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Qigong Curriculum

Five Animal Frolics Qigong

This series of movements was purportedly developed about two thousand years ago. It was conceived of, or popularized by, a physician named Hua Tou, who was also an accomplished martial artist. In acupuncture, the acu-points on either side of the spine are called the Hua Tou Family of Points. From this we can infer that Hua Tou was interested in the spine and how it pertained to health. As such, this class focuses primarily on spinal movements with all other movements (ie arms, legs, hands, and feet) being of secondary importance.

This qigong set is evocative, not imitative, of the animals from which it takes its names. We are not attempting to move like a tiger or a bear because we are do not have their anatomy. We are are attempting to explore our human anatomy by evoking the essence or the animals. The essence of a tiger running is longitudinal waves of its spine (sagittal flexion & extension), seamlessly blended with rotations of its shoulder and hip joints. A deer scanning the forest rotates its spine transversely, lengthening the spine as it does so in order to avoid a crick in its long neck. A crane holds its head down and away from its body while flying to optimize its center of gravity for flight. These are principles of movement we are exploring, not literal pantomiming.

There are 26 movements in the Five Animal Frolics qigong set. This class will begin with a selection of six: two from the tiger, and one from each of the others (deer, bear, monkey, and crane).

Isometric exercise is an integral part of this class. An isometric exercise is one where there is muscle contraction, but no movement in the joints. This can be contrasted with plyometric exercises, where there is accompanying movement of the joints with muscular contraction. This class employs isometrics for several reasons.

  • Isometrics protect and improve the joints.
    • Without movement there is no wear & tear.
    • Strengthening the tendons improves joint function.
  • Isometrics strengthen the muscles to improve posture.
    • Almost all pain is due to improper skeletal alignment, which results from one group of muscles being too weak, and corresponding group of muscles becoming too tight in the body’s attempt to compensate. Over time this poor alignment leads to degradation of cartilage and osteoarthritis. Even chronic pain from a traumatic injury is greatly exacerbated by the unaddressed weakness resulting from the trauma.
  • An isometric contraction improves the body mind connection.
    • I.e. by contracting the biceps for six seconds without moving the arms, our mind inhabits the biceps in a way it would not if we were just trying to curl a barbell.
  • Isometric contractions help us get a better feel for qigong muscle activation.
    • Qigong movements are predicated on muscle activation, which is different from regular movement. When I reach for something, my arm and hand just reach out for it; it is an automatic movement. In qigong, we activate every muscle involved in a form’s movement, which is the primary reason it is performed slowly.

The isometrics used in this class are separated into two categories, “muscle control” and “dynamic tension”. Muscle control is when you just contract a target muscle, i.e. the lats. An example of dynamic tension is when one arm’s flexion is pitted against the other arm’s extension, or the hip, knee, etc.


Training Routine

Belly breathing:

  • Stand in neutral stance.
  • Inhale slowly and purposefully. The belly expands with the inhale. Do not hold your breath.
  • Exhale, and the belly contracts. Gently pull the belly in a little farther than it would go without assistance. Do not hold your breath.
  • Inhale and let the belly expand, repeating the inhale-exhale cycle like a sin wave, no holding of the breath. Do not strain. 70% effort at most.
  • At least ten breaths.

Muscle Control: Lats

  • Neutral stance
  • Hold hands out to the side with a slight bend in your arm.
  • Squeeze fists and flex your lats. Hold the flex for 6 seconds (~4 breaths)

Hold the Ball

  • Neutral stance. Continue belly breathing.
  • Gently pull your shoulder blades together and down. They should be flush with your back, do not let them wing out/protrude from the back.
  • Raise your arms so they are level with your diaphragm, slightly bent, like you are holding a large, weightless ball.
    • The raising of the arms should be accomplished by rotating them up and in with the contraction of the shoulder blades.
  • At least ten breaths.

What is qigong?

Reverse/daoist breathing

Tiger Movements 0, 1, 2

Tiger Movements 3, 4, 5

Deer Movements 1, 2, 3

Deer Movements 4, 5

Bear Movements 1, 2

Bear Movements 3, 4, 5

Monkey Movements 1, 2

Monkey Massage 3, 4

Monkey 5 Movements

Bird Movements 1, 2

Bird Movements 3, 4, 5

Animal Hand Forms

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Stress and the Immune System

It’s well established that stress denigrates the immune system, so while in isolation it’s imperative to regulate your autonomic nervous system, which is either in “fight or flight”, or “rest and digest”.

Deep, relaxed abdominal breathing regulates the autonomic nervous system via the Vegas nerve. Deep breathing whenever you remember to do it is ideal.

In Chinese medicine, stress is understood as qi stagnation in the Reverting Yin meridian of the foot (Liver meridian). This meridian passes through the groin/hip flexor area, so stretching this part of your body with yoga, etc, will yield better results than focusing on hamstrings, lumbar, shoulders, and so forth.

