Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stress Relief CAN Be Fun! Introducing the Five Animal Frolics Qigong

As another method of stress relief, I highly recommend to you a practice I started about six weeks ago. It's one that I have been researching and searching for instruction on for years: The Five Animal Frolics Qigong, sometimes called the Five Animal Play Qigong.

As with many qigong practices, there are variations in the movements and the terms used to describe them. The Five Animals is no exception. You may see styles of Five Animal Frolics Qigong that include Dragon, Snake, and other animals. The style I practice is supposed to be the "original" though I don't want to say that is it "better" than any other. I'm sure that all are beneficial, and certainly all are more beneficial than not doing anything. 

Just like every qigong (energy practice), the Five Animal Frolics deliver many diverse health and wellness benefits. Here are the five animals in my practice, and a few of the benefits you receive from each:

Crane positions cultivate balance and graceful movement. They especially enhance heart health, and cool and relax your entire body.

Monkey improves agility and strengthens spine and shoulders. The movements keep the stomach, spleen, and pancreas healthy, and improve digestion. These postures also can bring relief to shoulder and neck problems.

Tiger teaches speed and upper-body strength in arm and hand joints and muscles. Tiger moves are good for the lungs and the spine, and one of the moves is especially good for the relief of arthritis.

Bear builds strong bones and lower body strength in lower back, leg joints and muscles. These moves are also good for the health of the kidneys, urinary, and reproductive organs. They help you build stamina and vitality.

Deer develops flexibility and strengthens tendons and ligaments; stretches the spine and the legs.

And, honestly folks, the practice is just plain fun to do! It's not only an excellent practice for adults, it's great for kids, too. Studies have shown that children who participated in qigong classes were more calm and relaxed, had longer-lasting levels of energy, suffered fewer illnesses, and missed fewer days of school. Students who practiced qigong were better able to focus and concentrate in school, too. Qigong is currently being researched as an alternative therapy for ADD and ADHD. 

If the longer forms of tai-chi are more than you can or want to learn, this is a great alternative. The practice for each animal is made up of five easy movements. Being related to each other and grouped together as they are makes the practices for the animals easy to learn and remember. 


Recorded 1,800 years ago, the Five Animal Frolics may very well be the oldest written expression of preventative as well as rejuvenating medical qigong practice. (Even though this practice was prescribed due to its medicinal benefits, please do not confuse this with Medical Qigong which is another style altogether.)
The creator of the Frolics is purported to be a doctor named Hua Tou who lived from (approximately) 110 to 207 CE/AD. A famous Chinese acupuncturist, herbalist, and surgeon, he preferred simple cures to the more complex variety. He is credited with developing the principle of preventative medicine, avoiding illness and disease through the performance of exercises like the Five Animal Frolics.
Hua Tou lived to be 97 years old, and it is said that he was an energetic and vibrant man until his untimely death at the hand of a mistrustful army general. His long-time assistant Wu Pu recorded the Frolics as a practice titled "The Five Animal Classic," and probably practiced them too, given that he lived to the ripe old age of 90.

Back to the present: 

In the six weeks I have been practicing this form, I truly have noticed improvement in my flexibility and additional relief of my carpal tunnel syndrome. A physical therapist I know advocates qigong for the relief of carpal tunnel, too. (It has brought me so much relief already, I'm sure I could completely cure carpal tunnel with qigong practice if I could only eliminate the cause, typing on a keyboard.) 

I have not been able to locate a full description of the style online, either. However, Mike Garafolo of the Valley Spirit Center in Red Bluff CA, who also agrees that online resources are scarce, is building a description of the practice which he plans to complete by February 2009, so check back on his website from time to time: http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/five.htm He also teaches this form at his studio.


Veggies.... said...

I wish you were close by, I would be signing up for all your classes!!!

Michelle said...

I wish we were closer together, too.

I'm sure we would have a great time doing a lot of different things. :-)