What I learned about mastering myself — and empowering body, mind and spirit — from Shaolin Master Shi Heng Yi, while living, training and working at the Shaolin Temple Europe
A personal integration experience about what is to live under the life code of a Shaolin monk, and trying a new approach to self-mastery
Some time ago, I went to the Shaolin Temple Europe for the first time, to participate in an intensive kung fu and Shaolin arts camp with master Shi Heng Yi and his disciples. This year I returned, almost at the gates of The Great Victory, to carry out a new program called “Monastery On-Time”, a few days living under the rules of life of a Shaolin monk in the temple following the training plan, work, study and training, living as one of them. Every day, I noted the reflections, learnings, impressions, discoveries or lessons that attracted my attention the most.
Now, amid the tranquillity and enjoyment of the greatest experiment of my life, I have gathered all the ideas for a more precise understanding and integration and incidentally share them in summary mode with all the readers of Medium and this space for Self-Mastery, Life Mastery, Biohacking and Human Potential decoding: Isra García - Holistic Peak Performance Lab.
Highlights from day one at Shaolin Temple Europe — living under the life principles of Shaolin monks
Here is the summary of the most significant learnings of living a week for as a Shaolin monk:
Before entering the temple, I separated myself from the rest while waiting for the registration turn and did a 16-minute guided meditation. It’s funny how one can be aware of their process and decide to be present wherever they are.
I forgot the medical certificate. Luckily, I have people like Doctor Juan Carlos Alonso around me. Thank you, doc, for the support.
As a surprise, we had a welcome training by Shaolin master Shi Heng Yi that was much stronger than I would have imagined for the Monastery On-Time program. Although I indeed had to be absent for a few minutes to ask the doctor for the certificate, otherwise I would not be able to continue training.
The training was higher than expected, and the beloved expectations again appeared.
Afterwards, he explained to us several theoretical concepts from which he rescued the following:
- “Do not lie to yourself.”
- “Feeling is the proclamation of the mind. What you feel is something that was first built in your mind.”
- “I always teach the same thing. Isra, who repeats for the second time, can say it. The rest has already been said, but what you receive is always different because you always change and evolve.”
- “Discipline serves you anywhere. It is necessary to live.”
- “You don’t fight anyone except yourself.”
- “What we do here in the Temple prepares you for real life because it is real life.”
- “The method we follow here places a light that you cannot avoid and through which you see to realize where you are, who you are, your weaknesses and where you need to improve.”
- “Progress is only measured if you recognize where you are.”
- “If you have a problem, you have a mission; get rid of that problem.”
Meeting with Shifu Shi Heng Yi
After the training, I met with Sifu, who came over to greet me. He remembered me perfectly. We discussed the possibility of spending time in the temple as a disciple when The Great Victory began. There I understood once again the importance of life with practice. I realized that I had changed the way I asked. Instead of asking for permission to ask, I did it with character and determination. I saw a part of me reflected in past experiences when I approached someone I respected and admired to make a request. I connected with guilt, grief or shame. Here I saw it clearly and did it with dignity and great merit. It was a slight nuance that meant a great awakening and change in dealing with this situation.
We talked about the journey and expansion of his teachings throughout the world. Then, I asked him about the book, and he said, “Isra, now is the time to take advantage of the opportunities that appear. The book will come”.
The teacher told me about various things that we had pending, and I told him that he was aware that “not responding” was an answer, and he smiled.
To highlight what was said in the introduction to the course
Now there is the possibility of receiving massages, and very appropriate. A server tried one, and I recommend it, especially for the last few days.
I decide to close my eyes to any explanation to listen in meditation since I internalize and am more aware.
I highlight a phrase from Shi Miao Hai, in charge of presenting the course: “This is not a hotel or a retreat centre; you must follow the Shaolin code of conduct.”
Conversation with one of the disciples that I already knew from last year
I had an encounter with one of them, one who was still in the temple, and it seems that for many years. In that first meeting, he left me a few pearls:
“Isolating yourself from everything makes you see that we are an illusion. That’s why I will be here for ten more years.”
“The action comes first, then the flow.”
Highlights from the second training session of the day
I am surprised how I smile when I experience that sensation called pain.
As soon as I jumped onto the training field when we started to get serious, I knew I wanted to spend three months there.
The ability to endure training had been infinitely improved due to almost 300 days of kung fu conditioning training focused on sheer strength.
Meditation during pain allows you to see beyond what is happening and eliminates pain and suffering.
I find better balance and more effortless to synchronize movement with inhalation and exhalation, which helps me reach a deeper meditative state (Samadhi)
Sound Impressions from Shi Heng Yi’s Yi Jin Jing Qi Gong Class
I had a terrific headache. I think it was due to the great effort made while on a full fasting day. Even so, I did not give up and trained at the highest level possible without stopping smiling.
