Tai Chi Camp, February 27th – 28th 2016
Tulsi Sadhana Kutir, Lonavla
Infusion of fresh blood is always exciting. This year’s camp was dominated by the youngsters, not just chronologically speaking either. The ambience was animated with an energy entirely different from the steady reserve of earlier years.
To begin with, the journey there took much longer than expected with heavy, cheek by jowl and bumper kissing traffic creeping along at an exasperatingly slow pace. The car I was in, was far behind the rest of the group, and in it we oldies, Viswajeet and I, were outnumbered by youngsters Clint, Megan and Rupak, who kept up an interesting range of conversation and pre-empted any stifling boredom. To make matters more interesting, we soon lost the lead car and did not know the route into Tulsi Kutir from Lonavla market. We overshot the exit. Help came from the tech savvy youngsters again and two smart phones guided us.
Breakfast! Appetising breakfast just prior to the morning work-out session. The ravenous group tucked in.
We tramped to Sneh Sadan, the school grounds we use for practice. In the blazing mid-day we kept to the shaded verandah.
At the best of times stances are not easy but we needed to loosen up limbs that had been cramped and stiffened by the unexpectedly long drive. For Raksha, sole representative of the NCPA chapter, who had come all the way from Chira Bazar, the trip had begun much earlier than for the others. So we twisted and contorted into animal and bird postures loosening up every sinew and nerve. For some, this was a first time experience and definitely so for the 77 year-olds, Laxmi and Sunanda, who had joined just a month ago. Their new year resolution to do something entirely for themselves. Their grit and flexibility of attitude is a constant source of admiration.
The evening was taken up by a combination of Tai Chi and martial arts. Megan, who had accompanied her husband, Clint, must have found it easy pie since she has experience of the tougher kick-boxing. Vidya, coming from Pune at her friend Narayani’s invitation, Annima (Gerry’s wife and not a Tai Chi learner), Girija (lawyer wife of the irrepressible Kannan) and Ganesh, (husband of Bhanu) were all exposed for the first time to what Tai Chi could do for them and to anyone who attacked. Provided enough practice is put in, of course. Nabila, Hazel and Anand and Ashutosh had had previous experience of this.
Vidya is hoping to get her Pune friends started off on the discipline.
In the evening the whole group practiced the advanced ‘Fusion of the Five Senses’ which was familiar to four of us but not the others. Yet the involvement was so complete and the energy so awe-inspiring that Jeet, the eleven year old son of the caretaker who loves joining in on our sessions, sat completely quiet right through the one and a half hours.
Post dinner a surprise awaited us. This is the time of day which, in earlier camps, was devoted to meditation and sharing. This time however, Gerry had prepared his tribute to Rakesh and Tai Chi, and in that order methinks, since it is a case of the singer more than the song. He had compiled his blogs into the form of a slim book dedicated to Rakesh and to Kannan, who has become his inspiration in the world of anecdotes. Gerry and Annima worked to make it a solemn affair by presenting Rakesh with volumes fancily wrapped and ribbon tied which he released with a flourish. Each member of the group was presented a copy of the book. Sharing of memories, tributes and insights into life experiences came easily and spontaneously.
A trek and scrambling down the Khandala ravine is normally the call of the next morning but this time it was replaced by staggered practice-sessions. The first group was called at 3.30 am and the last at 8.00am. As a result, each group benefited by being introduced to its next level. While some of us have been learning for eleven years, the junior-most are just two months into the discipline and there is a wide range in between. So everyone learnt something appropriately new.
According to the calculations of Albert, our finance wiz, we did a great job. Presenting his calculations in his inimitable manner:
“We were in Lonavala from 11.00 am on Saturday to 2.30 pm on Sunday — that is 27.30 hrs; reduce 6 hours of sleep (don’t consider the 3.00 am wake up call for us) = 21.30 waking hrs.
Out of the 21.30 hrs of waking hours take away 30 mins each for BF (2) / lunch (2) and Dinner (1) and 4 hours for the to and fro journey = 21.30 – 6.30 = 15 hours ….