Exercise that makes you tired is good, but not exercise that makes you exhausted (ie running or lifting until you’re too wiped out to be anxious), which will make you further susceptible to disease. Furthermore, going till you’re exhausted will produce more inflammation, which is deleterious to the immune system.

A sustainable exercise program is one that leaves you capable of doing a little more of your workout once you’ve finished. If you can barely drag yourself into bed at night, you’ve done too much and have probably hindered your immunity rather than enhanced it.

Your routine to improve your immune system is the most important thing you can do while in isolation, so do it first thing in the morning. It will keep your stress levels lower as the day progresses, which is far superior than trying to lower them once you gotten all worked up.

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YouTube Channel

I started a YouTube channel today:


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The practice of qigong/taiji involves three principles. Everything else about it is an outward flowing of the three. There is no hierarchy among them, they simply must be practiced together in order for each to function correctly. The principles are abstract ideals evoked by the body, therefore it is simply impossible to do them perfectly. The ideals are always things towards which we strive, and in doing so we come to understand them better, as though they were revealing themselves to us. Every person is different, so the course of ones personal experience with taiji is entirely unique. I seek only to give a functional idea of the principals through this manual, understanding them comes only through regular, patient practice.



The breath is a wave of inhale and exhale. Do not hold your breath between inhalation and exhalation, or between exhalation and inhalation. As the inhalation reaches its peak, it will crest and fall like an ocean wave into the exhalation. When the exhalation reaches its lowest point, it will reverse its flow into inhalation, like a wave retreating from the beach before another breaks and flows up the sand. The yin yang symbol (taijitu – grand ultimate map) looks like two waves stuck together, think of it as a model for your breath. The little white circle is what connects the black wave (inhalation) to the white wave (exhalation), and vice versa. There is no stopping point between yin and yang, they simply flow into one another. The little circles inside the waves indicate that yin and yang are the basis for one another. When one reaches its zenith, the apex of its powers, it can instantly become the other. When one reaches its nadir, and seems to have completely vanished, it can likewise instantly become the other.

Use Daoist Breathing, or reverse breathing, while practicing. Contract the muscles of your lower torso (below the diaphragm) while your chest expands on inhalation. Expand the muscles of the lower torso while your chest contracts on exhalation.



Keep all parts of your body connected to one another at all times. This is accomplished through what can be termed muscle activation. Activated muscles are neither in full contraction nor full relaxation. They balance between the two depending on what position the body is in. As such the muscles always feel different when connected, but they always feel connected. Certain places in the body, such as the low back, pelvis, hips, and groin, are often too tight; they are too much in contraction. Other places, such as those weakened by injury or inactivity, will be too relaxed.

Muscles that work with each other (i.e. pull against each other) need to be balanced, so that the one contracting doesn’t over-pull on the one relaxing. Neither should a muscle become so relaxed that the one contracting falls into full contraction, like letting go of a rope upon which someone else is pulling mightily.

The shoulders need to activate all of their muscles, they do not just hang, or stay tightened up in a posture. Pull them together with the rhomboids; down with the lats; forward with the serratus; and up with the traps. No muscle should be all contracted, nor all relaxed, and they will change their ratios of contraction and relaxation depending on the body’s positioning.

The hips should be focused around the tailbone. As the tailbone moves, the spine elongates so as not to pinch any vertebrae. This elongation is very small in terms of actual distance, it should just feel like your back has plenty of space to move around. This ensures that the muscles of the hips are not too contracted nor too relaxed. Point your tailbone in the direction your hips are moving, very subtly, keeping the low back extending as much as possible. Never thrust your hips. The adductor muscles, which run from your groin down to the inside of your knees, should pull on the pelvis to rotate the tailbone in that direction. The pointing is very subtle, like a rudder turning a boat. No muscle is ever committed fully to contraction or relaxation, and is always changing the ratios based upon what the body is doing.



Just rotate. How do I move my arms? Just rotate. How do I move my legs? Just rotate. How do I move my spine? Just rotate. The joints of the shoulders and hips are balls inside of sockets. Their optimal movement is one of rotation; it is what helps them heal and keeps them healthy. The more your shoulders and hips are connected, the more easily you will be able to rotate the joints. The vertebrae of the spine are connected by facet joints, which are like tiny balls and sockets that have a very limited range of movement. Activating the muscles keeps them from over-rotating the joints, as they are balancing their contraction and relaxation. The joints of the shoulders, hips, and each individual vertebrae (except for those that collectively comprise the sacrum, which are fused) are the primary joints.

To step, rotate from within the hip joint, and allow the connection of the body to translate that rotation into a step. Rotate your shoulders and let the rotation flow out through the body connection into an arm movement. Rotate your spine, which is done in very small degrees, to turn your hips or shoulders for directional changes.

The muscles of respiration (i.e. those above and below the diaphragm) should connect to the muscles of the shoulders and hips so that they may initiate rotation of the primary joints. It does not matter if they are on inhalation or exhalation, only that they are moving. As they never stop moving, no matter their speed, they are always the movement of the body in which the rotation of the primary joints is rooted. The muscles of the spine are similarly always engaged in the movement of breath, so it too always has the breath as the root of its movement.

