5 Animal Frolics – A Complete Qigong Exercise System

5 Animal Frolics – A Complete Qigong Exercise System

Painting from Mawangdui - 5 Animal Frolics
It can eliminate sickness and strengthen the root
Hua Tuo

The 5 Animal Frolics is a complete Qigong exercise system created by Hua Tuo (CE 140 – 208), a famous physician, to “eliminate sickness and strengthen the root”.

While its primary application is medical, the Frolics have inspired separate martial arts techniques and can also be considered a spiritual set as they encourage harmony with the animals and the environment.

The 5 Animal Frolics set is closely aligned with the 5 Element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine; each animal is linked to an element and so to the seasons of the year, to the organs and the emotions. The sequence of the exercises shown below follows the seasons, but Hua Tuo suggested that they should follow the sequence, Tiger, Deer, Bear, Monkey and Crane.

Each exercise is comprised of 2 parts – corresponding to the yin and yang (zang and fu) organs, although some suggest that they refer more simply to the animal’s preparation for, and then execution of, their characteristic activity.

The practice of the exercises should include the spiritual essence of the animal; embodying the qualities in the physical movements.

One of characteristics of the 5 Animal Frolics is the distinctive hand forms used  in the exercises. These help to improve manual dexterity and increase grip strength. The hand forms are shown below.


Element: Wood – Spring – Liver & Gall Bladder – Anger

To be performed vigorously but with inner softness.

The emphasis here is on grasping and stretching, strengthening the sinews – connected with the role of the liver. The eyes should be glaring showing anger.

The second part of the routine requires strength, balance and flexibility as the Tiger catches its prey.

Tiger Paw

Spread the fingers, flex the first and second finger joints.

Solid Fist

Solid Fist Hand Form

The thumb presses the base of the ring finger, the other fingers wrap around.


Element – Fire – Summer – Heart & Small Intestine – Joy

To be performed with nimbleness and dexterity, lightly and swiftly. There is a playfulness about the movements – the Joy of the Fire element is always present.

The Monkey is always moving – like the flickering flames of the heart. The first part of the routine concentrates the movement into the chest, pumping and directing the blood around the body with phased relaxation. The second part captures the joy of a peach (a fruit of heaven) and here the heart fire is balanced with the water of the kidneys activated by raising the ball of the trailing foot.

The quick movements and changes of hand form require high levels of coordination, concentration and balance – training proprioception and body control.

Monkey Paw

Monkey Paw Hand Form

The tips of the fingers and the thumb press lightly together, the wrist is flexed.


Element: Earth – Late Summer – Stomach & Spleen – Worry

To be performed slowly but with strength. There is a heaviness and awkwardness to the Bear’s movements but the internal qualities of steadiness and intelligence remain evident. He is solid, stable and rooted like the earth element.

The first part of the exercise includes a massage of the stomach and spleen – the organs of earth – to aid digestion. The movement is coordinated with the rotation of the upper body to improve the mobility of spine and waist.

Bear Paw

Bear Paw Hand Form

The tips of the index finger and the thumb press lightly together, the other fingers flex to form a hollow fist.


Element: Metal – Autumn – Lungs & Large Intestine – Sadness

To be performed in a carefree, relaxed and contented manner.

The Crane stands effortlessly on one leg for hours but is always aware, glides freely through the air.

The focus of these two exercises is dynamic balance combined with flexion and extension, transferring the weight smoothly from leg to the other, using the arms as gracefully as the Crane uses its wings.

Crane’s Wing

Crane's Wing Hand Form

Spread the fingers, the index finger, little finger and the thumb extend upwards, the middle and ring fingers flex downwards.

Crane’s Beak

Bird Beak Hand Form

Both palms face down, fingers pointing forwards, place one hand on top of the other.


Element: Water – Winter – Kidneys & Bladder – Fear

To be performed lightly and gently, embodying the serenity and poise of Deer. They stand still, listening (a quality of the element of Water) intently and butt antlers.

The key here is the twisting movement which opens one kidney while closing the other, creating a pumping effect, while looking down to the inside of the heel – the kidney meridian. It is an excellent exercise for the latissimus muscles, opens the chest and mobiles the shoulders as well as improving spinal mobility.

Deer Antler

Deer Antler Hand Form

Spread the fingers and fold the middle and ring fingers into the palm.

Inspired by the 5 Animal Frolics?

You can learn these ancient Qigong exercises online by joining one of our classes. For details of times, availability and pricing – click the link.

 Keep Me Posted

If you have enjoyed reading this article, then why not sign up to receive new articles as they are released?

Just let us know which subjects you are interested in, and we’ll send you the details hot from the press.

No Comments

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.