Out of the 15 hours of available time we practiced for 10.30 hours … that is 68.66 % of the time …
Consider the average age of 50 years (this is including a Rupak, 22 years, and Clint and Megan; take them out, the average goes up)
10.30 hrs of practice for a 50 yr average age group is quite an achievement we can all be proud of ….”
In addition to this, to my mind, the greatest advantage was the interaction among the group members. In a regular class, there is never enough time. Captive in the confines of Tulsi Kutir, we heard personal stories of adjustment, embattlement and rebellion, ambition and aspiration, personal philosophies that have helped and are helping people navigate their courses along life.
The desire to share in this large group of twenty-five with varying interests and attitudes, stamped its mark on this year’s camp.
Flowing Wheel Tai Chi Camp at Lonavla (March 1st and 2nd 2014)
We were late this year; March is not exactly the most appropriate time for a camp, especially one involving a lot of outdoor physical activity.
The venue was the same however, Tulsi Sadhana Kutir at Lonavla. This place has a wonderful ambience, good simple food, chaas to die for but cherish forever, clean basic dormitories (though this time we did spy the most resilient of winged creatures) and a pool in the backyard which attracted the little boys and children of all ages inviting them to skip stones; not quite successfully, I might add, except for Mohan.
On the morning of the 1st of March we met at Reliance Fresh at 6.30 am and managed to leave by 7.15 am. This time we drove straight through, instead of breaking off for breakfast at the ubiquitous MacDonald’s. The warm breakfast of idli, poha, bread-butter-jam at Tulsi Kutir was highly welcome.
The NCPA group was to arrive by train so we, the Chemburites, were able to relax, allowing our breakfast to settle, while we waited for them.
The distance to Sneh Sadan is normally covered by jogging which also provides the warm-up for the exercise routines to follow but this year, Anandh wisely suggested we walk … traffic increase has hit Lonavla back lanes as well with plush resorts having come up there.
As usual, Anandh took charge of the hard liners, the youngsters who were there to enjoy the kicks, locks and punches and this year he moved them into the verandah of Sneh Sadan where they would be protected from the heat and we from their war cries.
In the shade of the bamboo grove we did the second Cultivation and then the Form 24. Out in the open without the restrictions of building walls, the experience is different. That Rakesh then asked us to do the form again with just the hand movements was, shamefully for us, a challenge that threw us; worse was attempting just the foot movements of the form. I have resolved to practice the hand and foot movements separately; pray that I keep the resolution.
However, everyone took things in the right spirit. Rakesh manages to strike that balance between reprimand and encouragement where he makes his point obvious without discouraging his students.
We were ready for lunch and had to call across to the hard practitioners to call off their punches. A welcome break after lunch during which all but the kids caught their refreshing forty or more winks. Natrajan, generally called Mani, and his younger son, Sharang, arrived in time for lunch. So now our group had increased but we were still feeling the absence of Kannan and his family.
Albert’s mother always enjoys these camp outings and is a wonderfully benevolent spectator of all her son’s antics; he can be trusted to cause a minor turbulence at will.
Mohan was accompanied by his lovely, shy wife, Ajitha, who also attempted some of the routines with us.
Jijji, Rakesh’s wife and mother of Aryan and Devika, would have loved to participate but the little one kept wanting exclusive attention.
Anitha’s cousin, Rohit, who had driven us up to Lonavla, was part of Anandh’s group.
My grandchildren, Viveka and Dev Ashish, and Namit, Anandh’s son, were kept busy by Anandh; Viveka was thrilled with the report that her wrists were very flexible.
The NCPA group comprised the veterans Vijay, Yazdi and Raksha accompanied by her niece, Urvi, the one-girl laughter club. That girl can cause a riot.
The evening session started later than decided as snoozers were slow to wake.
While the Tai Chi group did, or rather attempted, Form 42 the youngsters carried on with their martial practice. We attempted just the first routine of the Form and repeated it several times, getting it and yet not quite, but all of us agreed that it was a wonderfully graceful and animated form.
