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
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.