The Five Animals Qigong learned in the San Feng Sect of Wudang is a very unique set of exercises. Within the training of each movement, one opens and strengthens their internal organs and their blood circulation. When the five animals; dragon, tiger, leopard, snake, and crane, are used as a composite whole, one can attain better balance, body awareness, flexibility, tendon and muscle strength, and longevity in health. Qigong is also used to assist the body in the natural expulsion of toxins and waste that has accumulated through bad habits and lifestyles. In time, the dedication to such a practice can improve ones mental stability, as the training constantly strives to focus the minds energy and tame the disruptions caused by external distractions.
Qigong can be literally translated to mean "energy training." In qigong theory, one of the ways that qi (loosely translated here as energy) is stimulated is through breathing practice. Breathwork is one, if not the, most important factor to be aware of during the practice of any qigong. During practice, the external calming and strengthening of the practitioners breath is a reflection of the internal training as well.
In each animal of the Five Animals Qigong, the practitioner coordinates their breathing to match the push/pull energy of each movement. The flow of breathe should always remain natural and relaxed, never forced or erratic. Posture is an important factor as well. The practitioner needs to be in correct alignment to properly stretch and strengthen the body as well as to create and maintain healthy habits. Through this kind of training the body can begin to be cleansed and revitalized.
The mind also can sow benefits from qigong. Through dedicated practice, an individual has a sense of stability and clarity to match the body and its progress. By removing unhealthy toxins and problems from the body, the mind is free and can release itself from such distractions. In time, the mind can be relaxed as well. During practice, one should strive to not allow the mind to wander too far from the concentration of only the practice of the qigong itself. Forgetting the outside world, if even momentarily, can help the mind to become not so disturbed by the external factors beyond one's control as well as keep the mind focused to change and temper the ones within its grasp. By applying oneself, the mental benefits achieved through the practice can far out weigh the physical benefits.
Listed below are each of the five animals of the Wu Xing Qigong. Although, this article is not meant to be a guide to teach the movements for self practice. If you are inexperienced in Wudang Martial Arts an online guide may not be the best way to learn. As a beginner, you may not know if you are achieving correct posture or not based on feeling alone. This article is rather a source that offers information to clarify some basic questions about the specific practice. Each animal is paired with a brief description about the characteristics of their particular movements and their benefits. However, this does not completely cover all of the attributes of each set of movements. There are more layers that require extended explanation and, in more cases, extensive practice to understand. This article is laid out in a few simple key characteristics to build from and to move towards cultivating a better understanding.
The first animal to follow the opening movements of the Wu Xing Qigong is the Dragon. The twisting bow stance position is designed to open the meridians and blood flow towards the kidneys. The kidneys are the key to relaxing and eliminating fear in an individual.
Second follows the strong horse stance of Tiger. This animal focuses on opening and strengthening the pathways to the lungs. A common problem when practicing these movements is a shortness of breathe. Underlying issues of grief that can lead to depression can be a weight that that may burden the practitioner. Tiger works to open and relax these passages and meridians to shed such emotions and create healthy circulation.
The bending horse stance of Leopard is next in a Five Animal Qigong session. Leopard can aid the body in blood circulation via the liver. As the liver is the center for regulating blood flow throughout the body, it is natural for hot blooded emotion (anger) to be related to an imbalance from the liver.
The low stance shifting of Snake is designed to improve joint and hip flexibility. Within movements of Snake, the spleen is compressed and stretched. This helps relax the spleen to better aid in the digestion of food and absorption of energy into the bodies blood. When the practitioner is affected by excessive worry, possibly from mental exertion from work or dwelling on other personal problems, it is possible that the spleen is in an imbalance.
The final animal in this particular qigong practice is the Crane. The Crane stance is a great way to practice balance and stability, both externally and internally. The movements of Crane are related to the balances and imbalances of the practitioners heart. The Chinese say that "When the heart is at ease, the body is healthy." In practice we can see this first hand. During practice, if the heart is distracted or at an imbalance, it becomes difficult to maintain posture and stability. However, if we we can relax the mind and relieve ourselves of those troubles that we keep close to our heart, the heart can relax and, in calming, balance can be attained.
With the tools found in the practice of qigong such as the Five Animal Qigong here, one can begin to build a bridge over troubles and imbalances in the body and mind and move towards a more balanced and stable life.
The assimilation of a qigong practice into ones life can bring great benefits to an individual. Physically, it can improve flexibility, vigor, coordination, balance, body awareness, blood circulation, organ health, and communication throughout the natural systems in the body. All in all, guiding the body towards better health and longevity. Mentally, qigong can be used as a compass to understanding emotional imbalances the practitioner may be suffering from, even if it is on a subconscious level. With a dedicated routine, qigong doesn't only make one aware of these things, but it can also be used to slowly relax and release such feelings of anxiety, stress, fear, anger, and so forth.
From improving joint movement to cultivating a better outlook on life, qigong has a multitude of uses that have been in practice for thousands of years. Wu Xing Qigong, Five Animals Qigong, is a great way to follow in the footsteps of history toward the creation of a brighter future for yourself.