by Kim Ivy
“Inspirado!” A deep voice vibrates clearly between the blue walls of the narrow gymnasium. Inhale! I draw a full breath down into my lungs and feel my body come alive. “Un poco mas, un poco mas!” My palms open wide, my fingers extend and my spine elongates. A little more, a little more! I press my left palm towards the ceiling, my right palm down to the earth; I feel several inches taller. My internal organs, free of constriction, breath in the rich Mediterranean air. “Exhale!” My lungs release air like an accordion, my body yields downward, my legs soften, and my spine opens. My hands move towards each other, as though pressing air out of a ball. “In!” The scent of Seville orange blossoms drifts into the practice hall. I breathe in and expand again into Yin Yang Palm “and Out….” I release. Blood and qi pulse through my body, a youthful suppleness returns to my muscles, tendons and fascia.
At some point I realize I have been breathing and stretching like this for over three hours. I am not fatigued, despite having traveled over 8,000 miles to be here. I am enlivened. This is my first day of training with Dr. Gaspar Garcia, in his hometown of Marbella, Spain. It is my first trip to Spain and while the open sea and an ancient land beckon, I am happy to be right here, in this gym, for a week of Luohan Gong training.
I was introduced to Dr. Gaspar Garcia and the Luohan Gong in Portland last August at the National Qigong Association Conference. None of my friends had heard much about the Luohan Gong, and when we queried others at the breakfast table, their eyes opened wide in answer, “that’s the Shaolin one!” Dr. Garcia joined us at the table. His friendly, open manner melted the mystique and drew us in right away.
An hour later I found myself standing with other men and woman eager to embark on our adventure. During the day we moved through beautiful ancient forms, each an opportunity to breathe fully, reach out with our muscles and feel our blood pulse through our bodies. Dr. Garcia’s passionate teaching style was our invitation to experience this magnificent system; to feel both physically and spiritually exhilarated. During the rest of the conference, we shadowed Gaspar to get more help on our practice. We met on the grounds, in the parking lot, behind the food hall to practice and deepen into the form. I knew by the end of the weekend I wanted the Luohan Gong to be a part of my practice and my life forever.
The Luohan Gong is an ancient Qigong system created in 527 AD by Bohdidharma (Ta Mo), the 28th Patriarch of Buddha’s teachings. Bohdidharma traveled from India to China to bring Buddha’s teachings to the monks of the Middle Kingdom. Seeing the monks’ bodies weak from long hours of seated meditation, he shared with them the18 Luohan Hands. This was system of health and spiritual practice he had developed after his own long years of meditation. He called on knowledge from Indian Yoga, Chinese Qigong, Buddhist wisdom and observations of nature. Bohdidharma realized that if the body was happy, the spiritual path would be easier to follow.
It is said that Bohdidharma was 100 years old when he left India for China. Perhaps this is a myth, but after experiencing the Luohan, I felt like I was 20 again! The 18 Luohan Hands takes the body to full expansion (yang) and contraction (yin). The spine is exercised in all directions, laterally, forward, backward and twisting. The muscles and tendons stretch, joints open, the diaphragm stretches and internal organs grow to their full capacity. The Luohan system also includes the Siu or “small” Luohan, a soft and graceful flow, and the Tai “big” Luohan, a meditation form. Both of these aspects incorporate mudras and when all three - the 18, the Siu and the Tai - are practiced, the Jing, Qi, and Shen are fully activated. Finally, the system includes the Wuji, a powerful Taiji-like form, similar in nature to the Chen Style Pao-Chui.
A Luohan is a sincere spiritual seeker who has reached a level just below Buddha. His path is arduous, but joyful. His mind open and spirit humble. Gong means practice. So, the Luohan Gong is one of the many Practices that support our spiritual path. I know I, a five-foot tall, middle aged woman from the Midwest, do not feel like a Luohan! But I can say this; after less than a year of practice, the Luohan Gong has done three things for me. My twenty-year lower back pain is completely gone. I can sit in meditation now for over an hour and thoroughly enjoy it. And, my life is more focused, my internal path clearer. When I was in Spain in February, Dr. Garcia and I met in cafés to drink tea and talk. I kept trying to pin him down as to what the Luohan Gong really is. A spiritual practice? The core of the martial arts? Yoga? Qigong? Each time he would say, “yes and no.” I felt as though I was on a skateboard! I said, “What should we say the Luohan Gong is, then?” He smiled his broad smile and said, “the Luohan Gong is a key, a key to unlock whatever you want.”