Get fit like a Shaolin monk

Most monks are quiet souls who keep away from the distractions of the modern world. But not every monk is like Master Shi Yanran.

The 30-year-old Master Yanran is not only an ordained Buddhist monk, but a martial arts master and teacher.

In 2011, he began teaching a weekly mind-body fitness class at Stanford sponsored by the university’s Health Improvement Program.  The class, taught with the help of six other young monks, uses kung fu to help students achieve a higher level of awareness while also improving their health.

Kathleen Guan, an administrative associate in the Department of Structural Biology at Stanford, said that learning with Shaolin monks was a rare and incredible opportunity:

“The monks are surprisingly good teachers.  They are graceful, patient and eager to teach us. The big plus is that learning I’m learning real kung fu from real Shaolin monks.”

The class description gives a summary of what students can expect when they enroll in the class:

“Participants will achieve harmony of body and mind through a well-balanced program, appropriate for people of all ages and physical abilities who seek to create better health and well-being, train for self-defense, and improve strength and flexibility.”

The class has delivered on those promises. Each begins with monks in a line facing the students.  Monks and students alike give respectful bows before launching into targeted warm-up exercises for the knees, ankles, arms and hips, as well as specific stretches.

Next, they get started with the kung fu, doing kicks, punches, blocks, and turns under the direction of the monks.  Later, students get instruction on how to use weapons like staffs and swords.

And although they admit the workout can be exhausting, students like Ben Scott, a mechanical engineer, say it’s worth the effort:

“I was on a high the rest of the day.  It was amazing how good I felt after it.”