Week Three: Tiger Part Two
This week we will learn additional movements to expand our Tiger repertoire. We will begin by looking at several movements separately, you can then put these together into your own sequences as you play with the Tiger energy. We will also further analyse the five element components we find in the Tiger play.
This Weeks Practice Sessions:
Begin your sessions with the Alignment, Centering and Opening exercises from week one and a few repetitions of the warmups from week two before proceeding onto the new movements. End your session with more of the Alignment, Centering and Opening exercises.
Tigers are big, heavy and strong, yet light on their feet when then need to be. So our Tiger walk will help us to alternate between feeling solid and strong on the ground and light, ready to spring. We start in a bow stance which means to have the front knee bent, ideally to about 90 degrees so the front thigh is parallel to the ground, but you do not need to go this low if it is uncomfortable for you. The back leg is straight, or almost straight and the rear foot angles out to the side at around 45 degrees. Your hips and shoulders face forwards.
We try to keep our head and body at the same height as we step forward bringing the rear foot close to the front foot before stepping out and forward with it. If we were to pause when our rear leg has just passed the foot that was in front in the bow stance, this is what is known as a ‘cat stance’. The weight is almost entirely on one bent leg with the other poised with almost no weight on it. This should create a sense of lightness and springiness as if ready to pounce. So we alternate between the lightness of the cat stance and heaviness of the bow stance as we walk.
Keeping your body at the same height will challenge the mobility of your hips and the strength and balance of your back. This stimulates the water element.
Once you are comfortable walking in this way you can add arm movement alternating which arm you extend forward as a claw with each step. This makes the walk more like walking on all fours and extends the activation throughout the whole body.
Standing in a bow stance with one arm extended as a claw, look behind you over your shoulder in one direction, then turn and look behind you over your over shoulder. With your whole body activated from being in a low stance and having one claw extended, this action of looking behind you may be more challenging than you might think. You may be able to feel pulling, not just in your neck, but in the side of your head and all the way down the side of your body as you look in each direction. This pulling down the side of your body activates the gallbladder meridian, the muscles around the eyes are also stretched and activated. Both of these relate to the wood element.
After looking behind you turn quickly and dart one claw out as if trying to catch something. To do this from standing in a bow stance, shift your rear foot across so it is directly behind your front foot, turn your hips and shoulders towards the back while stepping what was your front foot out to the side a little to allow your hips and shoulders to turn more easily, shift your weight forward onto what was the back leg of your initial bow stance. So you should now be in a bow stance facing in the opposite direction to how you began, and with the opposite foot forward.
As you turn reach out and across with the hand that was on the same side as your rear leg in your initial bow stance, dart your other hand forward as a claw immediately behind the movement of the other hand. This movement is as if you were clearing aside some bushes and darting forward trying to catch what was underneath.
In a bow stance look forward and widen your eyes as if you have seen something of great interest to you. This widening of the eyes encourages the release of energy in the form of blood sugar from the Liver, stimulating the wood element. Lower your hands to the ground and bring your rear foot up close beside your other foot. Left the heel of one foot and then the other, alternately pumping each leg with the hands on the ground. This movement should remind you of a cat pumping its legs getting ready to pounce, which is exactly what we are going to do next. The pumping motion starts to send energy from the ground up through the legs into the pelvis and starts to move and loosen each side of the lower back.
Launch yourself forward into a deep bowstance, as you do this bring both of your hands up close to your body and then forwards in front of you as claws as if you were trying to catch something. This movement of the hands sends a wave of energy up the legs and up the spine and out into the arms. This activation of the legs and spine stimulates the kidneys and therefore the water element.
Repeat the movement with the hands up close to the body and forwards, but this time from a bow stance and extend the hands all the way to the ground as you reach forwards. This a like taking a second go at the pounce if you didn’t quite reach on the first motion.
Lift your hands up over your head as if you have caught hold of something and look behind you. This movement is a more advanced form of ‘Tiger Stretches It’s Back’ found in the Twelve Rivers Qigong, and strongly stimulates the gallbladder and therefore the wood element.
Once you have learned these movements you can play at being a Tiger. Combine the different movements together as you move around. The aim is to tune into the Tiger energy more than to remember particular movements. Feel the energy of the Tiger and play at embodying this energy. You may find that you want to do movements other than the ones you have learned and practiced. Allow yourself to be creative in your expression of the Tiger energy.
Often these types of movements are put together into a set sequence, called a ‘form’, and you would memorise this sequence and practice it. In my experience this often loses some of the energy you are seeking to cultivate. Often people will focus so much on which movement comes next in the right order, that their mind is on this rather than the energy they are seeking to embody, so the movements even when performed correctly are empty of the animal character and energy. For this reason I believe it is better to simply ‘play’ at being the animal rather than focusing on learning forms. The movements we have looked are simply to help you understand and feel the character of the Tiger, you can then set yourself free to move in many ways while embodying this energy.
