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Feature Article

Reflections on the Tai Chi and Meditation Retreat, April 2012


This was the fifth retreat we have held at SIBA in East Gippsland.  How time flies!


The journey to the retreat centre from Canberra is about six hours.  It is a glorious drive through the alpine country and down to the coastal towns of Cann River and Orbost.  Heading up to the retreat centre takes you through a picturesque valley, past the town of Buchan and its famous caves.  A winding road passes beautiful forests and mountain views on its way up to W Tree.  Then, at last you arrive at SIBA, a uniquely designed retreat centre.  A great sense of peace envelops you and feelings of well being are noticeable right away.  A long journey is rewarded with a special place where retreat hosts Venerable Jampal, the Head Monk and Keeper, and Helen, the hard working, happy and creative cook are waiting to welcome us.


As the guests arrived on Friday, they were warmly greeted and shown to their choice of accommodation, which consists of motel style suites, cabins and camp sites.   The first evening was spent getting to know one another, with an introductory talk and a qigong session before bed.  It was great to meet new participants from Queensland and Melbourne.  And, also many old friends from the South Coast, including Dave Tooley, the bear, all 6 feet 8 inches of him.



Each day began with loosening, stretching and a qigong session to awaken our energy.  The set we taught was called the Wudang Mountain Qigong.  The group all commented favourably on the strong energy or qi felt during these sessions.  After our morning session, everybody was ready for a hearty, healthy breakfast.  Helen and the crew did a great job catering for everyone’s needs.  


After breakfast was the meditation session with Fontane.  From all reports, these sessions were a revelation to both beginners and many long term practitioners.  People who attended last year’s retreat were surprised how different the presentation was, even though the essential materials were the same.  People who have attended many meditation courses and retreats in the past, including Senior Instructor Chris Radnedge, were amazed by the clarity and structure of Fontane’s sessions.  Fontane’s explanation of meditation in terms of energy was an eye-opener to everyone.  They now see meditation in a different light – more accessible, calming and so relevant to their daily lives.  Everyone was enthralled by her presentation and her ability to interact in terms of answering and prompting questions.  Many long held unexamined beliefs were challenged and there were many important “aha!” moments.   Also, an unexpected surprise – that most sessions were full of laughter – not what people had anticipated.


Afternoon sessions were devoted to Tai Chi practice.  Students were divided into two groups : those who had learnt the form (in the Golden House) and the beginners (in the Temple).  After the tea break, we all congregated at the Golden House for a workshop on body mechanics, Push Hands and many other aspects of this fascinating art.  Students had the opportunity to work with each other, checking the details of posture etc.  Being able to test the principles with a partner is an indispensable aspect of Tai Chi training.  We also did some Push Hands with each other.  Students tend to have a resistance to this sort of training at first.  However, once they experience it and understand its purpose, they are quick to embrace it and sing its praises.  In Push Hands, you learn to interpret your partner's strength and neutralise his power.  It is the embodiment of yin and yang and is an invaluable tool in developing the power and skill of Tai Chi in application.  Chris Radnedge and I demonstrated the eight powers of Tai Chi and how they can be applied in self defence situations.




After dinner, students again practised meditation and listened to Fontane’s elucidation on the different aspects of this sitting practice.


On the last evening of the retreat, we heard from all participants once again.  This time they commented on what they had gained from the retreat.  Their comments were powerful and humbling testimonies to the magic inherent in these internal arts.  We learnt just how much we can change and awaken when we apply ourselves to a time proven system.  Fontane and I would like to thank everyone for their heartfelt comments and willingness to share them.  We look forward to our next retreat in 2013.  We hope you can join us for an unforgettable, nurturing experience!


Chief Instructor Brett Wagland



“Book me in for next year …… 


These few days have to be the best value, just ask Dominic, to be found anywhere.


Great value, amazing food and gracious hosts.


As intense as it is, both physically and mentally, the experience is utterly relaxing and rewarding.


The meditation for a novice was exceptional.  I’ve learnt to be my own best friend and did let go some negative situations which I feel much better for.


