This post is excerpted from the book, Les Jeu Des Cinq Animaux (Five Animal Play) by Jiao Guo Rui, De Ye Tao and Hu Yao Zhen, translated by Grégory Mardaga. The book presents three different versions of the Five Animal Play exercises.
The text below forms Hu Yao Zhen’s introduction to the Five Animal Play. However, it is essentially a discussion of important points relating to Nei Gong in general, particularly exercises involving standing like Zhan Zhuang and holding San Ti Shi. The text has many parallels with my own discussions with my Xing Yi school brother, Master Song Zhi Yong, regarding spontaneous movement as it appears in the Xing Yi Quan practices of Tu Na Si Ba and San Ti Shi. I think it will be of interest to practitioners of both Nei Gong and Xing Yi.
Translation from the French by Tom Bisio.
Read Part 1 of this article HERE.
Hu Yao Zhen’s Important Points on Nei Gong and the Five Animal Play (Wu Qin Shu) Part II
“First fix the Heart-Mind. When the Heart-Mind is fixed, the Spirit (Shen) condenses. When the Shen condenses, the Heart-Mind becomes still. When the Heart-Mind is still, you are calm. When you are calm, you do not intervene (Wu Wei). When you don’t intervene, the Qi circulates. When the Qi circulates, you move.”
These are some of the oral formulas that must be memorized by heart when one practices the basic exercises.
Specifically, here is the method of training:
- Before the exercises, loosen your clothing and your belt, take care of any bodily needs and rest for a moment. Once you have fixed your Heart-Mind, sit on a chair or remain standing. The environment should be peaceful and the room should be well ventilated.
- The posture, whether sitting or standing, must be natural and comfortable. After you are in position, sense that your Heart-Mind is calm, that the Qi is harmonious and that your breathing is even and regular. Look inside the Middle Dantian (Navel), listen to it and imagine it. Do not pay attention to the breathing through the nose or mouth. Bring the breathing of the nose and mouth to the Middle Dantian. Gently close the eyes and concentrate your intention on the Middle Dantian.
- Once the Heart-Mind is fixed, “inhale” the Qi of the Middle Dantian towards Mingmen. Inhale until you feel the joining of the Qi of these two zones. When you can no longer “inhale”, wait until the Dantian naturally “exhales” the Qi toward the front. Then inhale the Qi again naturally toward the back. So sometimes the Dantian exhales, sometimes it inhales: this is “Dantian Breathing.” You must conform to the natural respiration of the Dantian, and you must especially not pay too much attention to the belly as it inflates and deflates. You do not need to coordinate Dantian breathing with the breathing of the nose and mouth.
- If the Dantian does not breathe, you should not make it breathe using the intention, nor should you direct it by using the respiration of the mouth and nose. Just watch it [the Dantian]. If you stand or sit for a long time, observe it for a long time. Forget the breathing of nose and mouth.
- When you are able to observe like this for a certain amount of time, your body begins to move unconsciously. After the body is set in motion, your intention must always observe the Dantian. If the body wants to move in such a way, then it will move in such a way. Don’t use the Intention. Don’t attend to the movement and don’t attempt to prevent it.
- If after 30 to 60 minutes of spontaneous movement you wish to stop the exercise, say to yourself: “I am not going to exercise more”, and at the same time stop observing the Dantian. Stop the exercise gently. You absolutely must not interrupt the exercise forcefully or abruptly. Sometimes after a period of practice, the exercise stops spontaneously.
- The movements may constantly change, but you must not forget to observe especially Dantian.
- In certain individuals with different physical constitutions, it is possible that spontaneous movements will never be triggered, even after a long practice of basic exercises. If the movements do not come, do not be impatient and do not move intentionally in imitation of others. Do not forcefully seek movement.
- If after long-term practice, the spontaneous movements are not triggered, you can also practice the Five Animal Play and use the Intention to observe Dantian. This depends upon the individual.
- The physical constitution, age and the life conditions of each person are different. For certain individuals, the hands are the first to move. For others it is the legs or the head. It depends on the individual.
