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.
Jiao Guo Rui was a student of Hu Yao Zhen. The text below forms Jiao Guo Rui’s introduction to the Five Animal Play. However, it is essentially a discussion of important points relating to Nei Gong in general. Although some of these points are mentioned in Jiao’s book Qi Gong Essentials for Health Promotion, the discussion is more detailed in Les Jeu Des Cinq Animaux.
Translation from the French by Tom Bisio.
Five Animal Play By Jiao Guo Rui
I started to learn the Five Animal Play in 1958 from Hu Yao Zhen, an elderly TCM doctor. In 1961, I learned the Twelve Postures of Mount Ermei, Thirteen Tai Ji Postures of Mount Wu Dang, Tiger Footwork and Tian Gang (Big Dipper) Qi Gong Massage. In 1962, I learned standing postures from Wang Xiang Zhai. I tried to combine the features of these exercise with Shaolin Boxing, which I had practiced as a teenager. In addition, I tried to combine some key points of Tai Ji Quan with Five Animal Play methods from famed schools, including those represented by Gao Shi Guo, author of Wu Qin Xi, Wang Li Ting, author of Illustrated Wu Qin Xi, and the ancient document of Marrow of the Red Phoenix.
These systematized Five Animal Play exercises consist of basic postures, basic skills and free practice. They also include a method called Five Animal Play guidance. Each basic exercise consists of five movements, so the Five Animal Play totals Twenty-Five movements in total. The practitioner can select from one to all five movements in a session. The intensity of practice is adjusted to the individual. Generally:
- For Physically Weak People: Crane and Bear movements are suitable
- For the Aged: Bear movements are suitable
- Women: Crane movements are suitable
- Adolescents: Crane and Monkey movements are suitable
Describing my state of mind during the exercise, I often tell practitioners to move as if playing with waves and currents while the mind soars over the sea.
Five Animal Play: Fifteen Key Points
- Relaxed and Natural
During practice not only are the limbs and body relaxed, but it is even more important to achieve a relaxed mental state Relaxation does not mean relaxation or letting go without any force. Relaxation and tension are relative. We are speaking of tension that is present during relaxation. In order to practice the postures, a certain level of tension is necessary to maintain them. In daily life, the mind and body of human beings are in a state of relative tension. People are usually very tense and only a little relaxed. From this perspective, relaxation is a state of repose whcih eliminates physical and mental fatigue. This is why, in practice, the emphasis is placed on relaxation.
Therefore one must let mental activity subside during practice. Ordinarily, it is difficult for people have a calm mind. Hence the expression, “It is difficult to lock up the mind-monkey and tie up the running thought-horse.” As a result you should try to achieve a calm state before going on to other exercises.
If you manage to become calm you will become capable of sliminating fatigue and storing energy. Stillness and movement are relative. therefore, when practising, you should not look for complete stillness, but for movement within stillness. When exercising put stillness in the foreground, calm the mind, and move slightly.In fact the training is performed in state of alert awareness. You must realize that complete stillness is both impossible and useless. When practicing one should simply limit one’s thoughts and replace ten thousand thoughts with a single thought. By concentrating and unifying the multiple and succesive thoughts they will not longer present themselves and you can end them. Relaxation and stillness are complementary. Relaxation allows entry into stillness and entering into stillness aids progressive relaxation. It is therefore necessary to enter into stillness and relax at the same time.
In addition one must try to be natural (Ziran). This concerns several aspects of the practice: the postures, the breathing, the concentration, etc. In all these aspects try to be natural, be at ease and do not excessively constrain yourself. This point is paramount. When we say that the real value of the practice lies in the natural, it refers to this principle.
- The Union of Intention and Qi
Intention (Yi) refers to mental activity. Mental activity can effect the physiological functioning of the human organism. There are two interpretations of Qi: the first refers to the air (breath) involved in respiration and the second refers to the “True Breath” (Zhen Qi) or the “Original Breath” (Yuan Qi) mentioned in Chinese medicine and the “Internal Breath” (Nei Qi) or Dantian Qi, mentioned in schools of internal training. This is why unification of Intention and Qi is simultaneously the movement of the mind, respiration and the Internal Qi. For example if respiration slowly follows the mind, little by little it will become flexible, thin, long and even. Internal Qi exercises employ intention to influence the movement of the Internal Qi. One must ensure that the Internal Qi follows the mind and the movements in order for the Qi to progressively be guided by the Intention. If the Intention and Qi follow each other, little by little one reaches a state where Intention and Qi are unified. For example, once the Qi is in Dantian, Intention can be employed lead the internal Qi to a specific location in the body interior, or to make it travel a particular route. etc. This is a method of using the mind to affect the physiological functioning of one’ own body. This is why you should not be without Intention, nor use it excessively. Excessive use of Intention (forcing) prevents one from being natural and there is a risk of doing harm to yourself. The folowing expressions are used by schools of internal training to express these ideas:
The intention seems present, but it is as though it is absent.
