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.
About Hu Yao Zhen
Hu Yao Zhen (1897-1973) was a master of Xing Yi Quan who was also well versed in acupuncture, Chinese medicine and various kinds of Nei Gong. He studied martial arts in his youth, first learning Xing Yi Quan from Peng Tin Guan, Mu Xiu Yi, and later Tai Ji Quan from Zhang Qing Lin (Yang Cheng Fu’s nephew). Hu studied Daoism, Neigong, Liu He Xin Yi Quan, and Hua Tue Wu Qin Shu with Daoist master Peng Ting Jun. He also studied Xing Yi Quan, and Shou Dong Chen Ji Quan Pu from Dai Wen Jun in in Shanxi Province. He then studied Buddhist Gong Fa and Zhuang Zhi Tu Na Fa from the Buddhist monk Li Hong at Chong Shan Temple in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.
Hu practiced and taught martial arts and Chinese medicine for several decades. He combined elements of Buddhism, Daoism, martial arts, and Chinese medicine Hu was the author of Qigong Practice Method for Health and other books. He shared his unique Qi Gong method in clinical practice to benefit the general public. Hu’s clinical results with Qi Gong were well known in Beijing, and his method was recognized and was widely promoted by the Chinese government in the late 1950’s and 60s.
Introduction to Nei Gong and Five Animal Play
The sequence of Five Animal Play exercises requires prior training in Nei Gong. When one attains a certain level of Nei Gong, the body can move spontaneously. Then one can begin to practice Five Animal Play. After having learned the basics of Nei Gong, you can practice the attitudes and movements of the five animals. When performing the movements, you must achieve unity of body and spirit. Use the mind, rather than physical strength. Calm must prevail; do not hurry. The natural prevails; do not force things. In this manner, you make the body and the joints supple, relax the internal parts of your body, relax your muscles and nerves, transform Grain Qi, and prevent disease from occurring.
The movements in the sequence of the Five Animal Play have no limitations. Simply strive to imitate the movements of the five animals in accordance with the Mind-Intention. However, to facilitate your learning, I present ten basic postures that you can refer to during your practice. Even if you do not practice Nei Gong and perform only those few movements, you will still receive positive benefits.
The duration of Nei Gong practice varies from one person to another. Do not expect to obtain quick results. In general, after the exercises, you will feel relaxed and full of energy. Given that the state of health differs from one person to another, the interpretation of the important points of Nei Gong will not be the same. If you feel unwell during the exercises, you must stop practice. You can either perform just the movements or practice Nei Gong and Wai Gong (External Exercise) simultaneously to avoid any risk of error. If you perform the movements without the basics of Nei Gong and only imitate the attitudes and movements of five animals, focus on the Middle Dantian (Zhong Dantian). Practice in a natural and relaxed fashion. It is not required to combine the movements of the animals with Nei Gong, as your health will still be improved.
The principle characteristic of this Nei Gong is to simultaneously combine stillness and movement. To a large degree, this means to look for movement in stillness. Therefore, during practice, you must progress through stages. You should not be in a hurry to succeed and should not look for certain reactions. When breathing or moving, you must allow yourself to be spontaneous. Do not be too hard on yourself in avoiding mistakes, as this can harm your health.
The other characteristic of this Nei Gong is to free yourself from breathing through the nose and mouth. Do not interfere with the breath more than is necessary and instead concentrate on the apertures. The principal apertures (Qiao) or cavities (Xue)  on which you must concentrate are Zhong Dantian (Navel), Jia Ji (under the 12th thoracic vertebrae), and Ming Men. In general, when one talks about Dantian, it refers to Middle Dantian (Zhong Dantian).
Roughly speaking, we can divide the “Breath” (Qi) of Qi Gong into two categories. First, the breath of respiration through the nose and mouth, which is called Post Heaven Qi (Hou Tian Qi). Secondly, there is the “Breath” (Qi) which is transmitted to us when we are inside the body of our mother. It is called Pre-Heaven Qi (Xian Tian Qi), or Original Qi (Yuan Qi). You should most especially not pay attention to the breathing (inspiration and expiration) that takes place through the nose and mouth. Instead, when you employ the Pre-Heaven Breath (Pre-Heaven Qi), it is as though you have the sensation of “breathing” in the apertures and cavities (Qiao and Xue) on which you focus. Furthermore, upon reaching a certain level, your body may begin to move spontaneously.
In this book, one is not concerned with breathing through the nose and mouth, but with the Pre-Heaven “Breath” (Qi). It is not the action of breathing through the nose and mouth, but the respiration of the orifices. You should not confuse the two and should clearly distinguish between them. It is different from ordinary breathing and beneficial to health. Concerning breathing through the nose and mouth, you should not pay attention to them (one should breathe naturally). In order to achieve true natural breathing and to avoid an risk of error, one should not pay attention to it (nose and mouth breathing).
According to the explanations of the ancestors, the Upper Dantian (Shang Dantian) is located between the two eyes. It corresponds to the Heart-Mind (Xin). The navel is the Middle Dantian (Zhong Dantian). It corresponds to the Intention (Yi). During the exercises, the eyes are half closed and observe the Middle Dantian. This is called “Interior Vision” (内视 Nei Shi) or “Vision of the Spirit” (神视 Shen Shi). With Nei Shi you can then unify the Heart-Mind (Xin) and the Intention (Yi), the Intention and the Qi, and the Qi and physical force (Li), and thus activate the Pre-Heaven Breath (Qi). Nei Shi is often mentioned in this book. The meaning of this term, which we will not return to is as follows. Nei Gong must first be implemented from static training (without a time limit) . After reaching a certain level in the static work, the limbs of the body may move. As soon as they begin to move, there can be no question of suddenly interrupting exercise, because you then disrupt your body. This is a mistake. On this point you must be vigilant.
Read Part 2 of this article HERE.
 窍 Qiao: means aperture, hole, orifice, opening, key (to a problem); 穴 Xue: means cavity, cave, acu-point. These openings correspond to the areas of the body through which breath and Qi pass, which should be open and unblocked.
 静功 Jing Gong: Static Training or Training Stillness – Standing (Zhan Zhuang) or sitting training using the interior vision.