The training consisted of three parts:
- Balance: It’s all about balancing and balancing your entire body as one block.
- Harmony: when you are one, everything is connected. That is where the energy flows.
The body is all one muscle. So let’s learn to move everything as one, using our whole body.
Harmony is achieved by practising.
The key to going slow in Qi Gong is to be able to see yourself and to be able to correct your own mistakes.
Highlights from day two of living under the life rules of a Shaolin monk
Throughout the program, I decided to avoid breakfast, take advantage of it to meditate extra, write, relax and prepare for the day by doing it as I know is best for me (following the Great Morning and not eating solids until noon).
The first training of the day — with disciples and Shaolin monks
It consisted of first running about 7 kilometres. Then we did kung fu strength and conditioning for two hours. I learned new moves and didn’t stop doing 10-breath micro-meditations as soon as there was a minute to spare.
Meditative work in the monastery
Two hours collecting weeds around the temple can give you a lot if you dedicate yourself to doing what you do, picking up weeds, and not thinking about when this ends or what you would do if you were on a beach in Ibiza instead of doing this type of work.
I took the opportunity to do micro-meditations of 10 breaths every 15 minutes.
Fighting the urge to eat is what I have been doing since I finished the last Vipassana course. I only eat what fits, naturally and without forcing, on a plate, I won’t repeat myself, and I chew with my eyes closed.
Tai chi class
In the afternoon, I met a new teacher named Shi Heng Zuan, a Tai Chi teacher and creator of Journey Into Oneself. Here is something of the most relevant that I was able to rescue from a short class but rich in concepts and teachings that go beyond the movements:
- “Move your body in parts.”
- “Don’t believe, train.”
- “Fill your cup, empty it, then fill it again but don’t make the mistake of not filling the cup (targets/fire) or filling it too much.”
I understood deeper aspects of Tai Chi:
- First, it is an unalterable balance between Yin and Yan.
- Your mind is the one that moves and opens the joints,
- Get the Chi to travel through the joints.
- The practice of martial arts, specifically Tai Chi, helps you understand that there is no difference between one person and another. There is no difference at all between anything.
Thanks to the insight and wisdom of the teacher, I understood the following:
- We need the heat to be soft and soft for the heat.
- We need the form (the structure) to have no record, and once we are no form, we need the form again.
- Harnessing the energy and not using force, learning to fight without fighting, not forcing, not resisting, not opposing nature, and taking advantage of the universal flow of things (Tao).
- Tai Chi pushes us to the ground, not the sky, which is where we tend to go because we are human and on the earth, not up there.
- Let’s take advantage of the natural force to create the movement.
- Europeans and Americans need to make others feel so we can handle it. We need to say; we need to listen. We need to listen; we need to feel. We need to think, understand and know. However, you don’t need any of those things in the traditional Chinese and Japanese way. Just be there, be, respect others and themselves, and at the moment, be present.
- If you need to understand, you will suffer physically and mentally. So what we need is training.
In the end, I prepared some questions for the teacher, “Laoshi”, for a future interview that did not arrive at this time, but it will, perhaps.
Day 3 in the Monastery on Time program — highlights living under the rules of life of a Shaolin monk
I take advantage of the mornings to enter a state of high holistic performance and gently. This was today’s routine:
- 41 minutes of Zazen (apart from e the 60 minutes of Buddhist meditation within the program)
- Thought dumping.
- No breakfast, but superfoods and super-greens.
- Breaths with essential oils (rosemary and lavender)
Highlights in the meditative practice guide
- It is a process designed to cultivate the mind.
- No matter how little you meditate, it always helps.
- I practised the “chicken-style”, hitting head butts. I accepted it and loved it; there was no other choice.
- I felt attached to thoughts and tiredness.
- They highlight the mental object: breathing.
Learning physical training and kung fu session
We did a training session with a new teacher, Shi Xiao Shen, and from there, I extracted tactical and strategic learning:
A quick run with Huaraches (I only brought these shoes to force myself not to wear more than this option)
Rigidity is equivalent to a travelling body, and elasticity to a young body.
When we practice Kung fu, we must feel the energy starting from the bottom, increasing when we go up and execute the exercise.
Concentrate the energy from the core (Hara) when you perform the movement in question.
Key: Shen advised us to learn one move a day and train it daily.
To make strength and give power to the movement, we must move in a spiral from the core as the water moves.
Shen suggested we (through an exercise in pairs) concentrate the energy of the movement in the fists, protecting the core, in Com Bu or Pu Bu.
The big hack of the day for me was the integration that Shen had us do of all the training. It was in rewind mode, rewinding everything and going through it again to refresh and integrate it. Shiny.
I learned that strength is taking advantage of the other’s movement. Also, it hit a spiral with tremendous impact.
Another beneficial concept is not to run away from the hit, but to “go for the hit” makes it so that you barely take damage and manage to block it.
