Can you generate an energy flow in your body? Unfortunately, even people who’ve been practicing Qigong and Tai Chi for years don’t have this skill. And that’s a shame because it’s one of the most amazing skills that you can learn. It dramatically changes lives, and it’s one of the main reasons that my students get such awesome results.
This once-secret technique is called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow ( 搖風擺柳, or Yao Feng Bail Liu). It’s a wonderful name because it poetically describes the experience. For centuries, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow was kept a well-guarded secret. Even today, few people know about it, including masters.
The first time you experience this, you’re likely to be amazed. What you’ll feel (after learning and practicing special techniques in a highly specific way) is your body swaying gently, almost as if you are losing your balance. But you’re not losing your balance. Your energy is starting to flow!
There Is No Form
Although the technique is mentioned in several Qigong classics, its form was never described. There’s a good reason for this: There is no form! The physical form changes from person to person because everyone’s energy flows slightly differently. So you can’t describe the form. The best thing you can hope to do is describe the experience of the technique. And that’s exactly what the name does!
Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow is a skill, not a technique. Later, once you’re skillful, you can use different techniques to induce the energy flow of Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. In my school, students first learn to do it with Lifting the Sky. Once they get the hang of this, they can do it with other techniques, like Sinew Metamorphosis, or Tai Chi.
Let it Flow
Qigong is a branch of Chinese medicine, just like acupuncture and herbal medicine. From the Chinese medical perspective, all illness is ultimately due to a disharmony of yin and yang. This disharmony can manifest in countless ways, like depression, cancer, hypertension, etc. An acupuncturist must be a master diagnostician (like my wife) in order to pin down the exact type of disharmony, and then manipulate the Qi in a way that will restore the harmony. Most Qigong instructors do something similar by prescribing specific techniques for specific disorders.
With Qigong, we don’t need a diagnosis, and we don’t need to prescribe specific techniques. Why? Because Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow will do the trick. The body is intelligent, and it will naturally guide the energy wherever it needs to go, just like it will naturally heal a cut. We don’t have to do anything except allow the energy flow.
Actually, if you try to do something with the energy, you’re likely to get yourself into trouble. Here’s why. Imagine that you’ve got a torn ligament in your knee. It would seem logical to direct the energy to your knee. And it is logical. But it’s not Chinese medicine.
According to Chinese medical theory, the Liver Meridian nourishes the ligaments. So your knee problem isn’t just in your knee; it’s also in your Liver Meridian. This explains why acupuncturists don’t just insert needles in the problem area (at least the good ones don’t). For example, to fix your knee problem, a skillful acupuncturist (did I mention that my wife is amazing?) may put needles in your foot.
Directing energy to your knee won’t solve the problem. Actually, directing energy to your Liver Meridian may not solve the problem either. That’s the beauty of Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow — once we have the skill, all we need to do is trust in the body’s wisdom to heal itself (and practice!).
The Five Animal Play
The Five Animal Play (五禽戲, Wu Qin Xi) is another secret technique that is similar to Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. It is an ancient technique invented by the famous Chinese doctor, Hua Tuo in the 2nd Century AD. Only after practicing Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow for a while can you make the transition to the Five Animal Play.
Using special techniques and skills, intermediate students are able to induce an energy flow that is more vigorous than Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. At this stage, interesting things can happen during. Instead of just swaying gently, some students will start crying and have an emotional release. Other students will start coughing as the energy works on the lungs. Some students will even roll around on the ground!
To the uninitiated, a class doing the Five Animal Play would look comical at best, and insane at worst. For someone with no understanding of Qigong, it would be logical for them to be confused. But for someone who has learned Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, the Five Animal Play should not be confusing. Still, it’s helpful to understand the theory behind the technique.
Why do students cry or make sounds in the Five Animal Play? Because they are releasing energy blockages. In Chinese medical theory, there are Five Elements (五行, wu xing): Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. It’s important to understand that these are symbols. They are nothing like the elements on the periodic table.
