This year, impending board exams drastically reduced our numbers at the camp in Tulsi Sadhana Kutir, Lonavla. Duty calls need to be answered and protective parents of aspiring children dropped out; it was a meagre group of twenty-two instead of the normal thirty plus that tucked into the delightful breakfast before trooping off to Sneh Sadan, a home for children, and our usual stomping ground. The day was bright and clear and warmer than we had expected.
Raksha was the sole representative from the NCPA group this year while most of the Chembur group participated to form the bulk of the camp. Two newcomers featured: Siddheshwar a friend of the Three Musketeers Parvez, Sanjay and Akshay, and Thrity Engineer a lady from the UK who has been learning Tai Chi with Rakesh for about a month now.
Kannan was accompanied by his family, Sudha, Amogh and Pranav; Albert’s mother would have been severely missed if she had not accompanied him; Narayani’s friend, Vidya, had made the effort to drive up all the way up from Pune to attend; Nabeela, Anand, Ashutosh, Gerry, Mohan, Narayan and I completed the group.
Yin and Yang, hard and soft, fullness and emptiness, those are the lines according to which Rakesh structures what happens at the camp. We started off with the rather intense Cosmic meditation, an exercise in connecting the three realms of energy, Cosmic, Human and Earth. It introduces one to the possibilities of unsuspected horizons and must have been a first for many. The familiar Eight Jewels done in continuity, without a pause between the individual Jewels, involves a stress that is not felt otherwise but which fills one with a satisfying sense of achievement, unless of course it frustrates.
All right relax, walk around, take a sip if you wish is all that is needed to be said before the group breaks into chattering huddles or solitary walkers quietly fortifying the experience.
Then we are asked to take partners, either by choice or assigned. Chi Sao (Sticky Hands) and Push Hands is what we now move into. The first is an exercise in sensing the energy of the opponent and just ‘staying’ with him while the second attempts to nullify the other’s aggression by using his own force against him. This is the hard form, the Yang and we learn how to defend ourselves and dis-balance the ‘other’ by drawing him out of his centre of balance. All of us found this rough, practical side of a meditative discipline thoroughly energising. Locks to freeze the opponent and tricks to break such locks were all par on course. By the end of this session we are all ready for lunch and siesta.
The major part of the post lunch session was covered by the Fusion of the Five Elements which, as the name suggests, entails both Yin and Yang exercises and at times one feels one is actually doing a powerful cardio. I am talking about the Crane Swoops Down which leaves many heaving and sweating and the energy in the Tan Tien all snarled up; the next exercise, Separating the Chi, un-knots and settles the worked-up Chi. Talk of fullness and emptiness. Also the miraculous experience of moving the energy at will along specified pathways. Visualisation is a strong initial tool which gradually gives way to experiencing.
Tea with Beet-root and Walnut brownies (thank you Anima, significant other of Gerry) as well as the biscuits and savouries from the kitchen helped us regain some feeling of normalcy in the lower muscles which had been used quite strenuously in the session just over.
But to rest and linger was not ours. We had a longer, more vigorous time ahead; post-tea was devoted almost entirely to the hard forms. Well not entirely hard since we started off with flexibility exercises which were not too difficult but certainly not a cake-walk. At least we weren’t pretending to break the other person’s pinky! This was followed by a much advanced-in-time-and-technique HIIT for functional fitness; some of us were begging for mercy while the stalwarts and the veterans were as cool as if they were strolling along a promenade.
We thought we had done enough physical exercise but Rakesh put us through Kung Fu routines. Not bad, not at all bad is his laconic comment when we have just completed something difficult and are not quite grumbling.
Dinner was definitely not the last item on the menu. We gathered again for a gentler session. The Medical Healing Sounds, practised sitting on the edge of a chair to open up the perineum, are responsible for massaging the five major internal organs and utilise colour and emotional visualising. These were a welcome relief and allowed the fatigue from our limbs to flow out.
Gerry, who runs a personality development centre, had compiled several of his blog pieces in a book, The Dragon Tail, and this he dedicated to Rakesh. The title has been inspired by one of the Qi Gong routines.
Thrity who had been rather reluctant to talk about her work which she kept saying was ‘complicated’ was requested by Rakesh to introduce us to it. For the past twenty years, she has been researching on and working with the concept of Super Coherence. None of us had heard about this method of healing and reaching full human potential. We were riveted.
When we hit the bed not one of us tossed and turned about. But, Rakesh had grouped us into batches for the morning sessions. One batch at five and the other at six.
Breakfast at eight-thirty and then we met again all together at the meditation hall. Microcosmic meditation he said. Oh great, that was fine and relaxing. But this one had another level to it. It was Microcosmic with Smiling Energy. Not as fairy-tale as it sounds. Most of us came out feeling we had been through a wringer and had battled the phantom sensations of losing balance and falling. Well, Tai Chi and Qi Gong comprise a life-long journey of learning and surprises.
The energy chair-lift came as a pleasant deviation. We wound up with the Song of Thirteen Postures, From 24 and Form 42 and we broke camp.
A mad scramble for lunch, buying the famous Lonavla chikki and fudge and attempting to beat the week-end traffic returning to the city.