Have you heard of a secret Qigong skill called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow ( 搖風擺柳, or Yao Feng Bai Liu)?
Probably not. That’s why they call it a secret!
Unfortunately, even people who’ve been practicing Qigong and Tai Chi for years don’t know this secret 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.
For over a decade, I’ve openly shared this secret in every beginner’s class and workshop that I’ve taught.
Today, I teach it in my flagship online program, called Qigong 101: The Art of Healing for Busy People.
But despite my best efforts, this skill is still little known and poorly understood.
There Is No Form
For centuries, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow was kept a well-guarded secret. Although the skill is mentioned in several Qigong classics, its form was never described. And there’s a good reason for this: There is no form!
So then what is this secret skill? The name of the skill, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, does a great job of poetically describing the experience.
Learning this skill is a process. After learning and practicing special techniques in a highly specific way, what you’ll feel is your body swaying gently, almost as if you are losing your balance. You might even feel like you’re a willow tree swaying gently in the breeze!
But you’re not losing your balance. What’s happening with this skill is that your vital energy, your qi, is starting to flow!
The physical form changes from person to person because everyone’s energy flows slightly differently. So you can’t really describe the form. I believe this is one reason why the classics never described the form of the skill.
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 even a Tai Chi form.
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.
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 get the energy flowing, and then allow it to 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. (You’ll also need to 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.
Note that my version of the Five Animal Play is different than the way it is often taught. I don’t teach it as a series of 5 qigong exercises. Instead, I teach it as an internal skill, similar to Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
Only after practicing Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow for a while should 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 the exercises. Instead of just swaying gently like a willow tree, some students will have an emotional release and start crying.
Other students will start coughing as the energy works on the lungs.
Some students will even roll around on the ground in what I jokingly call “spontaneous chiropractic”.
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. Why are all these people doing different things — crying, laughing, rolling on the ground, etc.?
But for someone who has learned Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, the Five Animal Play should not be confusing at all. Still, it’s helpful to understand the theory behind the technique.
Clearing Energy Blockages
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, and I’m paraphrasing here, 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?
An abused 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 Stress & 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.
As I mentioned, 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.
To me, this is backwards.
Some people believe that Hua Tuo invented the Five Animal Play by observing the movements of these five animals and then formalizing them into Qigong patterns.
But I believe that Hua Tuo’s Five Animal Play was similar to Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. I believe that he was symbolically describing the different ways that the energy can flow.
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.
Can You Pass 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.
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).
Energy Flow Saves Lives
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.
Note that I now teach both Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and the Five Animal Play in my onling program called Qigong 101: The Art of Healing for Busy People. Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
Sifu Anthony says
I hope you enjoy this post!
Thanks Sihing Anthony,
I love Five Animal Play. One of the funny things is that, if some is just yelling in an football match, then is ok but if you do in a park, alone, then you must be crazy. 🙂
Anyway, I always practice in the park and police didnt come yet. haha.
Sifu Anthony says
It’s funny that you mention this. One of my students told me that she loves the Five Animal Play because she’s not a sports fan, so she doesn’t get to cheer and yell at sporting events like everyone else. 🙂
Thank you for this article. I’ve been googling to find out why I’ve been having a swaying during these Divine Mind meditations and nothing could answer it until your article. I’m so glad I found it! All the other answers were suggesting it should stop. But I knew that wasn’t right. I knew I was tapping into Divine Energy, and who would want to stop that?! So thank you!
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Denise, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. My upcoming book will be perfect for you. Keep an eye out for it.
Chris Papadopoulos says
Thank you Sifu Anthony. This is an amazing and beautiful article, I am very keen to learn Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and Five – Animal Frolic. take care
Barry Fannon says
Great Post, the inner smile is great too.
Hi Anthony siheng,
Interesting article. So for those who are seriously ill, it is advised that they find some place like a cornfield to be able to release their negative energy. But what if that’s not possible? Will they never be able to cure themselves?
Sifu Anthony says
Those who are seriously ill must first learn Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow or the Five Animal Play from a good instructor. You do not need a cornfield to practice Qigong. You can practice anywhere. Obviously, you may need to inform roommates or family members what you are doing. Showing them this article might help.
Charles Evans says
That sounds dangerous, wouldn’t that affect the corn field in negative ways, maybe into a POPCORN field. Lol. I do wudang 5 animal qigong in a nice pine tree Grove by my house it’s great soaking in all the good stuff.
I should have been more clear in my previous post.
I wanted to say if a person will get healed completely if they can’t do “Five Animal Play” (Screaming, stomping etc), but have to resort to “Flowing Breeze” (due to circumstances). And without extra treatment by a Chinese doctor.
Oh wait. The answer just flashed through my mind. It’s “moderated” Five Animal Play 🙂
Sifu Anthony says
Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow is powerful medicine, and can heal many problems. For more serious problems, Five Animal Play is a better choice. If you are committed to overcoming a serious illness, then you should practice the Five Animal Play often. I cannot think of any circumstances that would stop me from doing the Five Animal Play if I desperately needed it for healing.
