Why Practice Wild Animal Play?
To move and play like an animal is one of the classic forms of qigong practice. We can gain inspiration from watching animals in the wild, and by imitating the animals we challenge ourselves and develop physical attributes and skills to a level that we might not otherwise achieve. For example by imitating the tiger we develop great physical strength, by imitating the crane we develop balance and so on. When imitating the animals we also adopt some of the psychology of the animal that comes from behaving in the way that they do. Together these factors combine to stimulate our energy in interesting and complex ways that can be very beneficial to our health and wellbeing. Practicing animal qigong will help us to become versatile in our movement and also in our attitudes and emotions. By copying the movements of different types of animals it can help us to break out of patterns that may not be useful or healthy for us, and to adopt new more balanced patterns.
Types of Animal Qigong
There are many types of animal qigong. Any animal can be copied and lessons learned from it – and many have been. As you explore different schools of qigong you will come across systems of animal qigong that copy just one animal, you will come across systems that copy two, you will come across systems that copy five animals, and even systems that copy twelve.
In this course we will be looking at a five animal system. Five animals is enough to develop the versatility mentioned earlier without becoming overwhelming. The five animals we will be learning about are:
Sets of qigong exercises using this group of animals are common in southern China (you will also find five animal sets practiced that use quite different groups of animals). These five animals are also commonly used in kung fu fighting systems as the physical skills they develop are so complementary to each other.
Physical Challenge and Yin/Yang Development
It is likely that you will find at least some aspects of these exercises physically challenging. Relative to other qigong practices these exercises are quite yang in nature. They develop the external structures of the body more obviously than some of the other practices. This is a desirable and necessary process for getting the most from your qigong practice. Sometimes people assume that qigong is all about the yin or internal development. But yin and yang are complementary and rely on each other. Your yin can only develop as far as your yang will allow it to (and vice versa of course). If all of your effort is put purely into yin/internal development, your overall development will actually be held back. By practicing these more yang/external exercises you will make sure that you have plenty of yang to facilitate the full development of your yin. Do not be discouraged when you struggle with some of the exercises, just take your time and you will progress little by little.
Interestingly, while some of the movements you will encounter in this course have a clear breathing pattern to follow, many do not. For these exercises the breathing should just be natural, breathing at the pace and rhythm that may be comfortable to you, which may or may not be coordinated with the movements of the rest of the body. This is because of the more yang nature of the exercises. The energy flow and activation is more to the external structures of the body, the muscles, bones, nerves and connective tissues. While the exercises still activate and stimulate the internal organs to some degree, the emphasis of the exercises is more on the flow of energy from the organs out to the extremities rather than sending energy from the extremities inwards as occurs is many of the more yin practices.
Wild Animal Energy – A Complex Picture
Seeing as there are five animals in this set, it would seem natural to classify them according to the five element energy system used in Chinese Medicine and Philosophy – and we will, but it is important to realise that the true picture is more complex than that. Each animal has characteristics of each of the five elements within their movement, if they did not they would be very unhealthy and in fact probably not alive. All living things need each of the five elements to thrive (and so do you), so it is more a question of relativity. Some animals will have relatively more of one element than others, but all five of the elements actually present.
As we learn about each of the animals in this course we will look at which element is strongest within the movements we are practicing, but we will also sometimes look at secondary elements that are stimulated as well. The combination of different movements and different energies being stimulated within the practices paints quite a complex picture, and this is part of what makes them so interesting and valuable to practice.
To take the analogy of painting further, the practices in the level one courses (Qigong Foundation Practices, Between Heaven and Earth, Enter The Flow, Qigong Meditations) contain base level skills like how to mix colours together, how to prepare your canvas, how to make brushstrokes, and how to clean your brushes afterwards. In this course we are taking those skills and actually starting to paint pictures with them, combining many principles together into one practice. This is a lot of fun. It also means that different people can paint their animals in very different ways emphasising different features according to what is most useful to them or simple preference.
Because these practices are energetically more complex than some of the practices in the other courses, you will definitely get more out of this course if you have already completed the level one courses. There are some things that you will just understand more easily having the background knowledge you gain in the other courses. BUT if you are drawn to doing this course first without having done the others, there is no harm in it and you will still get a lot of benefit from it. You can simply look forward to gaining further insights when you revisit the course later having gained knowledge from the earlier courses.
Wild Animal Play
Another point to note with these practices is to keep an attitude of playfulness in your movement and awareness. The course is structured in such a way that while you will learn specific movements, you are encouraged to play with your own variations and ideas about the animal as well. If you focus too much on the specifics of each movement you run the risk of losing the essence, which is to copy the attributes of the wild animal. This is the most important key, when you play at copying the animal many subtle aspects of the energy will come through in far greater detail than can be achieved by slavishly following a specific movement. It is important to focus on what you are doing in these practices, but also to have fun with it and not take it too seriously because after all… you are a human pretending to be another animal.
The ‘Wild Animal Play’ course is organized into ‘weeks’ for you below. Each week will introduce new movements and practices. It is recommended that you allow at least 30 minutes each day to work on the practices. Do not feel you need to rush through it, you can spend more than one week on each section, and in fact it is possible to spend months or even years on each animal if you wish (although at this stage I recommend working through all of the animals sooner than this so that you become exposed to the range of different movements of each of the five animals).
It is recommended that you also keep a Practice Journal of your experiences, insights and challenges as you progress through this course. This will help to focus your practice and gain more from it. This is also one of the requirements for those who wish to pursue Level III certification with Long White Cloud Qigong. You can download a Practice Journal Template for this course as a pdf hereL wap-practice-journal, or a word document here: wap-practice-journal
This course is offered on a Give Freely, Receive Freely basis.. It takes a great deal of time and effort to develop the material for these courses. Your donations help us to continue to offer these courses and to be able to put the resources required into developing further courses. You can read a little about this concept at http://www.givefreelyreceivefreely.com/
Follow the links below to go to the week you are up to: