Lohan Yoga



Documented in the Pali Canon 29BCE is a rare form of Yoga once practiced by the Buddha, the western name given to this yoga style is Lohan. The Bodhidharma (Indian monk) who named one large flow patterns ‘Lohan’. Lohan is Chinese for the Sanskrit word (( अर्हत् ) Arahant), this is a term for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment, but who may not have reached full Buddhahood. I can’t promise you enlightenment if you learn Lohan, but guarantee you a unique Yoga experience. ”

Niel visiting the birthplace of Lohan

Niel visiting the birthplace of Lohan

Niel with his  late  teacher Chan Sun-Chiu The last Keeper of Lohan

Niel with his late teacher Chan Sun-Chiu The last Keeper of Lohan

Yoga history

In the broadest terms yoga is a group of physical mental or spiritual practices that have their origins in ancient India. The yoga of ancient India would have looked only a little like it is today. The bulk of the yoga practice was seated meditation, only after 1920 did Indian yoga include a wide range of poses (asanas) and movements.  

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya also known as the farther of modern Indian yoga traveled to China to learn some of the poses (asanas) that only the Buddhist Yogis knew. The Buddha over 2500 years ago created a Yoga practice as documented in the Pali Canon 29BC the earliest book on the Buddha. The Pali Canon says nothing more than a Yoga style was created by the Buddha, that it consists of poses and practices.  This Yoga practice was preserved orally and only taught from master to student. The full practice stayed with the top student, the top student of the Buddha inherited the Buddhism and Yoga. The name used for the inheritor was the Patriarch of Buddhism. After 27 generations of inherited Buddhist Patriarchs the title went to the Bodhidharma he then travelled to China and created Zen Buddhism and then openly taught the Yoga practice he called Lohan.  The Bodhidharma lived in China in a new temple and taught the monks Lohan, the new temple was called Shaolin. The inheritance was passed over to the monks. The tradition of a single inheritor was still in place and was passed from Abbot to Abbot over the next 1200 years. From the first Abbot to Choy Fook 1835AD the last Abbot after the final fall of the Shaolin temple. For 1200 years the Yoga practice of the Buddha spread over China to other temples and after the fall of the temples to the rest of China. It was this that  Krishnamacharya learned and returned to India with, using it to create the modern Yoga styles. He didn’t learn from the inheritors but other Yogis living far from the original temple.  

What happened to the last Abbot Choy Fook, the Lohan and his inheritance? The inheritance was now passed to Chan Heung who studied in hiding with the last Abbot for over ten years. Chan Heung returned home to King Mui, created a well known Kung Fu style and kept the Lohan secret only teaching it to his most dedicated and humble students.  The Lohan lineage stayed in King Mui village passing down to Chan Heung’s great grand son Chan Sun-Chiu. Chan Sun-Chiu known as the last Keeper passed this knowledge onto his only living student Niel Willcott, the founder of our school. 

Style of Lohan

Lohan is the practice of: “Life Energy Cultivation” using movement, breathing and meditation for health and spirituality training. With roots in Chinese medicine, and Chinese philosophy it's traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance life energy (Qi). According to Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian philosophy, Qi cultivation allows access to higher realms of awareness, awakens one’s “true nature", and helps develop human potential. Dating back over four centuries, a diverse spectrum of Qi cultivation forms developed in different segments of Chinese society. 

Most widely known forms were created by the Bodhidarma they are: Yijin Jing (Tendon Changing), Wuxíng (Five Animals) and Baduanjin (Eight Pieces of Brocade). All of which are variations of the original "Eighteen hands Lohan". The term used for the complete Qi cultivation teachings of the Bodhidarma is Lohan. Niel learnt the complete Lohan system from his teacher the last keeper of the most direct lineage of Lohan Chan Sun-Chiu. After Chan Sun-Chiu passed away Niel renamed our organisation to Lohan, dedicating it to his late teaches wish that Niel spread the complete Lohan system and to give it a modern context.

Niel with famous Youtube Yoga teacher Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. Working on Ashtanga Yoga.

Niel with famous Youtube Yoga teacher Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. Working on Ashtanga Yoga.

Yoga style

Our Yoga style offers a range of traditional methods including static poses, flow patterns, meditation, self massage and breathing techniques. Niel has learn a range of other yoga styles, doing this to broaden his knowledge with an open mind and open heart. Other than Lohan Yoga Niel studied Ashtanga Yoga under famous Yogini YouTuber Kino MacGregor, student of Pattabhi Jois founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Niel says “As impressive as Ashtanga Yoga is, there is nothing in Ashtanga that can not be found in Lohan.” 

The style of Lohan Yoga is set around a pattern of flowing movements called the Eighteen Lohans. On learning the Eighteen Lohans the practitioner them expands on its flow movements, building on them until a beautiful and personal interpretation is formed. Niel’s role in this is to teach you the foundation movements and pattern in detail and then to assist you in your journey of expansion and interpretation. Niel’s aim is to help you release and realise your inner self, expressed through your unique vision of the Lohan Yoga. For this to happen we recommend that all students take private lessons with Niel as soon as they start or at least at an intermediate level.  

History of Lohan 

The lineage of Niel’s knowledge can be directly traced back over 2500 years to the Buddha, for this we still keep many of the Buddhist traditions and etiquette. After the Buddha passed away the next leader of Buddhism was chosen and given the title of Patriarch. After 27 generations of buddhist Patriarchs the title went to the Bodhidharma. The Bodhidarma created Zen Buddhism and Lohan. The Lohan physical training program led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu. At the temple the full system of Lohan was reserved for the most advanced monks. The knowledge was passed from Abbot to Abbot over the next 1200 years. From the first Abbot to Choy Fook 1835AD the last Abbot, after the fall of the Shaolin temple the inheritance was passed to Chan Heung who studied in hiding with the last Abbot. Chan Heung created the Choy Li Fut style and only taught the Lohan to his most dedicated students. The line stayed in King Mui village with in the linage of the King Mui Choy Li Fut until Chan Heung’s great grand son Chan Sun-Chiu. Chan Sun-Chiu known as the Keeper passed this knowledge onto his only living student Niel Willcott, the founder of our school Lohan in Norwich. 

Private yoga lessons with Niel

Private yoga lessons with Niel

Niel Willcott

Niel’s search for authenticity and traditional Yoga. As a child Niel loved anything to do with Asian culture and a documentary sparked his life long search for authentic Yoga. The documentary told the life story of the Buddha and talked about the Buddha’s own Yoga style as outlined in the Pali Canon. In 1996 Niel was twenty years old and started learning Japanese Reiyukai Buddhism from Mr Hiromi Hasegawa. He found an article in Chi Power Magazine with Jane Hallander describing the Buddha’s yoga in the form of the Eighteen Lohan as taught by the BodhidharmaNiel then travel to the US, Hong Kong and China to learn the Lohan system. Over the next fifteen years Niel had three famous teachers of Lohan, his final teacher being the Keeper of the style who passed away in 2013. Niel is the old Keepers last living student. If you are interested in learning the precious Lohan Yoga and helping us spread our knowledge we recommend you learn directly from Niel in private lessons. 

Niel Willcott

For Niel Lohan is much more than a fitness program it’s a way of living. Each day Niel dedicates one hour to practicing the Eighteen Lohan hands, first ceremonially he completes the form in the traditional way. Then Niel without restraint will deconstruct the form, spontaneously adding and changing moves. This ad-lib unplanned time gives Niel deep insight, making Lohan an art form or as Niel jokingly calls it “ Zen made Flesh”

In the early 6th century the Bodhidharma who was the leader of Buddhism at the time made a change in the way Buddhism was taught. He created Zen (Chán)  which gave the student the option of two paths to follow. The first path was reading the stories of the Buddha and meditating. The second is to live your life and find enlightenment through your body and mind. Thus he created Lohan to teach the Zen path of mind & body. You don’t need a written or spoken language to convey knowledge onto others. You only need that which is common to all people, the body.

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