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Feature Article


Reflections on the Tai Chi and Meditation Retreat, April 2011


Twenty one participants joined us for the retreat at SIBA this year.  For most people, it was a five to eight hours drive.  Their willingness to travel such a long distance shows that they have a strong commitment in gaining greater understanding and development of the mind, body and spirit.  A retreat is not merely a holiday.  It is an opportunity to recharge your energy and to get in touch with and strengthen the mind, body and spirit without the usual distractions. 


The location and purpose built facilities of SIBA make it an ideal place for self cultivation.  Situated in the snowy mountain region of East Gippsland, it is a peaceful and picturesque area of Australia.  The centre has many charming buildings that make training here a delight – the Gompa, the Temple, the dining hall and the Golden Room all exude a wonderful ambience.  




Fontane led the meditation sessions.  Each session, two hours in length, was divided into the meditation sitting(s), talks and discussions.   The talks covered different aspects of meditation from posture, concentration, relaxation, mindfulness to beliefs and feelings.  For many, this was their first taste of meditation and as always, was challenging yet rewarding.  Some embraced it with an open mind, while others will need more time to appreciate its benefits.  Participants commented that they were glad to have been given the time to ask questions openly.  The dialogue helped to clarify some misconceptions that they had held for years.  


Meditation is a profound subject and is the focus of many books and scientific investigations.  A major aspect of meditation is the observation of the mind while remaining relaxed and calm.  Watching the mind, that is, being fully aware of its constant chatter, emotional outbursts and other forms of distraction is really an amazing show.   At first, one might not be able to go beyond the number one when counting the breath before an intruding thought interrupts.   Students found it surprising to think they were unable to control the torrent of thoughts that bubbled up from nowhere.  The awareness of this constant chattering is the first step in meditation and part of an ongoing process of self discovery. 


When practising meditation, one of the common traps we easily fall into is the judgment game.  We tell ourselves things such as, “I am no good at this”, “It’s too hard”, “I failed again” or “I can`t do this”.  To do so is to miss the process.  Meditation is not a race.  The journey is the result.  No matter what your judgment is over your meditation session, you will always benefit from the actual sitting.  Some of the benefits that meditation brings include knowing not to respond with the first reactive thought that pops into your head in a difficult situation, being more aware of the consequences of your actions, seeing the thoughts that lead to certain feelings, and recognising old beliefs that may no longer be relevant anymore.



The Tai Chi and Qigong sessions were an opportunity to experience the presence of awareness in movement.  Moving meditation is a way of being in the body and sensing the flowing of energy as we relax and focus the mind on what we are doing.  This is in contrast with the many distractions we have in our daily lives.  Most of the time, we are in our heads, thinking about the past or the future.  This prevents us from being grounded, causing stress and illness.  Practising Tai Chi keeps us in the present moment.  This balances and reintegrates the body-mind system which relaxes and energises us.  The combination of passive and static practices enables a seamless flow of awareness from one state to the next.  The same mind that does sitting meditation practises Tai Chi.   However, in the initial stages, we are still familiarising ourselves with the practices and might feel the Tai Chi and sitting meditation very different.  The retreat participants seemed to find the Tai Chi easier.  They discovered that Tai Chi and Qigong helped to settle them into the sitting meditation.  Ultimately, the calmness is always there, whether you are moving or sitting.  It will all happen with awareness, time and practice. 


From the feedback we have received, attendees of the retreat gained a great deal from the teachings and practices and enjoyed the company of warm hearted companions.  The staff at SIBA were hospitable and gracious.  We thank you all for making this a most memorable retreat.  We look forward to sharing the time and knowledge with you again in the 2012 April retreat.      


– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland



Reflections: good food, great weather, kindred spirits gathered in good will of enthusiasm.  Your professional yet personal (approachable and jovial) way of communicating is unique & endearing, without judgement, without condescension & filled with gifted insight, skill and respect.


Gain: Above all I think it has rekindled the flame and given me the incentive to continue with practice and to re-establish my routine (daily).


