana). It spans North India, China, and Tibet. Vajrayāna — schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Lamaism.
- Story: Once a person asked Buddha: “Can anyone get to Nirvana?” and Buddha said “Yes.”
- The Shaolin Temple order is a mix between the Chan / Zen School (a stricter Buddhism) and the Amida school (a Buddhism for the heart and the sight). At the same time, Shaolin philosophy (also known as “imperfections”) is made up of the following three philosophical currents: 1. Buddhism. 2. Taoism. 3. Confucianism.
- In this way, the Shaolin order integrated physical training as part of the spiritual and mental method, used to develop oneself. That is why kung fu practice is actually a tool for meditation.
- “If you look at your life and it turns out that my teachings do not follow yours, get rid of mine” — Buddha.
- “Pain is a fact; suffering is optional” Shi Heng Zong.
- I have extracted a mantra from these learnings, and it is the following: every time I feel pain / suffer, I will say to myself: “I choose to continue without suffering as if the pain meant nothing to me.”
- It is something to remember and also mentioned by the priest/abbot of the Shaolin Temple Europe: “emotional pain must be healed in mind”.
- Self-reflection: our big problem is that our mind always turns to the same topic. On the other hand, emotional pain, which also revolves around the same ideas, works around the idea that there is an injustice, a mistake or a misunderstanding, that we are the harmed, the victims.
- The main idea which Buddhism revolves around: life is suffering, hatred, greed and ignorance.
- I conclude that what you accept is what you manage to realize.
- In the session, they explained to us, when asked about the relationship of samurais with Zen, that it is the perfect philosophy for warriors because it manages to empty a warrior, which makes them invincible they fear nothing. Those who want to make sure that they live are the ones who will die sooner than most if you are afraid of dying, you will surely lose your life. The abbot said that the Samarians were the most infected people outside of the temples of Zen Buddhism.
- Nirvana and Samsara are both states of consciousness, the difference between one and the other is that in one you suffer and in the other, you don’t.
- Lessons on equanimity, pain and pleasure:
- We cannot put up with something forever (objects, people, animals, etc.)
- Pushing and holding, both require the same effort and bring the same misery, you will never find peace in either of those parts.
- Don’t push too hard, and don’t hold too much.
- Answer to the question “What is it to be enlightened?” — see the real truths clearly.
- We don’t even need inner motivation, because ego limits us to ourselves; love is enough motivation to rest.
Principles for the rest of the day 3:
(As the sessions at the Shaolin Temple Europe intensified, there was less time, desire and energy to write, so I took notes when I could)
- Take your energy to the place you want to use. Respect your structure, centre everything within you and put intention into it — words from Master Shi Heng Yi.
- We did a kind of one-hour HIIT training, at a demand level that I had never experienced. In the end, we continued with kung-fu and finished with Qi Gong.
- This day did not pass without spending an hour ploughing field and removing thorns and brambles for 90 minutes.
- At the end of the day, I realised what the teacher meant by being aware when one connects with oneself.
Day 4 at Shaolin Europe Temple — Relevant Observations, Annotations and Considerations
(Annotations with the highlights of the day, with the difference that I haven’t structured it by activities as in the previous days)
- In the words of Master Shi Heng Yi: “Kung fu is an art that you cannot master in a single lifetime. You can be good in some of the parts, but not in all. Just like in life, you can’t be good at everything, and the only thing worth being good at is what you’re doing right now. That is the objective of the practices that we carry out in Shaolin Temple Europe “.
- These are the key fundamentals of Qi Gong: 1. Release tension and create the perception — decongest energy retention, allow free flow. 2. Connect all the key points of your structure — create a solid block with your whole body that does not consider cracks, and that is in harmony. 3. Intention — direct the energy to the point you want, releasing everything else.
- I observed the “no expectation” attitude and the “be prepared for the unexpected” flow in me. I took the opportunity to skip breakfast, take a morning nap, swap the food for a bone broth, extend the nap to an hour, recover, and then stretch and read.
- A day with a very intense run, 2 kilometres. Along with an assisted stretching practice that literally saved me from not being able to continue from here. Why? My quads didn’t hold up much longer, but it was “bearable”, however, my abductors were tremendously grounded. During this mega-session of 1:45 hours of stretching and flexibility until reaching no pain or making you cry, I discovered a new level of pain, the one in which you laugh out loud (hard to believe, but true, at least for me). Mind you; I finished again. I don’t think it was a coincidence.
- In the second training, we performed a series of sprint races, combined with HIIT and quick dynamics in movements and short and combined exercises. Then we moved on to strength exercises and carried the weight of others by carrying them in different ways-lastly, Shaolin fighting positions.