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Chop an apple into cubes, removing the core. Place chopped apples into a saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes.

After simmering for 10 minutes, add oatmeal and additional water (1 cup oatmeal = 1-3 additional cups of water, to taste).

A pinch of salt, and several shakes of cinnamon (to taste). Stir in a half teaspoon of honey.

Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, dependent upon on desired consistency.

Oatmeal is not a complete protein. Therefore, it is necessary to eat it with nuts (almonds, walnuts), sugar free yogurt, or have some meat or a couple eggs on the side (any style). An inadequate amount of protein in the morning will set us up for a sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, i.e. that ravenous feeling that strikes about an hour before lunch and then again in the middle of the afternoon, then again before dinner, and once more before bed. Craving sweets at these times of the day indicates an insufficient amount of protein for breakfast and lunch, not as is popularly erroneously believed, a sweet tooth.

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Despite the physiological discrepancy, no condition is closer to my heart than knee pain. I found Eastern medicine by shredding the cartilage of my knee. I had surgery to repair the damage, but the physical therapy didn’t work out so well, and within a few weeks my knee was the size of a basketball. Months of crutching about led to yet more months wielding a cane. Add in the strain to my low back and hip muscles from the compensation, and at 25 I was rocking out the full old-timer, complete with cloudy disposition and an impressive ratio of grumps per day. After half a year of this, I found myself relocated to San Diego from Connecticut. It didn’t take long for me to find tai chi, which enabled the miracle of miracles by unlocking my body’s innate healing ability that modern physiological science had been unable to reach.

Two years of tai chi later, I found myself in school for acupuncture & Eastern herbs. At this point my knee had regained full functionality (it actually worked a bit better than before the surgery), but I still had some shooting, stabbing pain when especially active. Then there was the meteorologist that had moved into my knee, alerting me to barometric changes with dull aches. Long mornings in the cold ocean waiting for waves got that meteorologist humming, too. It was the perfect home experiment!

Every night after school I pulled out my books and notes and set to work on my knee. I wasn’t very skilled in the beginning, in fact I was rather dreadful. But I stuck with it, and gradually my needle technique grew less painful. However, my knee started to feel better right away. By the second semester, I hardly needed any needles in my knee at all.

I like to say that I specialize in anything interesting, but my first project was my knee, and as such, the aspect of Eastern medicine with which I am most familiar, is knee pain. It is then with great delight that I can share this study on osteoarthritis of the knee from the People’s Hospital of Peking University in Beijing.

The points used in the study on all 73 participants are almost exactly the same ones that I used on my knee. Of the 49 people who completed the four week study, all had improvement in their knees, and that improvement was sustained after the four week followup visit. There was no control arm. The study assumes acupuncture works, and is testing a particular protocol. Admittedly, a study in which every participant improves is a bit suspect, which is a reason why some meta-analysis studies regard acupuncture’s success as inconclusive. [Commence digression] However, the studies then go on to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work, which is as intellectually irresponsible as designing a study that allows for 100% improvement. The world of acupuncture research and research on acupuncture is still in its fledgling stages, and these are the growing pains–ones that acupuncture can treat! [Digression concluded]

I still use the bulk of these points for my knee pain treatments, but I change up the other points to customize the treatment to the individual. A scientific study by nature has to use the same points from person to person, but our bodies are all different, and as such, the pain of the knee and surrounding structures changes from person to person. Acupuncture works best when it is customized, but it can still work when homogenized. The knee is especially suited to homogenization of treatment, given that the reason for the problem is essentially the same from person to person, and the location of pain changes only slightly. The source of knee pain is almost always within the knee and surrounding muscles, so needling the points around the knee works very well. Something like carpal tunnel syndrome on the other hand can stem from the neck, shoulder, and elbow, so it is more difficult to design a standardized treatment that effectively treats it equally in all cases.

Furthermore, from a point function perspective, two of the points used in the study are very commonly used by acupuncturists to improve metabolism and boost energy. Though the source for knee pain is usually within the knee joint, poor posture of the whole body and sloppy ergonomics will put more strain on the knee to exacerbate the pain. With this increase in energy, it is easier to maintain proper posture and gait. Another of the knee points used in the study is used by many acupuncturists for almost every condition involving tendons, which are a major component of any joint. These dual purposes reflect the local and systemic nature of acupuncture points. All points will benefit local problems, i.e. the point in the middle of the wrist crease benefits carpal tunnel syndrome. Then there are the systemic actions of the points, wonderfully illustrated in this study using brain imaging. In essence, acupuncture points stimulate parts of the brain that are associated with many of the problems the points are traditionally purported to treat. The People’s Hospital of Peking University study uses points that are local (on the knee) which also positively affect health of the body in a way that supports recovery from osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a study of a treatment strategy that is incredibly simple and elegant. It is no wonder that it garnered positive results.

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