When I travelled to India, I wanted to try something a bit different. On my solo trip to Goa, I was looking for peace and balance in my life. Luckily, Arambol held the answer: a ten day course offering ‘soul realisation through movement’. Having tried nothing of this kind before, naturally I signed right up.
The course was run by Panda, a Vancouver-born man of Chinese descent, who has been a tai chi practitioner for over 35 years. He combines the philosophy and principles of tai chi with insights gained from his spiritual teachers. Panda’s system of meditation in Goa, and around the world, combines tai chi, chi kung and chakra healing techniques. It makes meditation easier by encouraging you to be truly present in the moment. It helps you go beyond your mind’s constant chatter and the demands of your ego. The system aims to harmonise your body, mind and spirit to help you reach your full potential. Confused? So was I. But also intrigued.
The closest I had ever come to tai chi was spotting people practice it in the park or on the beach. I’d be half-fascinated and half-amused by this slow and graceful form of martial art, and their seemingly trance-like state. I didn’t think that one day I would be attempting it myself.
Of the 15 people on Panda’s course, ten of them had attended one of his workshops previously. Some had travelled halfway around the world to take part. Panda was very down-to-earth and relaxed, encouraging us to ask questions and feel comfortable to do as much or as little as we wanted. Even falling asleep in class is OK! The main thing is simply to be there.
A serene space
The space – named Panda’s Garden – is a marquee-type construction set a few metres back from Arambol’s busy main road, but so tranquil it feels like a million miles away.
The gentle chi kung movements were deceptively simple. We did each one for an indulgently long time – no rushing through positions like in gym classes. The intention is greater awareness of the body. Panda told us that the body stores our emotions in its cells, so by coordinating our breathing and movements, we keep the energy flowing through.
There were periods of stillness. We would sit or lie down to quieten the mind. I’m sure I unintentionally took advantage of the option to fall asleep during some of these moments.
Outside of the class, during the first week, I found myself having vivid dreams. Apparently this is one of the potential side effects of clearing out the emotions stored in our body. But everyone can experience it differently.
Tai chi and chakra healing
In the second week, we moved to the beach. Learning the tai chi postures offered the greatest challenge, but Panda emphasised that this ancient art is a constant process of correction. We are aiming for ‘egoless action’ or moving without thinking, while maintaining the body’s natural symmetry. Definitely a work in progress for me – though once you’re more confident I can imagine it feels like a moving meditation.
Chakra healing aims to harness the energy centres throughout our body, via a series of sacred positions, and open them up. Again, these subtle actions had potent effects. After the classes during the second week, I often left feeling serene, peaceful and lighter than air.
Feeling the difference after meditation in Goa
A few days after the course ended, I could feel the difference. Keen to extend the positive, calm feelings that I’d been enjoying, I tried to find somewhere suitably secluded to practice what I had learned.
Locating a good spot – an abandoned restaurant on a platform overlooking a rice paddy – I proceeded with the movements, to the bemused looks of the people walking by. Even after just a few minutes, I could once again feel the stillness that Panda had talked about. The knowledge that life and ‘being’ is about more than our emotions and the thoughts that pass through our minds.
When I see people practising tai chi, I will now be able to look at them with a greater understanding of what they’re doing and – who knows – if I’m feeling brave, maybe I will even join them.
Next up, read my round up of the world’s top yoga places to visit while you’re travelling.