Five Element Analysis
There are many things we can look at when considering how different movements stimulate the energy in our bodies. We can look at the stimulation of the meridians through stretching, compression and load bearing. We can look at the massaging of the organs. We can consider how some of the different types of tissues such as muscles, bones and sensory organs such as eyes, ears, and nose are affected. When these are combined together they give an overall character to the energy. One of the ways we can categorize these different characters is as belonging to one of the five elements.
The five elements in Chinese philosophy are: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire. Some of the qualities of each element are listed below:
|Yang Organ||Stomach||Large Intestine||Bladder||Gallbladder||Small Intestine|
|Tissue||Muscles||Skin||Bones||Tendons & Connective Tissue||Blood Vessels|
|Shape||Square||Round or Sharp||Wavy||Tall or Long||Triangular|
These characteristics are combined in complex ways within our bodies and movements, each give a clue to the overall effect of an exercise, but we need to look at all of them combined to understand their overall relevance.
One place you may have seen the five elements in your qigong practice already is the Movement in Stillness course where one of the exercises involves stand in five different stance that represent each of the five elements. If you haven’t looked at this already, it may pay to look at it now, as understanding these stances will help you to identify the elements present within the animal movements.
Earth is represented by the Horse stance, which has the squareness we would expect and also the solidity.
Metal is represented by the Cat stance and has the sharpness of and lightness we would expect.
Water is represented by the Cross stance and has the waviness and fluidity we would expect from this element.
Wood is represented by the Bird or Tree stance and has the tallness and has the stiff flexibility we would expect. This is a particular type of flexibility, like bamboo bending, its flexes but also has a stiffness that returns it to its shape quickly, as opposed to a piece of string that is very flexible but then just keeps the shape it has been bent into.
Fire is represented by the Bow stance and has the triangular shape and the bursting or rising energy we would expect
So what elements do we see present in these Tiger exercises?
- Metal: We see metal in the cat step and in the preparation for the pounce, and also in the sharpness of the claws.
- Water: We see water in the forward and backward bending which stimulates the bladder meridian. We also see water in the stimulation up the legs and spine during the pounce.
- Fire: We see fire in the bow stance as we step
- Wood: We see wood in the strong stimulation of the gallbladder meridian in the capture after the pounce, and also more gently in the look behind. We see wood in the opening and glaring of the eyes in preparation for the pounce. And we also see wood in the whole body connection flexing through the connective tissue so that the strength can come to the claws through out all of the movements.
- Earth: We don’t see a lot of earth. There is some there in the heaviness and solidness of the Tiger, and we do see some square shapes from time to time, but Earth does not feature strongly.
So overall in the exercises we have been practicing, Wood is the strongest element, with quite a lot of Water, only a little Metal and Fire, and not a lot of Earth. This fits pretty well with the big picture of the characteristics of a Tiger. Tigers usually live in forests – Wood. They eat meat which requires a lot of activity from the Liver and Gallbladder – Wood. Also, Tigers are one of the few types of cats that swim and are comfortable in the Water. They have the bursting energy of Fire in their pounce, and the sharpness of Metal in their claws.
Emotionally, to hunt requires a certain type of emotion which is interesting to consider because it blends both anger and enthusiasm (Wood) and helps us to understand that they are not really so different. A Tiger isn’t really angry with its prey, but it has a certain intensity of emotion about capturing it that has similarities to both anger and enthusiasm. When we put ourselves in the mind state of a Tiger hunting it helps us to understand and channel these emotions more effectively rather than repressing them. When anger or enthusiasm is repressed it can turn into resentment which can be harmful to us. By understanding the emotion on a deep level we are more able to process it and move it through so that it will not harm us. Practicing Tiger qigong can be a great way to deal with these emotions of anger and resentment.
So we see that theTiger qigong exercises we have been looking at are great for stimulating our Wood energy, but also stimulate several of the other elements as well. If you change the exercises and movements that you do, you will change which elements are stimulated more or less by the practice. For this reason you will sometimes find Tiger qigong practices which are categorized as Water, or Metal, instead of Wood because these elements have been emphasized more in the movements. This can be confusing for students with insufficient qigong experience, because they may be prone to taking the categorization at face value and wondering why different schools are categorizing Tiger in different ways according to the five elements. They may think that if one school categorizes Tiger as Wood, another as Metal, and another as Water, then one of them must be right and the other two wrong. This is the danger of not exploring the nuances of the categorization and understanding that any animal will in fact be all five elements, and the elements which predominate the most will change according to what is emphasized.
I hope that this analysis of the five element stimulation within this exercises has been useful and insightful for you. Having conducted this analysis of the elements stimulated in the Tiger practices, we will not analyse the other animals in the same depth. Rather we will look only at the strongest elemental aspects of the exercises. If you wish to, it can be useful to conduct your own more in depth analysis using the same principles we have used here, looking at the meridians stimulated, organs massaged and so on to find the traces of all the elements within the animal.