– Barry



An excellent combination of body work (including energy cultivation) together with a very accessible approach to the meditation component, plus a wonderful atmosphere – highly recommended.


– Graeme



  Wonderful venue, food and hospitality.

  Leaving committed, inspired, rejuvenated and a little sore.

  Will take a while for all to settle in and be digested.

  The door to meditation had been opened and I take away the basic knowledge to progress.

  The Qigong and Tai Chi has been everything I hoped for – and more.

  I sincerely thank you both for your direction and encouragement.

  I feel I have taken a stride down this amazing path.

  I also feel privileged to have you both as teachers and mentors.

  Great value!!

  See you next year. 

  Many thanks for the opportunity.


– Rod, Capenter / Builder






Great calming experience.


Helped to dispel several long-held beliefs, especially feeling like I always need to talk!


Wonderful feeling to get back to good Tai Chi practice after many years.  After moving out of Canberra to Dalton, Tai Chi lessons were the only thing I missed about living in Canberra.  (Well, the only thing apart from decent cafes.)


I felt instantly welcomed by the people at the retreat and felt very special having a birthday cake and so many people – even though I didn’t know them – singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in the acoustically amazingly built hall!!  It was the start of an amazing few days.  Thank you Fontane and Brett for everything and reawakening the magical feelling of Tai Chi practice.  I am looking forward to learning this beautiful form.


Meditation – before and 7 months after

Before attending the 2011 retreat, my body's inflexibility meant I was unable to sit on the floor for more than a minute or so.  The intensive yet calming nature of the retreat meant that in just 4 days, I could already feel my body starting to change, allowing me to sit for longer and longer periods of time.  After seven months of (mostly) daily practice, I can sit comfortably cross-legged for about 30 minutes – something I never thought would be possible. 


I am still challenged by the mind's chatter, but the few times I have felt brief moments of calmness were so amazing that they continue to inspire me to keep trying.  The other main benefit has been my ability to now fall asleep very quickly after meditating.  At the age of 40, I had never been able to go to sleep quickly.  My mind chatter kept me awake for 1-2 hours each night before falling into broken, intermittent sleep.  But now, after meditating – even if for only 10 minutes – I fall sound asleep as soon as I get into bed, and only wake when the alarm goes off ...!  


It's kind of hard for me to separate the effects of meditation and Tai Chi, since I started doing them both at the same time.  I don't know whether other people have really noticed, but I definitely feel a lot more accepting, and calm, about situations and people's behaviour than I did seven months ago.  It even takes me a lot longer to lose my temper with the kids – sometimes.  I think this calmness is definitely a result of both meditation and Tai Chi.  And I'm sure meditation, combined with insights from some of the stuff Fontane said at the retreat, has been behind this.  So thanks! 


Also, don't know whether this is related, but I've also become a lot less attached to physical objects.  Heaps of stuff I've had hanging around for years, I've recently donated to op shops/charities etc.  I just feel like there's too much stuff around the house (and in my head!) so getting rid of a lot of it has made me feel a bit lighter.  I've been wanting less stuff, and buying practically nothing, other than food and paying bills.  I've been getting enjoyment out of the simplest things, like watching the sun set on the hills over the road from my house, or the kids playing and giggling on the trampoline, or just sitting outside listening to the birds.  And practising Tai Chi and meditating, of course!  I've always liked these things, but now they seem even more meaningful, and more important than most other things in my life.


– Kath, Freelance Editor & Science Writer



 Wonderful venue and location

 Well run

 Great awareness all around

 Good group

 Open welcoming forum

 Intensive learning

 Please keep the combined Tai Chi and Meditation Retreat format.


– Cameron



A challenging experience that goes straight to the heart of mindful living.


These mindful, awareness practices do help stablise a chaotic mind and reduce the damaging effects that we can impose upon ourselves.


By attending this retreat, I have grounded myself during a difficult phase of my life.  By reinforcing mindful living practices, I now feel able to deal with the next set of challenges that are imminent.