The Tai Chi has helped me consolidate and as always has invigorated and refuelled my enthusiasm to tackle the path ahead.


I leave with a stronger body, a warmer heart and a free spirit.  A real heartfelt thanks.”


Rod, Builder/Carpenter




“What a fantastic way to get away from the constant information overload of daily life.  The refinement of the form was fantastic and something I had been craving.


Words cannot describe the feeling and relaxation from Qigong.


Insights from the meditation will undoubtedly help me cope with the stresses of my working life and have given me insights into my monkey mind.


The quality of the teachings, the environment, food and the participants have all contributed to what would have to be the most relaxing insightful periods of my life.  I thank you all."

David, Manager



“Firstly, I would like to congratulate Fontane and Brett on a most wonderful experience.  Although I am a newcomer to Tai Chi and Qigong, both of you made me feel part of the group, and your explanations in all the classes were detailed and very easy to follow for a newcomer.  You both were very sensitive to where newcomers might have questions in a class, but you managed to talk about these before it ever occurred to me to ask a question.  I can see that you are very experienced teachers and I think that comes from the fact that you are both such sensitive and caring people, not to mention Masters of your craft.


The environment at SIBA is absolutely unique and special.  One feels a calm yet strong very, very good energy immediately on arrival.  Everyone there is calm and welcoming and the place runs smoothly and seamlessly.  I’m sure that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the five days there, and felt re-energised and peaceful when they left.  The food was terrific, varied, lots of it and the way that everyone chipped in to help with dishes etc. was great to see.


What did I gain from it?  I don’t know where to start!  Mentally, Fontane’s meditation classes were a revision for me on the healing powers of meditation.  The processes you use are very easy to follow and in this short time since 13th April, I have been able to relax and gain calm more quickly than I would have believed possible.


Physically, as I mentioned to Brett on the last day, the pain and stiffness in my shoulders and neck as well as my lower back started to melt away.  Really, before I came to the retreat, I was thinking about asking my doctor to refer me to an orthopaedic surgeon for possible back surgery, because I have had problems for several years.  Even though I tried yoga and Pilates for the past two years, there was little improvement in my back.  I believe the Qigong and Tai Chi exercises, being as they are so very gentle, are wonderful, as they train the mind to slow down and breathe well during the movements.  Even with old injuries in my left shoulder, and previous fractures in my left knee and left wrist, I was able to do all the exercises, so gentle are the movements, yet so powerful.  I am so grateful that I found your website and made the journey to work through your 5 day retreat.  I can’t thank you enough.


I can’t really think of anything that I would like to see changed for your retreat.  Everything you both did, the way classes progressed through stages during the whole period was logical and planned.  I felt participants were given a very solid understanding of what and why we were doing what you were teaching us.


I would like to visit again next year and repeat the retreat.  I don’t mind the travel.  I really do enjoy travelling around that part of NSW and Victoria.  Next time though I might consider driving myself and taking an extended trip through the area."


A Queensland Visitor



“The triage of meditation, Qigong and Tai Chi worked incredibly well together, and made for a highly successful and satisfying retreat.


            As always with doing Tai Chi with Brett and Fontane, I gained a deeper understanding of the art. 


            I was delighted with the Qigong sessions which were most energising as a start to a day.


            The meditation was a real surprise in that I had viewed it as a bit of a ‘fill-in’ between Tai Chi and Qigong, but it turned out to be a highlight for me.


            The retreat has also provided me with an insight I had not expected in all three disciplines as well as providing motivation to continue with them in the future and to try to improve my participation in them


            Thank you once again Fontane and Brett.  Keep up the good work!  I loved the time I spent with you at SIBA.”


Jean, Retired



“An understanding that I have potential I never realised.  Finding the joy of movement.


            This was a weekend more rewarding than I would have believed possible.


            Thank you for everything !!!”


Gael, Public Servant



“I loved the laughter as well as the pain – though the latter in retrospect.


          Has deepened my understanding as well as the experience of energy practice in the Qigong and the Tai Chi form.  Very strong too in the Wudang practice.


          The explanation of Taoist energy structures has clarified so much of the Tai Chi and Qigong practices and now I understand more of where martial arts forms fit, as well as Chinese medicine and health practices.


