Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Five Animal Frolics Qigong

By Linda Ebeling

The Five Animal Frolics are dynamic Qi Gong forms that incorporate movement, mental focus and breathing to promote health. They were developed in China by Hua Tuo, considered the father of Chinese medicine, during the second century. He designed the Animal Frolics combining his healing knowledge with shamanic dances, as well as the natural movements and postures of animals. He believed that movement is essential to health and is attributed with saying, “a door hinge that is used will not rust.”

The Animal Frolics stretch and strengthen the muscles and unite the body, mind, and breath with movement. The Animal Frolics help reduce stress, increase balance, strength, and vitality, while improving the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Like Tai Chi, the movements are circular. This is in accordance with the Chinese belief that circular movement underlies all mental and energetic activity. Indeed, the Animal Frolics are believed to have had a strong influence on the development of Tai Chi and share many of the same principles of both movement and philosophy.

Each Animal Frolic emphasizes different health benefits and is associated with specific organs and seasons of the year, in accordance with Five Element Theory. The Crane Frolic improves balance, promotes a sense of serenity, and benefits the heart. The Bear Frolic develops power and strength, while working through the lower back and kidneys. The Monkey Frolic increases flexibility, agility, and improves digestive function. The Deer Frolic enhances alertness and grace, increases spinal flexibility, and benefits the liver. The Tiger Frolic builds muscular strength and aids the lungs.

The popularity of the Animal Frolics was renewed in the 1980’s when Madame Guo Lin, a famous Chinese actress, credited her practice of the Animal Frolics and Walking Qigong with curing her cancer. Because the Animal Frolics are over 2,000 years old, there are variations. The Chinese have recently adopted an “official” form of the Animal Frolics, though personally, I prefer some of the more traditional variations.

People often ask why these exercises are called frolics. Last summer, while practicing the Tiger Frolic in a park with my students, two young boys joined in with big smiles on their faces. So, get in touch with your inner animal and play some qigong.

© 2013 Linda Ebeling

Linda teaches classes and workshops on the Animal Frolics. For more information and to contact her see her website Crane Tiger Tai Chi (

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tai Chi Stepping

One of the key principles of tai chi is slow movement. This also includes stepping and slowly shifting your weight. This idea is frequently mentioned in tai chi writings. Here is an excerpt from a book I have just started reading:

"Going a bit deeper into why Sun style taijiquan is an ideal form of exercise for people wanting to improve posture, balance and mobility we need to examine the stepping method used in Sun style taijiquan. This manner of stepping requires substantial core involvement and works the core muscle group in a way that cannot be duplicated by normal walking. ~Traditional Sun Style Taijiquan Course, Cartmell and Thome, p. 27."

To understand this, we need to understand how Sun-style tai chi is different than other styles of tai chi. It includes a follow step for virtually all steps taken during forms practice. It doesn't matter which direction you are stepping.

First, place the stepping foot down empty. Empty means no weight on that foot or leg. Full means all the weight is on that foot or leg. Slowly push off with the full leg and shift your weight onto the empty leg until all your weight is on that leg. Allow the force to spiral out of the ground from the full leg to get the dan tian moving. Allow the force to spiral down into the ground as the empty let starts to fill.

When the formerly full foot has become empty, pick it up, pull it into place, and place it empty. This is very different than normal walking where we have a final push off, almost a hop, as we step. Pull is different than push and works the core muscles. After you place the foot empty, shift a tiny bit of your weight back onto that foot as you close. Where to place the foot depends on the particular form and direction of movement.

The follow step is key for delivering energy. It happens at the close of the form. My teacher has us use the phrase "BOOM then BOSS" as a mnemonic for what happens next. We say BOOM as a trigger as the follow step touches down. BOSS means Breathe Out, Sink, Song.

Breathe Out is simple: just exhale. Tai chi forms normally have an open and close. The follow step happens during a close where you are delivering power. Exhale during the closing movement.

Sink means a couple of things. The spiral force is moving down the leg into the ground. Follow it, bend the knee a tiny bit, and lower your center of gravity. At the same time, sink the qi (Read more here.). Tighten the abdominal muscles slightly and pull in the pelvic floor. This has the effect of pulling in, or tucking, the tailbone and working the core muscles. (Read more here.)

Song means to loosen and relax. (Read more here.) As you sink, be aware of creating a little space under your arms. Sink your shoulders and allow yourself to open up a little bit. Visualize a bubble of air in the shoulder joint that expands as you sink. You can do the same thing with any other joints, like in the hands.

Just remember: BOOM then BOSS.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ageless Tai Chi

As most of my friends know, I recently attended my annual week-long tai chi workshop. It's a great experience and I highly recommend it for everyone. One of the interesting things about this type of workshop is the great diversity of the people attending. They come from many different places and many different backgrounds. They are young and old. Many people in their 70s are learning and practicing their tai chi. One classmate had just turned 80.

I had an interesting discussion with an acquaintance over lunch one day. She was closer to the end of her life than the beginning. OK, that's just a euphemism meaning that she was pretty old. I don't remember her exact words, but she made a comment that she didn't think she had that many more years to continue learning her tai chi.

I thought about that for a second before I responded. I told her, "I don't think I would say it that way. I would say that you have as long as everyone else. You have the rest of your life." She smiled and thanked me.

Yes, we have to plan for the future. We are all mortal, in spite of occasional wishes to the contrary. But we all have the same amount of time remaining in our lives: the rest of it. We all have the rest of our lives to follow the path that we want to walk. I don't know what could be more exciting than that.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thoughts about Independence

It is our Independence Day holiday in the United States. I just don't have time to write much this week, so this will be short. First, I have a couple of thoughts on the holiday. Then I will follow with a recycled article that I think you should read.

Independence Day represents our independence as a nation. That's important. The United States has its faults. No country is perfect. In many ways, the United States also represents the best of what can be accomplished when many people work together to accomplish a goal.

I want to talk "working together" a little bit this week. Many people are familiar with Dr. Paul Lam and the Tai Chi for Health Institute. This is a nonprofit organization formed to provide leadership to the Tai Chi for Health programs that he has been working on for the last 15 years or so.

There is a related organization that is becoming more important. It is called the Tai Chi for Health Community ( This is an organization of volunteers working together to bring us information about tai chi and help us become better teachers (among many other things).

I am honored to have been asked to help this wonderful group of people. We have a new Facebook page ( I encourage you to "Like" this page. There will be much more information coming out in the next few months. I think we will be bringing lots of valuable information.

Next, I would like to recycle an old article from 2011. I don't think enough people read it at that time and I would like to encourage people to read it now.

The meaning of independence depends on the context. When a teacher understands the concept of proprioception, the teacher can use that to explain how tai chi can help their students achieve personal independence. I would like all tai teachers to think about how they can improve lives by helping people. Tai chi can help people get stronger, improve their balance, and improve their functional ability so they can continue to live independently into old age.

Here is a preview of the article. Follow the link at the end to go to the entire article.

Tai chi is a great exercise to improve proprioception and kinesthetic sense. What does that mean? Read on. During movement of any kind, we are constantly losing our balance and regaining it quickly. The better our ability to regain balance, the safer and more skillful our movement. Better balance makes athletes less likely to get injured and reduces falls among the elderly. Balance is improved by improving your proprioception and kinesthetic sense.

Read the entire article here.
© 2013 Eric Borreson