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Five animals play.

Today after a one year break I had kickboxing class again. I decided to continue my training in one of the fighting disciplines. To be able to move as a fighter is a very special experience. The energy produced from within escapes my body and reaches whatever is in front of me. Such an intense experience but conducted in controlled environment. Within this socially constructed container, you can move however you like, bouncing off objects and moving freely in sync with everything around. I easily can get into the flow state when I practice martial arts. Loosing self-awareness, tuning into the rhythm and experiencing wholeness.

As I was leaving the gym I noticed that I am filled with a few seemingly contradictory sensations. I felt exhausted while being energised. My face was sweaty and red but it was beautiful. My alertness was elevated while at the same time I was radiating calmness. It made me think of different moves and stances that are used during a fight. I decided to have a look at the meaning behind traditional stances found in most eastern martial arts. My intuition tells me it is going to be a rich metaphor catch.

In qigong there is a common exercise called “Five animal play”. The five animals in this play are the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and crane. According to traditional interpretation, Tiger is the element of spring - energetic, strong and provides the mind with creativity, a sense of direction in life. The essence of the stance is grasping and stretching. The second animal is Deer, it relates to water and the winter season. The deer stores energy resources making sure there is enough left to maintain the function of the body. In this stance one connects with her roots and keeps the connection with ancestors and traditions. The third animal is Bear. It relates to earth element and summer season. The bear relates to metabolic processes, digesting food and distributing resources and manages energy supplies. The bear is responsible for generation ideas, memory and concentration. The next animal is Monkey - she is a fire element and also relates to the summer season, and in charge for the heart center. Emotion and joy are her main function, manifesting in unstoppable movement like the flickering flame of a candle. The fifth animal is Crane. The element of metal and the season of autumn and related to breathing, clearing up the lungs to enable air to pass throw the body flawlessly.

In almost every martial art tradition animals used to represent a particular stance. There is a beautiful poetic quality to these metaphors. Speaking for myself, but I see how magic happens in the thinking when taking a Tigers stance, gripping the world in an energeticly gracious way. I would like to use these stances in my daily life. Perhaps introducing this playful naming can turn the training process of my life stamina into a joyful game. We all need to work on our stances, learn how to move through life graciously. I’ll try to play my wise crane next time I read a book and invite a monkey to spend time with friends. Shifting between these modalities can bring that extra awareness that we need to improve our qualities, discipline and self-regulation. We must work on ourselves anyway, so why not do it with joy. Consider mimicking the sounds and even literally - movements, or simply keep the names in mind, get inventive and enjoy the game.

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