Shaolin Wisdom: 6 Lessons Learned from Mountain Training in China

Shaolin Wisdom

6 Lessons Learned from Mountain Training in China - By Sabina Hyseni

Reading time: 4 minutes

Over a decade ago, I made a choice that veered sharply from the expected path. At 20 years old, my academic and personal struggles had culminated in a profound sense of failure, driving me to seek discipline and self-understanding far from what I was used to.

This search for meaning led me to study as a Shaolin monk in a Kung Fu academy in the mountains of China, a decision that reshaped my understanding of life, discipline, and personal growth. It was there that I grew the seeds for the six lessons that still remain with me, a decade later, alongside a strong yoga practice and multiple external achievements.

The Power of Starting:

The initial steps of any journey are met with resistance, both external and internal. My arrival in China was fraught with challenges, from financial to physical disorientation. I was lost for 48 hours, afraid I had signed up for a scam when I couldn’t find the school and was ready to hightail it back to Toronto that very first night.

Yet, looking back, these obstacles underscored the first crucial lesson of perseverance at the onset of a new endeavor. Like a physical law, initiating movement requires overcoming inertia, teaching me the value of resilience from day one. Similarly, in yoga practice, the initial resistance we feel when trying a new pose is not just physical but also mental. Overcoming this inertia is our first victory.

There's No Single Way to Live Your Life:

Living among monks and other students, I realized the beauty of diversity in life's journeys. Our societal narratives often dictate a linear progression: education, career, family. However, witnessing all the diverse backgrounds and journeys of my fellow monks revealed the richness of embracing one's unique path.

When you are unbound by conventional expectations, you begin to craft your own path, much like yoga practice allows you to listen to your body and follow that internal guidance.

You also begin to see that what we have been told is not necessarily how it has to be. You can be unique and innovative in your approach to life, but often we are not because we have never been exposed to other walks of life that we find inspirational. I was lucky enough to enter a society outside the general narrative and find beauty in this school that taught me my path didn’t have to be linear.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect:

True mastery comes from perfect practice, not just repetition. Everyday discipline and consistency in training showed me the distinction between mere practice and perfect practice. Committing fully to each moment rather than half-hearted participation, fostered not only skill but a profound inner transformation.

This lesson in dedication and focus transcends physical training and applies universally to both professional and personal pursuits. It is the commitment and the discipline that you bring to a practice that transforms us. It's about giving our all, in every moment, to truly evolve.

Confidence Through Discipline:

The daily eight-hour training schedule straightened more than just my posture; it strengthened my confidence. Putting myself through challenging situations and overcoming them every single day gave me confidence like nothing had before. It allowed me to stand tall, walk with pride, and take up space without hesitation.

Seeing these changes in myself and other students also highlighted the lesson that confidence does not come from empty words and affirmations but from doing difficult things and overcoming them. Similarly, with a dedicated yoga practice, self-confidence is a very positive side effect of asana.

Embrace Life with Lightness:

Perhaps the most surprising lesson came from observing the joy and lightness with which my most respected master approached life; a man in his seventies with the ability to do the splits as if he was 22. Despite the seriousness of our training, he taught me the importance of not taking oneself too seriously, placing laughter and light-heartedness even in the most serious tasks.

This balance between discipline and joy has become a cornerstone of how I approach challenges and setbacks. It is also a reminder to approach our yoga practice with a light heart, finding joy in each breath and movement. The goal is to enjoy the journey not long after the destination.

Avoid Complacency:

The final lesson I learned was to never settle and never to rest on one’s laurels. Being 'smart but lazy' was a trap I fell into, thinking talent alone was enough. But in yoga,* as in life, continuous effort and dedication to growth are what truly define us.

Reflecting on these lessons a decade later, their impact extends far beyond the physical confines of the academy. They have shaped my approach to life, work, and personal growth, serving as a compass through challenges and decisions.

As I navigate the complexities of the world, the principles of discipline, resilience, authenticity, dedication, joy, and continuous effort remain my guiding lights. In sharing these lessons, I hope to inspire others to embrace their unique journeys, confront challenges with resilience and joy, and pursue personal growth with discipline and openness.

Remember, the path to self-discovery and fulfilment is both arduous and beautiful, paved with lessons learned from every step of the journey.

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Sabina Hyseni

Creator of WeaponUP. Fusing the worlds of martial arts, yoga, and global advocacy to empower positive change.