- If the movements are incessant, don’t be afraid. Do not suddenly stop the exercise. At the moment you want to stop, say several times: “I am stopping. I will not move anymore.” If after the triggered motion, you roll on the floor, you say to yourself: “Make me get up. Rolling on the floor is making my clothes dirty.” If the movements accelerate more and more, you can say to yourself several times: “Slow down. It is too rapid, I can’t maintain this.” This suggestion will make you gently slow down.
- After focusing on Dantian and beginning to move, the first movements may be somewhat violent and change uncontrollably. However, during the exercise, you can control these movements. The movements can follow mental activity. If you want to go fast, you will go faster. If you want to go slower, you will go slower. If you want to move, then you move. If you do not move, then you can concentrate and practice the exercise called “Standing Stake” (Zhan Zhuang Gong).
- During the exercise, there may be phenomena such as aching, tingling, a sensation of swelling, heat, itching or sweating. These are normal reactions and you should not be apprehensive or afraid of them.
- During the exercises avoid experiencing strong emotions such as anger or melancholy. You should also lead a moderate life, particularly in the area of sexual activity.
- Once the movements stop, close the exercise. In order to do this, men must imagine the Qi goes to the right, beginning from a point at the top left of the navel and making 36 counterclockwise, centrifugal (outward moving) circles around the navel (Middle Dantian). Then return in the opposite direction (clockwise) by making 24 centripetal (inward moving) circles. Gather Qi in the Middle Dantian. The direction of rotation for women is against is the opposite to that of men. These circles are employed in order to collect Qi, and to avoid dispersion of Qi.
- After closing the exercise, rub your hands together until they become warm. Then rub your face and head.
- During the exercise, be determined and persistent. Practice consistently one or two times daily for about 1 hour.
- Do not exercise before a meal or in the half-hour just following a meal.
- When practicing Five Animal Play, the mind must enter into a state of tranquility. Chase away the various thoughts. Sublimating the Spirit and nourishing the Qi are the two main objectives. In standing, guide the Qi through Intention and use the respiration of the Upper, Middle and Lower Dantian in order to coordinate them. Activate the body movements and make your movements merge with the appearance of Five Animals. Simultaneously, based on the sensations triggered by your body, purify the Spirit and the Qi so that the Intention, Qi and body are closely linked. This will enable you to transform Essence (Jing), sublimate the Spirit, and turn the Spirit back to sublimate emptiness. Practitioners of old felt that to fully understand the Five Animal Play, one had to learn through one’s own experience. “If there is emptiness, there awakening; if there is awakening, then there is circulation; if there is circulation, there is change, if there is change, then there is transformation; if there is transformation, there is emptiness; if there is emptiness, then there is Transcendence.” This means that after entering completely into a state of tranquility, the brain is more alert, and the Intention and Qi circulate more freely in the interior of the body. Under the direction of the Intention and Qi, the body moves spontaneously and transforms. Conversely, the more it changes, the more the brain becomes calm and empty. Reciprocally, the body movements appear to be light, more flexible and more natural. In view of this explanation, Five Animal Play is not simply a technique of Chinese Boxing. The movements must combine with the Intention and Qi. Only then will the muscles and nerves relax, the joints release and unbind, the circulation of the blood be unencumbered, and the body be strengthened and protected from disease.
- Generally speaking, Five Animal Play is divided into three steps. The first step is to imitate the movements, so that they conform to the postures. The second step is to assimilate the postures and characteristics of each animal, and learn the movements by heart. The third step is to conserve the Spirit and nourish the Qi, accumulate Jing, and gather the Spirit, setting the body in motion through Intention. After entering into a state of calm, the mind focuses on the orifices. First sublimate the Qi, then think of each posture. Just thinking spontaneously triggers the movements.
- There is no established order for Five Animal Play. You can decide to practice any of the postures and animals.
 無爲 Wu Wei (non-action) does not actually mean doing nothing at all. It does not signify the complete absence of activity, but rather not overdoing – doing less, and acting without artificiality or arbitrariness. Wu Wei also implies the performance of actions which are “non-coercive.” That is, it is the absence of actions which interfere with one’s De (the power, potential or focus of things within one’s sphere of influence). This implies a knowing that is without fixed rules or principles and desiring without seeking to possess or control.