This opinion was consolidated when Rakesh demonstrated the whole of Form 42 and we sat open-mouthed in admiration. What a blend of slow and fast, aggression and patience, and most importantly core strength. His deliberate, controlled pivot on one foot took our breaths away. The video recording of this should be available soon on the site, I hope.
With the dark, the youngsters came into the hall as well and provided an awestruck audience to the chair-lift as well as a giggly one to the healing sounds. Mani’s lack of practice of the healing sounds caused him to perspire profusely.
While Rakesh was demonstrating defence techniques, Mani had several very pertinent questions which Rakesh answered with convincing moves, leaving no doubts about the efficacy of Tai Chi as a combat or defence art.
The post-dinner session was one of Cosmic Meditation which most of us were familiar with and enjoy greatly; the youngest participant was Sharang who, we believe, had quite an experience.
This was followed by an interaction session in which we got to know each other better.
The next morning was the much awaited trek. Kannan, Sudha and their two boys, Amogh and Pranva arrived in time for breakfast to join the trek.
Driving down to Khandala we reached St. Mary’s Villa after the customary wrong turnings and were dismayed to find a group of thirty or forty youngsters ahead of us. Obviously we were not the only ones bent upon pitting our skills, or lack thereof, against the boulder abundant slope down to the ravine.
This was my third visit to this part of Khandala and I have noticed that in each attempt the path looks different and difficulty levels vary. The constants are the bad patches, always there but never the same; there are four of them and predictably they hold up the descent or the climb while Rakesh, Anandh, Kannan, sometimes Yazdi and this time Rohit are called upon for support. These have become Flowing Wheel fixtures with points being identified as Mani point, Sudha point and Raksha point. I think we even have a Vijay point. Sudha was unable to attend this year, while Mani begged out on account of a bad back and Raksha refused to chance it after her bad experience last year.
The younger ones in the group scamper ahead, sure footed and confident in their lack of fear and experience. Sharang, Viveka and Aryan took the lead, followed closely by Namit and Dev Ashish.
This year, I was slower, perhaps because of the discomfort in my thighs or a change in disposition. Was willing to take it easier, feeling that I had nothing to prove to myself since I had succeeded twice before and confident that I wouldn’t do too bad a job this time round, either.
As always the pool formed by the cascades invited the young ones in spite of the chilling water.
Upma, bread-butter and bread-jam, oranges, provided welcome relief and replenished the energy required for the climb back up.
Despite some areas where I feared my heart was fit to burst, it was an easy climb back up; the credit goes entirely to the increased energy levels and the ability to move lighter that Tai Chi can provide.
Vijay did several bad areas on his own and he gives the credit to the directions of Rohit and Sharang. While I appreciate the support from these young stalwarts and do not discredit it, I would assume that this past year’s practice also contributed a great deal to Vijay’s success.
I could see a marked change in Yazdi’s face, it seems to have lit up. Those who meet regularly often miss out on the gradual transformation that takes place inwardly but the change aggregated over a year is striking.
Nimbu pani and golas celebrated the culmination of the trek; lunch at the Kutir and then the return.