To go down, it is done in Ma Bu, not with the head, just like kicking with the tibia.
I took advantage of the lunch break to train with one of the disciples several basic Kung fu stances in which he was interested. Then I did some Tai Chi on the move. Coming to lunch, I felt blessed to live.
Q&A session with Shaolin monk Shi Heng Zong (Temple Abbot)
A great example of what it means to live under the rules of life of a Shaolin monk is the abbot of the temple, who enlightened us with an in-depth question-and-answer session on the subject. Here I rescue the questions from the program companions and answers from the abbot that seemed most valuable to me:
Why wear long pants and not be bare-chested or wear suspenders? Because that’s how we all sweat together (men and women). He added that monks and nuns are human, so we better avoid temptations.
Short hair (or shaven) means in Shaolin that they do not belong to the system.
The mind influences the words and vice versa.
All people are the same. They are the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s my family or people I don’t know.
The abbot talks about giving and receiving advice: “Don’t call me again if you haven’t tried any of the recommendations I gave you.”
To save all beings, you have to keep yourself first.
The abbot referred to the role of the teacher as follows: “I have to be on this road at least until you catch up with me. If you do, I hope we travel together, and if you pass me, I hope you take me with you.”
Do not try to improve something against that person’s free will.
On the truth: I do not have the fact, I have my reality, but I am sure that it is not the only truth and that I do not have it. So I don’t know; I don’t know for sure what they think they need.
On helping: Help people with what they need, not what you think they need. Feed people’s needs, not your own.
“You cannot talk about the absolute, only about the non-absolute” — Taoism.
The abbot told us the story of Lao Tzu and the student who went for a walk with him (also explained by teacher Shi Heng Yi in his second TEDx talk), which is summed up in losing the moment when we are trying to capture it with our minds and words.
The best learning is the one that happens without words.
What is Zen Buddhism? (A tap or snap of fingers) the rest is a concept. — Koan: What were you when you didn’t have a name? That is pure. The rest is a concept.
The mind, perception, body, consciousness and feelings are constantly changing. How, then, can those five things create something that never changes?
Final message: do what you want but from your innermost middle centre.
The highlights of day four of living under the rules of life of a Shaolin monk — Monastery on Time program
Relevant data from my great morning:
- I slept at 8:20 a.m.
- 30-minute meditation with mantras and intentions.
- Five minutes of kapalabhati breaths.
- 12-minute thought dumping.
- Micro-breaths with rosemary essential oil.
- Super breakfast of superfoods, super-greens and super-red fruits.
- This time we meditated for 30 minutes. I did it in Zazen with half-closed eyes.
- I decided to smile at each friction, which was exciting to help me see what I wasn’t seeing.
- Enjoying returning to the position eliminates the discomfort of not being in the proper posture.
- They were allowing for the chin to be tucked in and the shoulders back slightly and dropped.
- I welcomed each thought, accompanying it from the moment it appeared until it disappeared.
- I accepted the exhaustion I felt so I would not have to create more resistance.
Points to highlight in the morning training session
I ran 8 kilometres with Huaraches and began to play with my breath as if I were meditating but in motion.
The novice advised me that he could use the Shaolin Qi Gong method for running, cycling or swimming, reading, living or cooking. Then Miao explained to me how he did it. It seemed revolutionary to me. In the race, he pushes his foot against the ground and stretches his leg and body upwards to take advantage of the vital energy (Qi) circulating.
It is important to smile in the face of any effort, adversity, tremor, fear, pain or suffering because the smile minimizes the tragic impact of the non-existent story in our heads.
Sifu was testing me and correcting me more and more, almost to the level of a disciple. So I am progressing a lot thanks to his attention.
I realize that everything is training, technique and practice. Sometimes the method comes first. Other times, the course comes so that the process appears, but in the end, all three appear if you do it daily.
Session of great strength and resistance, we did not stop for a second despite the heavy rain.
A conscious work session in the temple
Collect pineapples and take them out of the surroundings while it rains; the trick is to breathe and think about one pineapple at a time.
Highlights of the final training with Sifu
The power is always “ON” — no need to go up and down but keep the power on.
Shi Heng Yi recommended that we train the five basic kung fu stances daily.
He told us that breathing is the key to finding the critical point, inhale when you need strength and exhale when you connect with your body.
When you protect yourself, you use the circle simultaneously while moving.
You improve when you constantly practice. That’s the trick.
In kung fu and martial arts, you never abandon the usual or the basics.
In the words of the master: “Kung fu is not the method to live longer. On the contrary, the more kung fu you practice, the faster you die.”
Sweating is a method of cooling the body, so how long does the body last if you overheat it?
Each action (“performance”) has a price, which is why each person must find their balance.
Find your best way to train.
Protect your joints, loosen them, open them and let the energy (Qi) circulate.