Thanks for the guidance.


– Shannon, Commercial Diver



I found the relaxation I was looking for and valuable tools for slowing the constant barrage of thoughts through meditation practice.  The qigong was particularly enjoyable, learning new and dynamic moves (the Dragon and Crane) while Yin Yang Fish and Ball moves felt great.  Fine tuning Tai Chi was also really beneficial. 


And of course the blissful food and wonderful people, both course attendees & the SIBA folk, made this retreat something really special, with so much to take home.  Hope I can come again next year.


– Antoinette, Public Servant



 Time away in a different space to rejuvenate

 Concentrated Tai Chi refinement

 Enjoyed the retreat ambience

 Learning more about the meditation

 Thank you for this opportunity.


– Ann



I enjoyed the retreat so much.  It was an outer body experience or may be I should say an inner body experience.  I am grateful for this beautiful place that we have been surrounded by as well as the beautiful people.  My gratitude as well goes to the two of you and the gifts you have so gently offered us.  There is nothing that I would offer to change.  It was perfection down to the challenges I was given.  Thank you again.


– Alice



Thank you Brett and Fontane for a very organised and inspiring retreat in a wonderful venue.  I enjoyed learning the Dragon and Crane Qigong and am most grateful for the Tai Chi refinement.  There’s always more to learn.  Meditation was a struggle but there was much less resistance by the end of the third day. 


Please pass my thanks to the SIBA staff for providing excellent and healthy food.  And of course it was my pleasure to undertake the retreat with a marvellous group of people.


– Penny



I enjoyed everything.  The food was yummy!  Great group of people.  The sound effects in the dining room were amazing. 


Even though it’s all a challenge for me, I love it!  I was proud of myself when I was able to find that “space” in meditation.  


Being able to learn more detail of Tai Chi helps too!


I’ll be back next year because it’s all good and my health improves with it all.


Thank you Brett & Fontane for coming into my life.


– Di



I was pleased to have an opportunity to reconnect with Tai Chi practice and was reminded of how good Tai Chi form and Qigong practice make me feel.


I needed also to be reminded that it’s up to me.  Nothing happens without my having an intention and acting on the intention.


Learning to question my beliefs, learning to be conscious (or try to be) about what lies at the back of / behind / under my thoughts, judgments, actions, ……  What a bonus.


Thank you both


– Jane





I gained from the retreat in deepening my understanding of the form.  Refreshing the detail was very timely for me.


The morning Qigong class was very beneficial – to move so much and so early was a boost to my energy for the day.


The meditation practice was new to me and I enjoyed exploring that.


Thank you to Brett and Fontane.  I’ll be back next time.


– Lynda, Therapist



The retreat was a wonderful experience for me, as it gave me a welcome opportunity to explore the mysterious and elusive benefits of Tai Chi and meditation in an ideal setting and under the guidance of two experienced, enthusiastic and inspiring teachers.  The organisation, time table and execution of this program, consisting of the rather demanding subjects of Tai Chi and meditation, was faultless.


To teach beginners the rudiments of Tai Chi takes a great amount of patience and perseverance, which Brett brings to the task with abundance and style.  He is always encouraging.


I can only admire the dedication of Brett and Fontane to their chosen aim of enriching my life and that of the other participants, with the eventual benefits of inner peace, serenity and strength that Tai Chi and meditation deliver.  The full extent of those benefits will manifest themselves in days and weeks to come.


It is up to me now to build on this solid ground work that Brett and Fontane have provided.


I extend my sincere thanks to both in the hope that I may have the opportunity to attend one of their future workshops or retreats.


– John, 83 years old




The retreat was an excellent opportunity to take a break from the busyness of everyday life and pressures of work.  I was able to reconnect with the tangible benefits of Tai Chi and meditation – stillness in motion.


As always the surroundings, company and teaching were outstanding.


I leave feeling refreshed & renewed.


– Kate, Public Servant