Don’t forget, Don’t assist.
If the Intention is important, images appear.
Without Intention one becomes empty.
- Receprocity (Interchange) of Stillness and Movement
Movement refers to movement of the body (external movement) and movement of the Qi (internal movement). Stillness refers to stillness of the body (external stillness) and stillness of the mind (internal stillness). All matter in the universe is transformed thourgh continuous movment. This is the same for human beings. That is why movment is paramount and stillness is relative. Practice and training stimulate and readjust the physiological functioning of the organism so that it can move in a more beneficial way. It will have the effect of balancing Yin and Yang, harmonizing the Qi and blood, unblocking the Jing Luo (meridians) and cultivating the True Qi. However stillness is the prerequisite for the action of the movements to unfold. Movement and stillness must be receprical. You must practice both and not neglect either one.
The specific unity of stillness and movement, will manifest differently in different individuals This is a function of age, sex, character, state of health, and the rhythm of training, which are different for each person. For example, after having performed static exercises you can follow them by performing several dynamic exercises with the hands. You can also train static exercises once or twice a day and also do dynamic exercises once or twice. One could also practice dynamic exercises early in the morning and static exercises in the afternoon or evening. Either can be done before the other. Moreover reciprocity of movement and immobility should be required during static exercises. There must be movement within stillness. The exterior is still, but there is movement internally. During dynamic exercises there must be stillness within movement. The exterior moves, but internally there is stillness. So movement and stillness progresively begin to unify. You will reach a stage where movement seems still and stillness seems dynamic.
- Above is Full, Below is Empty
During practice, he upper body (above the navel) must be empty and the lower body (below the navel) must be full. When practicing Qi Gong, it is essential to exercise the Original Qi (Dantian Qi). According to the theories of Chinese medicine, the Original Qi is fundamental to the activities of the human body. It plays an important role in maternity, aging disease and death. For example people who don’t attend to their health will be “full above and empty below” (Xia Xu Shang Shu) upon arrriving at middle age. This is why the elderly often have difficulty with balnace and walking. To prevent these things from occuring too soon the various schools of training advocate that during training the chest is empty and the abodomen is full; also known as the “upper body is empty and the lower body is full” and the dark Qi is in the Dantian. Apply yourself to the practice of “Root Qi (Gen Qi). Gently return it [Qi] to the root, guide t downward to fill Dantian, and pay attention to training the “Lower Origin” (Xia Yuan). Simply guide the Qi back to the root (Dantian) so the chest can become empty. By strengthening the Root Qi the fills the Lower Origin.You will have the sensation that emptiness is engendered inside the body, that the internal Qi is abundant and that your vitality is boundless. Therefore, whether one is practicing staic or dynamic exercises, one must always keep the upper empty and the lower full. Do not let mental acticity move too freely in the upper part of the body. Let the thoughts go downward and release.
- Progressing by Stages
Especially during internal training, you must be confident, patient and persevering From the beginning, train gradually. Don’t try to obtain fast results. Know that achieving unity of Qi and Intention and the interchange or reciprocity of movement and stillness requires a training process that is personal and individual. Also, each training method has a specific approach. However they all seek to develop deep roots and to create a solid foundation. Then you will progress. From this point of view, this may seem slow but in reality it is fast. If you desire to succeed more quickly, not only will your effort be in vain, but also what you obtain will the opposite of what you sought. Practice proves that you must progress by stages and that you must train conscientiously without rushing or resuming. Then naturally it comes out as in the saying: “when the water comes the channel is formed.”
- Unity of Body and Spirit
When you practice Five Animal Play, you are not merely imitating the movements of the five animals, but also expressing their attitudes and attributes. That is why during training, you must express not only the outer shape but also the spirit of each animal. There is a similarity between the spirit and the external form that is natural and alive. You will be capable of embodying the attitudes and characteristics of the five animals and will achieve unity of Form (Xing) and Spirit (Shen). For example, during the Bear Play, you must not only imitate the heaviness of the bear’s external appearance, but must equally incorporate in the movements a sense of the bear’s massiveness and stability. So you must express a sense of massive stability in movements that are supple and relaxed. In movements that are heavy and powerful, there is an aspect that is also agile and flexible.
 Within the framework of these practices, the “Three Origins” (San Yuan) are the “Superior Origin” (Shang Yuan), the Middle Origin” (Zhong Yuan) and the “Lower Origin” (Xia Yuan). They correspond to the three Dantian Upper, Middle and Lower Dantian). We will see later in the text that they can also designate “Original Essence” (Yuan Jing), “Original Qi” (Yuan Qi) and “Original Sprit” (Yuan Shen).