Each of the Five Elements is associated with an Organ System (or meridian). Furthermore, each Organ is associated with an emotion:
You don’t need to memorize these associations (unless you’re studying acupuncture!). What you need to understand is that stuck emotions affect the meridians, which affect the organs, which affect your health. So in restoring health, we need to clear the emotional blockages that clog up the organ systems.
According to Chinese medicine, the only bad emotion is a stuck emotion. In other words, emotions need to be balanced. And they can get unbalanced in either direction — too much, or too little. We all know what too much anger looks like, but what about too little anger? Is there such thing?
Of course there is. Haven’t you ever known someone who was in a terrible life situation, but to your great frustration, wouldn’t do anything about it? A battered wife is an extreme example. In her case, she needs more anger, not less. She needs to balance her anger energy so that it flows. When it does, she’ll use the energy to make changes in her life.
Venting Negative Energy
When you start to practice Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, you harmonize your emotional energy. Eventually, there will be enough momentum for the energy to clear the blockages. And when this happens, the blockage will usually clear through the mouth.
The mouth is the most important organ for clearing blockages like this. On its way out of the body, negative energy wants to leave via the mouth, and it often likes to make a sound on the way out. Think about how you express emotions. Don’t most of your emotions express themselves through your mouth? When you are angry, you yell. When you are sad, you cry. When you are happy, you giggle and laugh. This is what happens when emotions flow smoothly.
Some schools teach Five Animal Play as a series of five exercises: the Tiger exercise, the Bear exercise, the Deer, the Bird, and the Monkey. They do these exercises similar to how we do exercises like Lifting the Sky. Afterward, they do not do Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
At first people thought that Hua Tuo invented Five-Animal Play (sometimes called Five-Animal Frolic) by observing the movements of these five animals and then formalizing them into Qigong patterns. But evidence suggests that Hua Tuo’s Five Animal Play was similar to Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
Why the five different animals? Because energy from the various organs manifests differently: Heart energy resembles movements like a bird, Liver energy like a deer, Spleen energy like a monkey, Lung energy like a tiger, and Kidney energy like a bear. The Five Animals of Hua Tuo were descriptions of spontaneous energy flow, just like the description Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
The Zen Test
Your first time in a Five Animal Play class might be a bit of a shock. If you are used to students flowing gently and quietly in Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, then it can be unsettling hearing students yawn, cry, cough, sigh, or even giggle during the Five Animal Play. This is a Zen test. Can you relax, can you focus, despite all the noise?
Yes, you can. All of my students go through this phase. After a few weeks, you’ll no longer be distracted by the sounds. More importantly, your own energy flow will improve as a result. My teacher likes to say that if someone distracts you with loud sounds during the Five Animal Play, you should buy her dinner! That’s because she is actually helping you to progress to the next level.
As long as you understand that people are clearing deep-rooted blockages that, in many cases, can be life-threatening, you shouldn’t be confused. Newer students may not flow as vigorously, and that’s fine. You are allowed to flow gently and quietly. But if you suddenly start to feel a yawn coming on, or the urge to cry, then let it happen. Don’t resist it (unless you want to keep your blockages).
The Five Animal Play saves lives. It is critical for people to be able to release their negative energy. The difference between Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and Five Animal Play can literally be the difference between life and death. For those with serious illnesses, it is important that they practice the Five Animal Play.
Remember that, according to Chinese medical theory, all pain, all disease, all illness — all of it has an emotional component. When it comes to clearing emotional blockages, there is nothing better than letting the energy flow with techniques like Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and the Five Animal Play. If you are serious about healing yourself, if you want to make huge changes in your life like I have and my students have, then you owe it to yourself to learn and practice these amazing skills.
Edit: Many people have written to me asking how they can learn energy flow. Unfortunately, it really needs to be learned face-to-face. I recommend that you start with my article: How To Find a Teacher.