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Fit Is Not Healthy: A Shaolin Monk's Guide To Exceptional Wellness

In the age of social media, many people train for a body they perceive looks attractive to other people. When I was training at the Shaolin Temple, we didn't even have a camera. Nothing was documented. We trained to conquer our mind and body and become the best we could in our chosen art form.

Since coming to the West, I’ve noticed that many fit people aren't healthy. And many people whose body looks good on the outside, aren't well on the inside. When a student first comes to train with me, I ask them to throw away the scales, the smartphone,  the mirror and train for the pure motivation of inner and outer wellness. What matters most? Health or looking good?

Gym Training has its merits but it doesn't address the whole body. One of the keys to successful training is balancing the Yin and Yang. This means training internally as well as externally.  From a Shaolin Monk’s perspective, a well and healthy body is flexible, has good stamina, a strength and leanness to the muscles, and a mind and body that works in harmony. 

A weight trainer’s body is muscular but tends to be stiff. A weight lifter will usually be unable to do the splits. Their range of movement will be limited and slow. A yoga student will be flexible but ask them to do the Five Fundamental Kicks and there will be no stamina or explosive power to their kick. 

Why are splits important or being able to kick?  Even if you can't do the splits, it's good to attempt them because it opens up the hips and the legs. The Five Fundamental Kicks are a dynamic stretch.  Combining dynamic stretching with static stretching is the best way to increase flexibility Combining explosive movement with slower movement and anerobic training with aerobic training gives an alertness to the body. 

The Yin Training a Shaolin Monk does is Qigong. (I’ve written many articles about Qigong so I won’t go into details in this article.) A cook always sharpens their knife. Qigong is the sharpening of the knife. 

A Shaolin Monk trains all the time. When we punch, we do punch meditation, when we kick, we do kick meditation, when we eat we do eating meditation.  Eating mindfully has been found to help with digestion and even weight loss. Mindfulness has become very popular recently because it's been shown to prevent anxiety and depression. There’s nothing complicated about it. We simply connect our mind, body and heart into a whole and then we feel whole. We are no longer distracted and looking for something to complete us. We are already complete. 

But how can you implement a Shaolin Monk’s wellness into your life? As you continue in your week, stay connected - not to what’s happening on your smart phone - but to what’s happening in your heart, mind and body. Be aware of any distraction. This is all energy going outward. When our mind and body are stable, energy naturally returns.

If you’re not a martial artist then incorporate some kung fu movements and Qigong movements from the Kung Fu Workout For Beginners  and Qigong Workout For Beginners into your workout.

If you like this article please share it and let me know how you get on in the comments below. #shaolinmonkwellness

Photos by Sasha Gusov


  • Claire

    Thank you for this article. I just tried your Qigong DVD download and am fascinated with the results. It was the perfect balance to Karate and fitness training. I doubted that I could learn from an online class but you showed me that not only is it possible but it is actually much more effective than anything I’ve tried before to relieve muscle aches, including Yoga and massage. My internal organs feel like they had a good boost of energy too. I look forward to continuing and learning more from your book.

  • P. Tweed

    Great article, and true.

  • Gary

    I am a coach and personal trainer. I own a gym. I LOVE YOUR MESSAGE HERE. We teach 5 Factors in training and development. Habitat, community, mind, body, spirit. Apply kaizen to those 5 and you have incredible growth.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Aj Valenty

    Thank you so much , for sharing your accumulated knowledge with us. As an American I am constantly struggling to clear my mind of distraction and anxiety…the information that you teach, even if not directly taught , has changed many lives for the better in a always rising world of violence and intolerance. Again, Thank you so much and best wishes from the Valenty family.

  • Oscar Logan

    Thank you for this wonderful viewpoint. This is just the way I see the whole idea of fitness, strength, inner unity, completeness, wellness. I learn so much from those who do the arts. Like the idea that we want strength, but not at the expense of flexibility or speed. I hope to increase my efforts as well and continue my training and walk the path of so many others before me and no longer be only half-alive. I hope to one day train the right way, the Shaolin Monk way and further increase my abilities and wellness.

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