A Journey Through Antiquity, Imagination, and Transformation
Words: Neil Willcott
The ancient practice of Lohan Yoga, originating from the Shaolin Temple, has been long obscured in history, its authentic essence distorted and diluted over time. In recent years, dedicated practitioners and researchers have taken up the challenge of reviving, restoring, and remastering this lost art. In this article, we embark on a journey through the mythical origins of Lohan Yoga, the challenges faced in preserving its legacy, and the unique characteristics that define this practice. Finally, we explore how imagination and creativity can be harnessed to enhance and evolve Lohan Yoga for future generations.
ANTIQUITY AND MYTH: THE ORIGINS OF LOHAN YOGA
The origins of Lohan Yoga can be traced back to the time of the Buddha and Bodhidharma, the founder of the Chan (Zen) Buddhist tradition. The practice was an integral part of the spiritual and physical training of monks at the Shaolin Temple. The 18 Lohan, or Arhats, were the original followers of the Buddha. The Shaolin Temple was established to honour and continue their teachings. Lohan was a core practice at the temple, serving as both a physical and spiritual discipline. “Lohan” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Arhat,” meaning a person who has achieved spiritual enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In the context of Lohan Yoga, it refers to the practitioners who aspire to attain a similar state of spiritual realisation. Over time, the Shaolin Temple faced numerous challenges, including political upheavals and destruction. As a result, the knowledge and practice of Lohan were fragmented and hidden, with many aspects being lost or distorted.
“Lohan” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Arhat,” meaning a person who has achieved spiritual enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death”.
LIVING MEMORY: THE LAST KEEPERS OF LOHAN
As the practice of Lohan was threatened by external forces, it was passed down through families who sought the prestige, wealth, and social status associated with being Kung Fu masters. However, the focus on martial arts often overshadowed the yoga aspect. In 19th-century China, social conventions dictated that high-status individuals avoid laborious activities, wear delicate clothing, and maintain certain appearances. These conventions hindered the preservation and practice of Lohan Yoga. Some masters taught select students behind closed doors, away from the social restrictions. However, these students rarely learned the full extent of the yoga system, as their primary focus was on martial arts advancement.
THE KEEPER’S LEGACY: NIEL’S OBLIGATION
The journey to revive Lohan Yoga involves adapting it to the modern and postmodern social context while respecting its ancient etiquette, traditions, and rituals. This includes promoting virtues like compassion and maintaining the integrity of the practice. To preserve Lohan Yoga, it must be made accessible to future students and communities while learning from past mistakes. The practice must evolve to meet the needs and interests of practitioners across generations.
CHARACTERISTICS OF LOHAN YOGA AND ITS PRACTICE
Lohan Yoga emphasises a continuous flow through various poses, with a focus on stances, squats, and sequences symbolising an allegorical journey toward enlightenment. Unique meditation practices, such as wall gazing, complement the physical aspects of the practice. Once practitioners master the basic and intermediate patterns of movement, they are encouraged to adapt and personalise their practice, creating a unique version that evolves over their lifetime. As they age, they may shift from complex balances to a slower, more meditative sequence. Lohan Yoga includes many poses that are well-known in mainstream yoga but often have different names. For example, the crow pose is called “Golden Phoenix Looks at the Sun,” while “Guan Yin Sits on the Lotus Flower” resembles the toe stand padangusthasana with hands in prayer. Some poses in Lohan Yoga are not found in traditional Indian yoga. One such pose is “The Sleeping Buddha,” an advanced balance using one elbow and one foot that symbolises the Buddha’s last moments and his mindful compassion toward the person responsible.
LEVELS OF IMAGINATION IN LOHAN YOGA PRACTICE
The advanced practice in Lohan Yoga focuses on creativity and imagination rather than complex poses. Here, we outline various aspects of imagination that yoga practitioners can incorporate into their practice, regardless of style:
- Sensory imagination can be used to create vivid mental images of yoga postures, breath flow, and alignment, enhancing the mindbody connection during practice. It can also create serene, calming mental environments during meditation or relaxation.
- Reproductive imagination involves recalling past experiences and lessons learned during yoga practice. It can include mentally replaying previous classes, sensations, emotions, and insights, as well as drawing upon yoga philosophy and applying it to one’s practice.
- Creative imagination explores new variations, modifications, and sequences of yoga poses, incorporating unconventional approaches to practice. This can involve adapting and personalising the practice to individual needs, interests, and intentions, as well as generating innovative ideas for integrating yoga into daily life.
- Transformative imagination envisions the potential transformation and growth that can arise from yoga practice. This can involve exploring how yoga contributes to personal development, self-awareness, and positive change in various aspects of life, as well as how it can benefit the broader community and the world.
- Transcendent imagination delves into the deeper spiritual aspects of yoga, going beyond the physical and mental aspects. This can involve contemplating abstract and metaphysical concepts associated with yoga, such as the nature of consciousness, interconnectedness of all beings, and realisation of the self beyond the ego. It can also cultivate awe and reverence for the universe, deepening the spiritual dimension of the practice.
The revival of Lohan Yoga offers an opportunity to rediscover and preserve an ancient practice with deep spiritual roots. By understanding its history, adapting it to modern contexts, and harnessing the power of imagination, practitioners can not only be a part of reviving Lohan Yoga but also enrich and evolve their personal yoga practice. As the legacy of Lohan Yoga is passed on to future generations, it continues to inspire and transform the lives of those who embrace its teachings.
Niel Willcott, a renowned martial arts and wellbeing expert, dedicates his life to teaching rare practices like Lohan Yoga, rooted in ancient Chinese culture, martial arts, and Buddhist philosophy. Under the guidance of esteemed masters, Niel mastered the complete Lohan system, feeling a profound responsibility to spread and adapt it while preserving authenticity. His expertise goes beyond physical movements, incorporating mindfulness and insight aligned with Zen philosophy. Niel’s achievements in martial arts, international travels, and study with renowned teachers showcase his commitment to providing students a diverse and enriching experience. Niel’s teachings offer access to a powerful form of yoga and a rich tradition, standing as an unwavering example of preserving ancient wisdom in a commercialized world.