My Experience of a Chi Kung Retreat

Italian house

The retreat

Ever heard of Chi Kung? Neither had I, and always one to try something new, I signed up for a three day retreat in the Italian mountains during my 16 week trip, travelling solo in Europe (still using no flights!)

And the retreat couldn’t have come at a better time. I was exhausted from fast travelling, tired from sharing dorms with multiple other travellers and ready to stop, rejuvenate and completely relax my mind and body. Not a newbie to retreats, I’d been lucky enough to experience them before on a silent meditation retreat in the Australian Blue Mountains, and a yoga retreat in India and now I was ready for my new adventure – a Chi Kung retreat in Italy!

What is Chi Kung?

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong) is an ancient Chinese healing art, which uses gentle movements in standing, static postures and walking meditations to change and increase your energy levels (your “Chi”). It looks similar to Tai Chi, and Tai Chi is actually a form of Qi Gong.

Chi Kung assumes that Chi exists everywhere and believes that the five qualities found in human Chi should resemble those found everywhere else in the universe i.e. Fire, Earth; Metal; Water, and Wood. The upward movements are the Yang and the downward movements are the Ying and Chi Kung relates these five elements to the human body and corresponds each element to organs and meridians (like your kidneys and rubbing this part of the body can help fight disease).

Being on a Chi Kung retreat helps you to understand life forces within the body and be more aware of your body and surroundings and also teaches you to let go of things that are no longer serving you.

And…even if you don’t believe in the spiritual side, not only does Chi Kung help you to relax, it allows you to promote preventative health by boosting your immune system and achieving a healthy lifestyle. I was intrigued about this Chinese form and ready to embrace my ‘Chi.'

Chi Kung

“Not like a zombie Lisa,” said one of the Chi Kung instructors, as I walked around the room in a circle with my arms stretched forward practising ‘walking from the Dan Tien,’ – a slow walk shifting my weight from leg to leg with the heel touching the floor first. I looked around at the others and realised that compared to their fluid movements, I did actually look like something from the walking dead.

But I couldn’t stop smiling. I was in gorgeous surroundings, eating fresh organic food and had never felt so calm. I was totally embracing my Chi – a little too much if truth be known. Having trained as a Reiki Master, I was used to working with energy and the amazing sensations that came with it but when I started stripping off because I felt that I was burning up, I knew that I had overloaded on too much “Chi.”

“I’m going to faint,” I said to Thalbert as I removed my socks and felt the beads of sweat running down my brow. He led me out the room to a cooler spot and as he firmly massaged the pressure point on my hands to stop me feeling faint, I felt the dizziness subside.

After screaming ouch” a little too loudly to a bemused room of deadly silent walking zombies, I finally felt better and returned to take my place in the circle; my new Chi Kung friend grinning at me at my rather loud pain.

The three days passed so quickly and after a morning schedule of opening exercises to awake your “woo chi” then meditation, I felt so amazingly calm and didn’t want to leave. I’d stepped out of civilisation and had to prepare myself to go back in; back to bus journeys, hostels and meeting yet more strangers. Back to life on the road but for now, I was totally enjoying just being in the moment….sigh.


I took my three day retreat with Susan Reed at Il Respiro Della Vita and College of Elemental Chi Kung. Even though the retreat was in Italy, Susan spoke in both English and Italian. Susan is a recognized Physiotherapist, Craniosacral therapist and teacher of Chi Kung.


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