One year ago, my husband and I arrived for the first time in Northern Thailand to the ancient capital of Chiang Mai, a small city with more than 300 Buddhist temples and, for many, Thailand’s spiritual heartland.
Monks in ochre robes were chanting beneath the compassionate gaze of huge golden Buddhas and a certain intangible energy, like a mild electrical current, drifted in the evening air. We planned to stay for three days, but were there for three weeks. The city would not let us go.
One hot and sunny afternoon, Bill received word that an American friend, Rich Heart, was living nearby. Bill had not seen him for 43 years. “I’m certain Rich will be up to something fascinating,” Bill assured me as he paced excitedly in our hotel room. Rich sent Bill a cryptic reply: Meet me at Tao Garden Health Spa & Resort.
Tao Garden sits in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas about 20 miles north of Chiang Mai. We meandered slowly through idyllic farm country. Emerald-green rice fields stretched for ever. Herds of huge grey water buffaloes, their immense bellies swaying beneath curved half-moon horns, bellowed as we drove past.
In a forest of towering trees, we came to a gate flanked by stone dragons. We passed through, stopped the car and stepped out into the cool shadows. Above us, the green canopy was far away. Vines trailed from mighty branches and the air was alive with the calls and songs of birds I had never heard before.
There was the soft bubbling of countless fountains and red-painted foot bridges crossed several streams. Pagoda-style pavilions sat on a small hill surrounded by grassy lawns where small groups were practising the ancient meditative ballet of Tai Chi.
I heard Bill say: “This is some kind of a paradise.” I was lost in delight and wandered off. Huge porcelain Chinese vases dotted the landscape and next to one stood a tall, slender man with sky blue eyes. He said: “Those are to capture the chi.”
He then smiled. I looked more closely at him and arched my eyebrows in question.
“Tao Garden is all about chi. It is the life force, the energy that flows through our world. Here in Tao Garden people come from all over the world to learn how to find and direct their chi. It heals sickness and it empowers you to live a better life.”
Bill walked over and they embraced. He had found his long-lost friend.
We strolled past still ponds of water lilies, the open pink and white flowers floating in sparkles of sunshine. I felt I was in a vast natural cathedral with shafts of light illuminating paths to secret gardens. We came to a small lake with a footbridge leading to an octagonal pavilion with tall glass windows. “This is the Immortal Hall. Many unique courses are taught here.”
The doors opened and out poured an unusual mix of individuals from their twenties to seventies, most engaged in some lively conversation. I heard unfamiliar terms like “inner alchemy”, “iron shirt” and “fusion”.
“Is this an international university?” I asked Rich. He laughed and replied, “No, it’s not an actual university. But it’s a place where some of the most fascinating people on the planet come to teach and learn about Taoism, alternative health therapies and any number of other subjects on wellness and personal development.”
“Who created this place?” I was still in a state of amazement.
“Mantak Chia.” Rich said the name with great seriousness and respect.
A year later, we returned to Tao Garden to spend the winter and to have a class with one of the most incredible people I have ever met: Mantak Chia.
He founded Tao Garden 28 years ago as a home for the Tao system he learnt and was authorised to teach by his master in China many years ago.
The “Universal Healing Tao” practices are designed to develop a balanced life of love, health, longevity and spiritual evolution. The focus is on developing and refining our life energy called “chi”, for self-healing and better living.
When you look at Mantak Chia, you know all the principles he is teaching are in force. He himself is an amazing example of health, longevity, and energy.
At 75, he is teaching almost every day of the year either in Tao Garden or at seminars and workshops all over the world. He has written 65 books that instruct and share his knowledge, and I have met many people here who have come to Tao Garden because his publications have changed their lives in profound and positive ways.
The day I met him, he was the picture of freshness and vitality, yet he had just finished one of his full morning classes after returning home the night before from a two-month tour leading seminars in Europe!
He has twice been awarded the title of Qi Gong Master of the Year, which is the centuries-old practice of working with your chi. In Tao Garden, I found my chi. I began to practice Qi Gong every morning. After several weeks, I became far more energetic. I could feel the chi as an actual force coursing through my body.
The morning exercises recharge me like a powerful battery that lasts the whole day.
The evening meditations, known as the Six Healing Sounds and Inner Smile, calm me down and help me to be free from negative thoughts and emotions. I can tell you from experience that this system really works!
In the words of Mantak Chia: “The universe has an abundance of energy that can enhance and multiply our enjoyment of life. All we need to do is connect to the source.”
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com