We use the energy from the ground, rooted, and take advantage of it to move.
We need muscle power, but the significant power comes from connecting the whole body as one block.
To train willpower, you must stay “on” in the posture as long as possible.
To train determination: slow movement up and down.
Energy follows attention.
Power against power is useless.
The big question from Sifu: How masterfully can you control relaxation and tension in your body?
Remove the concentration from the place where you want the attention.
A lot of stretching is needed to train Qi. What stops you from using this energy and power generation (Qi) is what is inside you.
When the body is relaxed, the energy can travel better. The more relaxed (breathing), the better. There is too much tension inside us. You have to go deeper into relaxation.
Invest time in letting go and relaxing, and you will be able to get all the energy inside you. You will then be able to open and close the channels of your body to generate power from within.
Do not use the power of your muscles. Instead, relax and connect the whole body to move the energy you need. The Yin channels are the inhale/in media that give power. The Yang channels are the ones to expire/out that provide the energy.
Know your body better. How? Invest more time in it. How? Go to your joints one by one. First, feel your skeleton, then go for the muscle groups, tendons, and fascia.
The more you know yourself, the more you know the other person.
Too much structure doesn’t work, and too little, either. So the key is to create the “structure without structure”.
Qi Gong goes about efficiency — it comes from the kidneys, where the vital energy our parents give us at birth is stored. To achieve reasonable efficiency:
- Good food.
- Good breaths.
- Good rest.
- Good weather in the sun.
- Good drink.
And these five aspects are the ones you make sure to abide by living under the life rules of a Shaolin monk.
The theoretical lesson in Shaolin arts by Shi Heng Zong
Technique to let things go: buy a disposable glass and squeeze it as much as you can, don’t break it, then fill it with boiling water. You’ll see how easy it is to let go — the lesson: let go.
To let go, you have to forgive whatever.
An illustrative example of practising surrender: take something and hold it in your hands, first for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 5, 10, 15 minutes… and ask yourself in each phase, how heavy was the target as the time passes? Weather?
You break mentally if you carry too many things on your head. Once it’s over, it’s dead. It’s gone. Completely forget about your step, 100%. Ask yourself, “How long do I have to hold back from learning from my past?”
Never lend something you still need.
If you let go of the past, you will only suffer once. However, if you retain it, you will not stop suffering for it.
Reminder: I will not invest energy in people who do not want to be taught by me. Maybe “I am not enough teacher, wise, specialist or I am prepared or suitable for you. Maybe you should find another teacher”.
Mantra: “I couldn’t care less what you do. I’m fulfilling my mission to wake those who want to be woken up.”
Meditate with people you don’t resonate with, and learn to calm down amid discomfort.
On letting things go — various paths:
- Letting go is an essential tool.
- The key is to be happy with what you have — to be satisfied with what you already have because otherwise, you can be a prisoner inside a free life like yours.
- Don’t make a prison of the last moments of your life. Stay happy.
- Greed is a mental poison — give what you can provide.
“Common men expect from others. Noble men expect only from themselves” — Confucius.
Be someone who gives — gives openly.
Cultivate a lotus mind — don’t cling to anything.
Never lose your inner centre.
Everything falls depending on the site where you are.
Praise the Buddha nature within all of us.
Be what you are and become what I already am.
Don’t be light on stage, be the light born within you.
“You don’t need leaders, be the light that you already are” — Buddha.
Extra 1: Additional summary video of the experience living under the rules of life of a Shaolin monk (2020)
Last year, every day, apart from what I was writing down, I also recorded experiences on video that I was integrating and concluding, with this I have made a video of almost an hour and a half:
Extra: 2nd interview with Shaolin Master Shi Heng Yi (audio/video)
On the last day, I interviewed Sifu for the second time, with the peculiarity that despite being in English, he translated the answer in summary mode at the end of each question.
Here you can listen the podcast: Shi Heng Yi: key lessons on self-mastery, discipline, virtue and love — Disrupt Everything #174
And here watch it on video:
Here you can access to the first interview.
Extra 3: Interview with Shi Miao Hai (Novice in Shaolin Temple Europe)
There I took the opportunity to interview a boy who, despite being called a novice, seems more like a life teacher than an apprentice. It will be because he is committed to that tremendous white belt mentality that he demonstrates in every word. Judge for yourself:
Can you imagine what it would be like for you to be living under the life rules of a Shaolin monk for a few days?
I’m also very curious and eager to know what you take and integrate in your daily life from sharing this experience, and what would you like to know more about.
Ps. Check this story about 3 questions to consider to scale your impact, your game and your life. And only if it resonates, you might consider to listen my podcast The 1% — Disrupt Everything, where I interview the 1% world-class disruptors of all kind (with alternate episodes in English and Spanish too.)
And let’s keep dancing.
Thanks for, “you.”