The Tai Chi/Kung Fu Lonavla Camp January 2012
Abha Sah January 27, 2012PhotosThe thought of another camp at Lonavla, with the prospect of the ravine trek thrown in, had caused quite a stir. So January 21st and 22nd were fixed as the days to go.This camp was different from the earlier one as we had a much greater-than-before representation from the NCPA chapter of the Flowing Wheel Tai Chi group. The erstwhile sole Raksha Tanna was this time supported by Vijay, Yazdi, Keshav, Bharat and his family. Further, we also had with us Kung Fu enthusiasts, mostly the children of the Tai Chi batch.So we reached Tulsi Sadhana Kutir by 8.45 am and after sorting out our luggage and our rooms piled into the breakfast of poha, tea/coffee.We jogged (were supposed to) but some of us took advantage of our age and walked to the nearby Sneh Sadan, which used to be training grounds for Rakesh, Anand and Aarati in their student days about twenty years ago. The children, including the smallest, ran far ahead of Rakesh and had to be restrained.On the field of Sneh Sadan, we separated for Kung Fu and Tai Chi after Rakesh had briefed the whole group. Anand took charge of the Kung Fu warriors while Rakesh shepherded us, the slower Tai Chi discipline.The resounding punches from the Kung Fu group penetrated the Tai Chi meditative atmosphere, making us realize that serious practice was on. They also learnt locks which they found very interesting. Aarati Shetty was renewing practice after a break of twenty years but I believe she still made an impression.Viveka said she had found an equal sparring/wrestling partner in Anagha Kannan.As is his wont in camps, Rakesh introduced us to something completely new. This time it was the 5 Huang Tai Chi style exercises. Not strenuous, really, but demanding on the thighs and the moves so subtle that we were left wondering how we would practice them on our own later on. Even the ‘emptying the mind’ sequence was different. Rakesh, however, said it was not possible to internalize them with just one session; this promises more Huang style in the regular classes.Neelam, Anand’s wife, and Geeta, Aarati’s mother, were not part of the regular classes, but Rakesh made sure they ‘felt’ the energy and practiced the walk. They seemed quite thrilled with their experience.Lunch back at the Tulsi Sadhana Kutir and siesta till 3.30pm which of course stretched to 4.00pm. No tea, said Rakesh and took us straight on to some hard style and energy lifts.Instructing everyone to take off whatever metal they were wearing, Rakesh led us in meditation during which we experienced ourselves in harmony with the energy of the Universe.The heaviest in the group were treated to the chair and four of the others attempted to lift them off, each using just two index fingers. The first lift was physical. One person stood at each corner of the chair. Each one joined the index fingers of their hands. The two at the back of the chair put their index fingers below the armpits of the seated person and those at front supported the knees. It was important that the people in front bent their own knees when they positioned themselves. At a signal they heaved but gained dubious success.Then the dramatic energy lift attempted by the same four. One of them acted as the co-ordinator commanding the energy of the others. Starting with the ‘command’ person and moving anti-clockwise, the four built a pillar of palms above the pineal gland of the seated person, and after a moment of aligning the palms so that the energy could flow through them down to the person in the chair, the palms were removed one by one, in the direction and order opposite to the one in which they had been placed.The command then took charge and on the word ‘now’ all lifted. Voila! What had been impossible earlier, now became easy and the sitter was carried a fair distance off.Rakesh could see when anyone’s energy was ‘off’ which caused a hitch or a shift in the lift. The mind, he told me, was what interfered in the fluid flow of the energy and the completion of the task.Then, some physically energetic ten-twenties, and the form in several variations. The song of the thirteen postures, and Form 24; then only hand moves, one hand moves, and only leg movements. Quite challenging to the mind and the memory of the body.What the Kung Fu group practiced during this break will have to be filled in on hearsay. They had tea first and then practiced kicks and self-defence.Albert, his mother and Vishwajit returned after this. Dinner was followed by an interactive session in which we got to know our group, particularly what had drawn them to this art and the benefit they had gained. Again, patience, flexibility, better health and more energy were the prime benefits mentioned. Raksha specifically mentioned that the involuntary trembling of her hands had reduced significantly.Anand is a Kung Fu expert with thirty years of training behind him, and Keshav/Bharat wanted to know how often he had got into fights and how his training had come to his aid. Anand’s reply was that his very training prevented him from wishing to take up fights, he avoided getting into them, had learnt to control his temper because he did not wish to get into trouble with the police after he had finished with his challenger. Guess power breeds responsibility.We broke up with the excitement of the ravine scramble in our minds. Next morning, the scheduled 7.30 departure was delayed by about half an hour, and then a detour imposed further delay, but the gods were kind, we had a great cloud cover. Those of us who had done this trek last time were fairly confident and sympathized with the first timers’ responses of ‘What? From here? Not possible!’ However, the enthusiasm of the children, even five and a half year old Pragnya, ignited confidence; I was apprehensive that my nearly-seven grandson, Dev Ashish, would hurt himself in his eagerness to surge ahead, but thankfully he latched on to Anuraag, elder son of Anand, and was well taken care of.Rakesh, Anand, Kannan, Yazdi were the stalwarts who helped us down with the rope in the tricky spots and the all pervading confidence of Rakesh and the serene stability of Anand saw everyone through.Sudha with her difficult knee and Raksha who broke her toe-nail right at the start, did amazingly well.At the bottom of the ravine, the river, a treat for sore feet and sweaty faces, then the climb up to the water fall, a picnic of sandwiches, wading in the pool beneath the waterfall, Namit daring to take on the cold in a full bath; Rakesh and Anand again climbed even higher up onto the boulder above the water fall. I was thinking of the last trek and Santosh and Ranjit, expert trekkers, who had been with us but have moved out of Mumbai since.An hour of relaxing and then the scramble back. Surprisingly, I thought the climb up was less strenuous this time than the last. An analysis brought two reasons to mind. One external and objective, it was not as hot this time; the second internal and subjective, therefore open to question: were the three years of Tai Chi between this trek and the previous responsible for the greater ease? I would like to think so.Piling into the cars that had brought us, we spilled out at the ashram, ready for lunch and the long drive back.One little shadow touched some of us in terms of headaches, nausea, acidity; a unanimous conclusion is that possibly the ‘nimbu-paani’ at the end of the climb was responsible.Will this make us think twice about the next trek? I doubt it!!Tai Chi Camp, Alibagh. 5th &6th February, 2011. Abha SahWe were supposed to be at the venue, Vishwaghar Charitable Trust, Alibagh, by 8.00 am so that we could get down to serious business by 10.00am at least. True to character, there were delays, and finally the majority of us, who traveled by road reached only by about 11.00am. The wiser ones who traveled by ferry were there much closer to the agreed upon time.The property is well-maintained, fairly opulent in appearance, with comfortable rooms and a full staff who take care of all your needs. The best aspect, however, is the vast space, the greenery and a variety of fruit bearing trees. In addition, the needs of little children have been factored in; there are swings (also tempting to adults), slides and jungle gym.After settling into our assigned rooms, we tucked into some nourishing ‘poha’ and then the day started. We were taken through some limbering exercises and then moved on to the Eight Jewels, the most basic of the Tai Chi routines. If done regularly, the Eight Jewels are reputed to ensure the perfect health of all the major organs of the human body.Thereafter we broke for lunch and a good two hours rest during which most caught up on much needed sleep.The children who accompanied us, made good use of the fountain, slightly larger than a kiddy pool, and splashed around to hearts’ content. The table-tennis equipment and the carom board also kept them busy and served as ice-breakers.At about 4.00 pm, after a light tea, we went out again and this time we did some really serious work.Most of us had learnt the first half of the Fusion of the Five Elements. Now Rakesh built upon that and taught us the remainder of the routine. There were good natured protests about how difficult it all was, and how killing the movements were.However at the end of one hour and a half, we all agreed that it had been a wonderful experience and it was something that we should try and incorporate into our weekly routine. It has elements from the Jewels, from stances, from the microcosmic meditation and seems to be a perfect balance of yin and yang.But our memories needed notes from Rakesh!After dinner we had another session, this time a sit-down version of the Healing Sounds. The weird sounds emanating from the verandah, had the curious children leave everything they were doing and look in on us. Then a round of sharing, especially about the way Tai Chi had benefited us. Flexibility, increase in energy, a greater degree of relaxation, improvement in physical health, were among the more common benefits listed.Next morning, out on the grounds at 7.00 am. The day started with a jog , then limbering , stretching and stances followed by the second part of the healing sounds, the physical massage started the day, and the children were included. Must say they were a bit bewildered but highly amused and involved. This was the relaxed part and was followed by stances. If any of the children had thought that Tai Chi was easy, they must have had to alter their opinions!Breakfast break … alu parathas … bread, butter and jam. No one wanted to leave.The children had a hectic session of kicks and boxes … the focus pads came in handy.And we did a round of forms, and were told how much improvement was required … we hadn’t reached anywhere close to the essence of the form.While we were doing the form, Rakesh involved Meera who is not a member of the Tai Chi classes in a ritual that she could do on her own and which would benefit her.Then the highlight of the camp … an introduction to chi pushing … we were given yet another demonstration of how powerful the chi is and if techniques are mastered, how easily it can defeat brute physical force.Sitting in the shade of the trees, we wound up the session with Rakesh and Anand sharing memories of their personal journeys, regaling us with incidents from their martial arts days when they learnt the hard way, literally.This camp was not very demanding physically, but it took us to another dimension.Abha Sah ********
Tai Chi Camp, Alibagh. 5th &6th February, 2011.