          Very helpful to have concept of being my own best friend as a way to break down the critical inner voice.  It makes compassion a natural result once acceptance is experientially real – not just an idea.”





“Met all my expectations regarding ongoing training in Hun Yuan Tai Chi.  This was important as I do not have a teacher at present on the South Coast.


Provided a significant addition to my own Qigong training through the Wudang Mountain Qigong set.


Took me further than expected in my understanding and practice of Qigong – again important because I do not have a teacher to guide me in this.


The new meditation strategy was a revelation and another opening.  I appreciated:

- the guided practice

- the examination and discussion of participants’ experience during the meditation process

- the theoretical presentation of this form of meditation and the analysis of practical and programmatic applications for practitioner


          Brett and Fontane, I value highly the opportunity to study with you both and greatly appreciate your willingness to provide that opportunity.  Thank you.




“I really enjoyed taking the Wudang Mountain Qigong set home to practise. 


            I loved the meditation sessions, explanations and discussion.


            I left the retreat inspired to deepen the practices and details of the Hun Yuan form.


            There was a lot of laughter which also enhanced the atmosphere and total experience.”


Julie, Community Service Worker



“A wonderful opportunity to join my local ‘Tai Chi family’ on a retreat in a beautiful, calming location and to meet others with a similar passion.  The enthusiasm was infectious and the energy through the Wudang Mountain Qigong was just amazing.


            I gained an appreciation of the connectedness between Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation and am inspired to find a balance with these in my practice.”


Sally, Teacher



“Gained a deeper knowledge of the concept of meditation and its importance of connecting it with Qigong and Tai Chi.


            It has confirmed that the above disciplines are great tools against depression, stagnant energy such as chronic fatigue and re-gaining overall health.


            It was a true pleasure to meet Brett and Fontane and to learn from them as master teachers.  Their philosophy of Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation, but also as a couple interacting with each other, has been commendable.


            We had a great learning time with laughter and good food in beautiful surroundings with a like-minded group where we felt welcome as an extended family.  Thank you also to the Buddhist Centre for their good care and welcome.”


Uta, Retired and Marion, Bus Driver



“A month on from the retreat and many benefits continue to flow through my daily life.


My Tai Chi form feels lighter, more grounded and balanced.


The Qigong Brett taught us has become a regular favourite.  The combination of standing and gentle twisting movements is deeply relaxing, and wonderful for dropping tension and freeing up the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle.


The return to a habit of meditation also continues to bring enhanced peace and clarity.


I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a high level of instruction.

For me it was a perfect combination.


The training, the beautiful setting, the great food, and the company of a wonderful group of people was energising, inspiring and a lot of fun.


The whole experience has had a positive effect on my health and has deepened my commitment and enthusiasm for the Hun Yuan system.


We both very much enjoyed the retreat, and hope to make it a regular part of our year.


Thanks again to both of you, and I hope you're both well!”





“I have a deeper understanding of Tai Chi practices and the inter-relationship between the form, Qigong, meditation and energy.  I have felt inner calm.”


Kate, School Teacher



“By doing this retreat, I found myself, my inner self.  I slow down, take time for myself.  I feel more grounded, still a lot of work to be done.


            My challenge was the meditation.  So many things in my head.  I learnt so much in the past four days.  My head was spinning.  However, at the end, everything slowed down.


            I really enjoyed the Tai Chi and Qigong, still a lot to learn.  Thank for your knowledge you have passed to me.


            The structure of the course was perfect.


            Thanks from my heart.”


Marie-Claude, Massage Therapist



“Having recently come to learn the ‘end’ of the form, it was a revelation to practise the form with Fontane in the seniors class.  She emphasised performing it very slowly.  It was very helpful to see and experience a greater degree of detail and emphasis on relaxation, completing movements, posture and so much more.  I hope I can retain some of this knowledge with practice and support from our South Coast Chapters.


            Wudang Mountain Qigong was a wonderful set.  I hope to incorporate the practice in my everyday life.  It felt beautiful, expressive and energising.