Day 5 at Shaolin Temple Europe — Highlights
(This was the last day of what is known as the Shaolin Temple Europe “Bootcamp,” so I closely followed what seemed the most remarkable, which I share below)
- The end of meditation (explained by Shi Miao Hai) must be placed here and now.
- Consideration: on this day I decided to fast, drinking only liquids: Alkaline vegan protein. / Bone broth. / 226ERS energy drink. / Glutamine. / 226ERS recovery drink.
- The first training of the day was two hours: 5 kilometres of running + medium level stretching. / 3x 400m sprints with 40 push-ups before each one. / The training focused on kung-fu; quick movements, forcefulness, strength, and focus, applying Qi Gong’s fundamentals.
- A relevant event was the conversation with Sifu about the possibility of him coming to Spain to give a seminar of a day or two (we are working on it — if you are interested, contact us here)
- I still had a strong resentment in my abductor’s joints.
- Something I realized: sometimes, quite a few times, I can be very pushy — how can I push people without having to push them?
- Reflection: an answer does not guarantee that our internal judgement is right or wrong.
Shaolin Temple Europe theory class with Master Shi Heng Yi:
(Notes taken from the answers I found most significant)
- Connecting means that your body becomes one piece. This is something that can be better explained with the following simile — building a solid, strong and resistant wall: for this, you must concentrate on the mortar, that is the key because it is just what connects one brick with another, what sticks a piece with the other. Well, the bricks or stones are your muscles, and then it seems that the joints are the mortar, but no, it is not, at least in Kung Fu and Qi Gong, it’s the fascia, the connective tissue in the form of a network that extends and covers the whole body.
- Therefore, mainly Qi Gong — but also in Kung Fu — is about recognizing, differentiating and feeling the fascia that runs through your body at the points where you want to feel it, so you are “connected” as Master Shi Heng Yi describes.
- An interesting fact about Qi Gong is that it allows you to train to feel that fascia — Sifu made it clear that it is not about imagining it, but about feeling it (perception).
- “When you train and do it in a demanding, disciplined and solid way, it never goes on the outside, but on the inside. Although in reality, there is neither inside nor outside, there is only one “- Shi Heng Yi.
- The search for harmony is the main philosophy covering the Shaolin Temple; our teacher explained to us. What then does harmony mean? Many things, but the most relevant is to stop living in dualistic terms, which makes us never stop living on that wheel that never stops turning (Samsara).
- Another of the session’s key points was the following: “as soon as there is movement, we will always be in a state that can never remain the same, so everything will always be based on one thing, change”.
- On Yin and Yan: If experience shows that one cannot live without the other… then here are some questions to consider about Yin and Yan: What is the connection between the two in each particular case? / How do they influence each other every time they hit each other? / How do you keep this in your mind continuously?
- Personal reflection: I realize, more and more, that if we observe what appears (for example, sorrow) and we connect it with its opposite (joy), both disappear, they are irrelevant. This allows us to see the world as it is. So instead of always expecting something (expectations), find a way to see your connection, let’s try to fit the expectation into what’s happening.
- Sifu admitted that the work that matters in life (and this resonated enormously with me) is about adjusting, transforming and prototyping something about yourself at every possible moment.
- One of the famous phrases of the day was the following: “you only get to ‘that place’ when you push yourself. Whatever you do, do it with all the concentration you have.”
- Sifu also told us about the three areas of human alignment, called Dantian, known as “the sea of Qi” or more simply, “the energy centre”, they are the focus of the flow of Qi, and they are the following: Top-Dantian: physical part. Middle-Dantian: emotional part.Lower-Dantian: spiritual and mental part.
- Hearing this, I couldn’t help but see how similar it is to the four dimensions of human potential that the Holistic High-Performance method defends. On this same point, it was shared that the key is to make all three speak the same language and that the only thing capable of fine-tuning them, and it is not quite clear why is through physical training pushed to the limit. This is where the reason for such a hard training was revealed, because, in reality, it is true, as you may have read in other sections, I was (and I know my teammates too) completely aligned, connected and all one.
- Near the end, when the theme of a balanced life and the popular reminder not to look for the extremes were shared, I asked the teacher “how do we know if our life is balanced if we don’t explore what’s on the margins” — he replied “turn around and look at how our last month was and ask, how did it go?” as well as encouraging ourselves to trust the process.
- This was the closing of this theoretical (but practical) seminar on self-knowledge and self-control: “the universe is always by your side, but if you don’t do something when it warns you, then nature will have to take over, so you better do it firstly, the pleasant way “.
Documentary: Inside the Shaolin Temple Europe Bootcamp
During my stay at the Shaolin Temple Europe, every day, I recorded videos about lessons, events and reflections of what I was living and the Shaolin lifestyle, practices and arts. Explaining the before, during and after (along with the conclusions) in a documentary that narrates the experience in detail, without cuts, organic and imperfect.
[Originally published at https://isragarcia.com]