We were supposed to be at the venue, Vishwaghar Charitable Trust, Alibagh, by 8.00 am so that we could get down to serious business by 10.00am at least. True to character, there were delays, and finally the majority of us, who traveled by road reached only by about 11.00am. The wiser ones who traveled by ferry were there much closer to the agreed upon time. The property is well-maintained, fairly opulent in appearance, with comfortable rooms and a full staff who take care of all your needs. The best aspect, however, is the vast space, the greenery and a variety of fruit bearing trees. In addition, the needs of little children have been factored in; there are swings (also tempting to adults), slides and jungle gym. After settling into our assigned rooms, we tucked into some nourishing ‘poha’ and then the day started. We were taken through some limbering exercises and then moved on to the Eight Jewels, the most basic of the Tai Chi routines. If done regularly, the Eight Jewels are reputed to ensure the perfect health of all the major organs of the human body. Thereafter we broke for lunch and a good two hours rest during which most caught up on much needed sleep. The children who accompanied us, made good use of the fountain, slightly larger than a kiddy pool, and splashed around to hearts’ content. The table-tennis equipment and the carom board also kept them busy and served as ice-breakers. At about 4.00pm, after a light tea, we went out again and this time we did some really serious work. Most of us had learnt the first half of the Fusion of the Five Elements. Now Rakesh built upon that and taught us the remainder of the routine. There were good natured protests about how difficult it all was, and how killing the movements were. However at the end of one hour and a half, we all agreed that it had been a wonderful experience and it was something that we should try and incorporate into our weekly routine. It has elements from the Jewels, from stances, from the microcosmic meditation and seems to be a perfect balance of yin and yang. But our memories needed notes from Rakesh! After dinner we had another session, this time a sit-down version of the Healing Sounds. The weird sounds emanating from the verandah, had the curious children leave everything they were doing and look in on us. Then a round of sharing, especially about the way Tai Chi had benefited us. Flexibility, increase in energy, a greater degree of relaxation, improvement in physical health, were among the more common benefits listed. Next morning, out on the grounds at 7.00 am. The day started with a jog , then limbering , stretching and stances followed by the second part of the healing sounds, the physical massage started the day, and the children were included. Must say they were a bit bewildered but highly amused and involved. This was the relaxed part and was followed by stances. If any of the children had thought that Tai Chi was easy, they must have had to alter their opinions! Breakfast break … alu parathas … bread, butter and jam. No one wanted to leave. The children had a hectic session of kicks and boxes … the focus pads came in handy. And we did a round of forms, and were told how much improvement was required … we hadn’t reached anywhere close to the essence of the form. While we were doing the form, Rakesh involved Meera who is not a member of the Tai Chi classes in a ritual that she could do on her own and which would benefit her. Then the highlight of the camp … an introduction to chi pushing … we were given yet another demonstration of how powerful the chi is and if techniques are mastered, how easily it can defeat brute physical force. Sitting in the shade of the trees, we wound up the session with Rakesh and Anand sharing memories of their personal journeys, regaling us with incidents from their martial arts days when they learnt the hard way, literally. This camp was not very demanding physically, but it took us to another dimension.
Abha Sah ********