            And for the meditation, I have previously received lots of other training in different methods.  But I must say, I really benefitted from Fontane’s techniques and explanations.  It was compassionate, forgiving and very accepting of what is.”


Linda, Community Welfare Worker



"The integration among the three disciplines of Tai Chi, Qigong and medtiation is very revealing and empowering all nicely structured and presented.


All done in a very inspiring environment and a great sense of generosity of spirit on the part of all concerned.”





“Wonderful combination of physical and spiritual challenges and teachings.


            Excellent program – good balance.


            Great food and wonderful ambience.


            I intend to continue with both Qigong and meditation and then Tai Chi further down the track.


            Very accessible meditation and I’m sure my mind and body need the regular practice of Qigong.


            Thank you Brett and Fontane for your explanations and inspirational teachings.”


Ann, Teacher



“As a complete beginner to Tai Chi, I have been amazed at how quickly I have felt a physical benefit and strengthening.  I love the movements, the whole body involvement and the link to martial arts.


The retreat venue was magnificent, matched by the teaching, organisation and food.”


Angelika, Semi-retired Coast Dweller



“Thank you again Brett and Fontane for an amazing few days.  Your generosity as teachers knows no bounds and is always inspiring. 


I learnt a whole lot more about meditation and hope to gain some insight instead of just getting a good night’s sleep. 


The Wudang Mountain Qigong was great to learn as well.  I started to get some nice feelings of qi from it.


I also found the refinement of Tai Chi fantastic.  A lot of gaps were filled in for me."


Kath, Freelance Editor



“I was hesitant about going to the Retreat.  The usual excuses – the long driving, away from family, too busy at work, can’t afford time away and so on.  Well, how pleased I am that I didn’t listen to my mind!


The Retreat indeed proved to be a valuable investment for my health and wellness – quality time spent in a peaceful and calm setting, time to reflect and reassess my beliefs and having good fun without the usual distractions of a busy life.


Being with like-minded and fantastic people and sharing common goals also helped me remain focused and interact openly with others travelling on a similar journey of life.


The daily set routines included powerful sessions on Qigong, meditation and Tai Chi.  These were well structured and delivered dynamite results.  I felt recharged and energised and slept very well each night.  Waking up at 6.30am sharp to the sound of the Buddhist monk’s gong and hearing the kookaburras each morning was special – a great way to start each day.


The Qigong morning sessions led by Chief Instructor Brett gave me a sense of enrichment and calmed my mind.  They helped reconnect me with my inner self and boosted my energy levels.  I’ve never experienced this type of feeling before.


The daily double sessions on meditation, led by Fontane, while an important part of the retreat, were challenging.  More time and work need to be directed by me to this vital part of my Tai Chi regime.


Fontane ran a mind blowing session on energy structures.  It was extremely fascinating.  She delivered the session in a clear and easily understood manner.  Never before had I heard of this topic.  When asked where further information could be found, she replied the knowledge was handed down from generation to generation.  The session helped me understand aspects of how my energy levels operate and why I feel the way I do.  I hope she repeats this session at next year’s retreat.  It’s priceless.


The resident Buddhist leader, Jampal, and the cook, Helen, displayed superb culinary skills.  I didn’t realise that one can be so artistic when it came to vegetarian cooking.  The food was delicious, meals were plentiful and each day was different.  I was fortunate as I was nourished in two ways: with the best organically grown vegetables and energy levels nourished by Qigong.



I left the Retreat feeling more energised than ever before, refreshed and ready to tackle life and work with a positive outlook and knowing how to use my mind in an effective way.  Fontane taught us when not to listen to our minds.  Her sessions on understanding the mind in the context of meditation were unbelievable.


The return on my investment has already paid handsome dividends – created internal solid wealth, consolidated and capitalised my knowledge and will lead to better profitable results both mentally and physically that far exceeded my previous capacity.


Thank you to Brett and Fontane for presenting a high standard and rewarding retreat that delivered inspiration, leadership, empowerment, good fun, a sense of freedom and importantly belonging to a happy and nourished Tai Chi family.”


Dominic, Chartered Accountant