The Force is strong in this one

A for­eigner in Shang­hai learns the ways of har­ness­ing life energy through tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine treat­ments and the an­cient mar­tial art of taichi

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ALY­WIN CHEW in Shang­hai


Be­fore Saish Prabhu started learn­ing taichi, the only im­pres­sion he had of the Chi­nese mar­tial art was that it was a leisurely fit­ness ac­tiv­ity that el­derly peo­ple prac­ticed to keep fit.

How­ever, this mis­con­cep­tion was cor­rected in 2011 when he was in­tro­duced to a taichi prac­ti­tioner by a fel­low stu­dent at the Shang­hai Univer­sity of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine (SUTCM).

And all Prabhu needed was, lit­er­ally, a push in the right di­rec­tion.

Fol­low­ing an ex­pla­na­tion about the con­cept and ben­e­fits of Yang-style taichi, Prabhu was given a live demon­stra­tion of how one’s qi, or life energy, can be ef­fec­tively har­nessed by those skilled in the mar­tial art.

The In­dian was first in­structed to dis­place his Amer­i­can school mate who had adopted a split stance, but no mat­ter how hard he tried, the burly Cau­casian just wouldn’t budge from his spot. How­ever, us­ing what looked like a feather-like touch, the taichi prac­ti­tioner, Ying Yangzhong, im­me­di­ately sent the Amer­i­can hurtling back­wards a few me­ters.

Awestruck but scep­ti­cal of what he had just wit­nessed, Prabhu asked if Ying could per­form the feat again, but this time on him.

“Imag­ine that you are stand­ing in front of a door and be­hind that door is wa­ter. The moment the shifu (teacher) pushed me, it felt as if the door swung opened and I was in­stantly swept away by rush­ing wa­ter. It was amaz­ing,” said the 23-year-old, who had be­come Ying’s first dis­ci­ple on that very day.

As a self-con­fessed Star Wars fa­natic, Prabhu likened qi to “The Force”, a mys­ti­cal energy in the film se­ries that can be ma­nip­u­lated by cer­tain char­ac­ters like Jedi knights and mem­bers of the Sith Or­der.

“Taichi is all about work­ing the mind. Any­one who is as skinny as me can achieve a high level of power. Phys­i­cal size doesn’t mat­ter. It’s how you har­ness the energy around you. That’s the beauty of taichi,” said Prabhu.

The in­ci­dent was ac­tu­ally not his first brush with qi. An­cient Chi­nese med­i­cal prac­tices, which in­volve cor­rect­ing im­bal­ances in the flow of qi in the body, have al­ways been an in­trin­sic part of his life.

Born in the idyl­lic coastal state of Goa in south­west­ern In­dia and to a fa­ther who is a TCM prac­ti­tioner, Prabhu’s child­hood was spent run­ning around a clinic where he wit­nessed how his fa­ther’s acupunc­ture treat­ments would help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from chronic pains and ill­nesses.

“I re­mem­ber there was this man who could barely walk be­cause of con­stant pains in his back. He was pop­ping painkillers as if they were peanuts! Af­ter a few months of treat­ment, he could run and jump with no pain. In­ci­dents like this got me re­ally in­ter­ested in TCM,” said Prabhu.

In fact, even the cir­cum­stances of Prabhu’s birth was a re­sult of TCM. He said that his mother had felt lit­tle to no pain — much to the as­ton­ish­ment of the doc­tors in the hos­pi­tal — while giv­ing birth to him be­cause his fa­ther had ad­min­is­tered acupunc­ture treat­ment be­fore she went into la­bor.

In­spired by his fa­ther’s pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to the pro­fes­sion, Prabhu de­cided to en­rol in SUTCM in 2010 to ex­pand his knowl­edge in this field of medicine. His first two years in the in­sti­tute was spent learn­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage while the next four years con­sisted of lessons, prac­ti­cal classes and at­tach­ments to var­i­ous TCM hos­pi­tals in Shang­hai. And be­cause taichi and TCM ac­tu­ally share much in com­mon, Prabhu dis­cov­ered that he was able to bet­ter un­der­stand the the­o­ries taught dur­ing his lessons af­ter pick­ing up the mar­tial art.

“Acupunc­ture is not just about prick­ing some­one with nee­dles — it’s about how you ma­nip­u­late energy. It’s the same with taichi. This mar­tial art is about feel­ing the energy and us­ing it for your ben­e­fit, be it in fight­ing or health,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Prabhu, taichi is more about achiev­ing a bal­ance be­tween mind and body, as op­posed to per­form­ing ac­ro­batic kicks and deadly jabs to in­ca­pac­i­tate ad­ver­saries. One of the ways to achieve this bal­ance is via med­i­ta­tion, an in­te­gral part of taichi that he claims has given him “a nat­u­ral high” — a state of height­ened con­scious­ness that al­lows him to bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate the sim­pler things in life.

“When you en­ter that sur­real state of con­scious­ness, you be­come hy­per aware of ev­ery­thing around you. You can re­ally feel ev­ery stone you step on and hear all the peo­ple around you. Ev­ery­thing seems to taste bet­ter when you’re that calm and still too,” he said.

With re­gard to health ben­e­fits, Prabhu said that prac­tic­ing taichi moves and fo­cus­ing on achiev­ing the right form has in­her­ently helped im­prove his pos­ture. This has in turn re­sulted in bet­ter over­all health — TCM prac­ti­tion­ers be­lieve that cor­rect pos­ture is im­por­tant in main­tain­ing a smooth flow of qi in the body.

It has been five years since he picked up Yang-style taichi but Prabhu still prac­tices sev­eral times a week, ei­ther in a quiet park or at Ying’s new train­ing ground in the Zhangjiang area in Pudong dis­trict. While there used to be a num­ber of for­eign­ers at­tend­ing the classes, in­clud­ing Amer­i­cans, Ger­mans and Thais, Prabhu is cur­rently the only for­eigner among nearly 100 mem­bers.

Though he has never un­der­taken an exam in taichi and hence doesn’t hold a rank, Prabhu has been deemed com­pe­tent enough by Ying, who has en­cour­aged him to start coach­ing in some of the classes.

Sched­uled to grad­u­ate from SUTCM next year, Prabhu has to choose be­tween head­ing back to Goa to prac­tice TCM or fly­ing to Port­land, Ore­gon in the United States to study for a Masters de­gree in the same field. But re­gard­less of where he would even­tu­ally end up in, Prabhu has no in­ten­tion of leav­ing taichi be­hind in China.

“No mat­ter where I go, I will never stop prac­tic­ing taichi. I’m also con­sid­er­ing teach­ing the mar­tial art, as en­cour­aged by my shifu. Af­ter all, teach­ing is also another way of learn­ing, and there’s just so much more to learn about taichi,” he said.


Saish Prabhu per­forms some taichi moves along The Bund in Shang­hai. The Goa-born stu­dent has been prac­tic­ing the mar­tial art since 2011.


Saish Prabhu says that prac­tic­ing taichi is one of the best ways to achieve in­ner peace and good health.

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