About the unfavorable circumstances, I can think of screaming or stomping during your chi flow in the early morning and night when everybody is at sleep. What’s your advice?
( I just wanted to get this straight 🙂 )
Sifu Anthony says
Kan, someone committed to healing a serious illness can surely find a solution to such a minor obstacle.
where should i look to learn five animals play?
any input would help please.
Sifu Anthony says
Unfortunately, it really must be learned face-to-face from a master. Where are you located?
Charlene vartanian says
I recently experienced flowing breeze swaying willow….thank yoh for the naming. It was spontaneous versus a skilled attempt. Comment?
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Charlene. Yes, I’ve encountered some people who experience Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow spontaneously. What I’ll say is that when you officially learn it, then it will be much more efficient and effective!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow together with Five Animal Play Qi Gong. I hope to learn and practice both of those qi gong techniques together with 18 Lohan Hands for the rest of my life. Also, I would like to teach them to others. I look forward to learning all three qi gong techniques directly under you, if you will have me. Again, great article! And let me thank you for sharing such knowledge.
Thanks for the excellent article I have really enjoyed reading it as I started to rock and bounce etc during meditation I think about a year or so back.
I was looking for this info a few month back on-line and was not able to find it so was delighted to find the article!
I am just wondering what are your thoughts are on trying to control the rocking or taper it back. I am thinking of when I am at Yoga class and the like. The reason I ask is because my Yoga teacher was asking me if I was OK at my last class and I realised my arms had started to bounce up and down and I did notice but I was just in the zone so did not stop it happening.
Cheers in advance
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
It’s fine to “tame” the flowing movements, depending on the situation. So if you’re in a yoga class, and you’re freaking people out by moving your arms — then yes, it might be good to tame it. 🙂
But if you tame it too much, then it can become repressed. So you’ll need to let it flow enough so that that doesn’t happen.
Keep in mind that “taming” the flow is different than resisting or squelching it.
All the best,
Tanapon Laohaniwatworn says
hello sifu anthony,
I am a very obessed person (118 kgs) and I suffer from the heavy weight, bad headache and breathing problem including the pain in my lungs.
Do your online courses also include the breeze swaying willow class in them? because im very interested in joining but I live in Asia.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Tanapon. Yes, I teach Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow in my online 101 workshop. I think you’ll really enjoy it.
The time difference to Asia is a problem. You can watch the replay, but it’s better live. At some point, I will try to do one at a time that is convenient for Asia and Australia. It’s your choice whether to wait for that, or get started sooner. The next workshop is on April 30th.
I hope that helps!
Zoe Eckblad says
I’ve been studying Spring Forest Qigong for about a year. I just discovered your website and followed your audio for smiling heart. I found myself lightly swaying. Is this the flowing breeze that you describe here? I assumed it was because I’m so hyper that my body won’t be quiet.
David Whitham says
Great article, very informative as usual, thank you.
Srdjan Stojkovic says
I found that the word “sifu” means: “old person of skill” . Maybe you are person of skill but obviously you are not old. My qi gong, tai chi and IQuan teacher is seventy-five years old, fifty years he deals with the mentioned skills, and represents himself only with his own name and surname.
Jeanne White says
Fantastic information – so much to learn. I’m feeling like a sponge in gratitude to read your blog(s). Thank you Sifu Anthony. I started today’s study with the 5 phase sequences reading and taking notes as a memory jogger then I clicked on Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and from there the 5 Earth signs and from there the elements connected with the organs and emotions and from there understanding the depth of Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow…. keeping the emotional blockages clear to result in health. I love this.
Wonderful article. Thank you. This has helped clear up some confusion re the different techniques and skills. I shall be re-reading this, no doubt. Kudos.
Do you teach the Five Animal Play skill as part of the Qigong 101 course? Looking at the curriculum list I did not see a specific reference.
Appreciating the beauty of Flowing Breeze, Swaying Willow and its affect on body and mind. Looking forward to learning more in due time. Thank you for making these healing resources available.
Please how do I practice the Flowing Breeze Swaying Wallow?
Nathaniel Josh says
I figured it out! Flowing breeze swaying willow does everything because the monkey mind is a power house of energy that never stops when silenced. thank you and have a good day.
Cris Stone says
I was following the directions of spontaneous 5 animal play and my movements sound more like the willow style movements then anything, though I guess it could also be the bird movements that I saw some doing in a video. I must be really in bad health because I get very tired after only 5 minutes or so. I would have thought that allowing my body to move wouldn’t take energy, but it can be very tiring. I’m wondering if I can just bring the energy in like doing spontaneous 5 play but use it for other things? I do feel more energy after those minutes but my main goal is to have the energy of my youth.