Bear Play: the Ability

Five-animal Play is concerned not only with the external movements that can be seen but also with the internal abilities. In addition to proper movement and presenting the features of animal play, there is a hidden ability that needs to be developed, and it’s grounding ourselves with the mind. Bring attention to the lower Dantian before each animal play. The lower Diantian is the storehouse of energy located around 3 finger widths below the navel. Breathing gently and directing the mind to Dantian harmonizes inner and outer energy and leads to tranquility. While practicing, visualize the natural environment in which the animal is playing; after practice, gather Qi towards the body, and guide Qi down with palms pressed down. The mind is always there to serve our intentions.

The Bear Play is the third play in Five Animals Play. A Chinese idiom says, “Great genius often lies concealed”. The bear is a good example. Stockily built and strong, bears are solitary by nature. A fun fact is that the original meaning of the Chinese character 能 (ability, power) refers to 熊 (bear). Moreover, Huangdi, a legendary Chinese ancestor, was born into the clan of “possessor of bears (有熊)”. He is well known not only as an ancient leader but also for his contribution to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The TCM doctrine “Huangdi Nei Jing” is named after Huangdi, the possessor of ability.

The Hand Gesture: Bear Paws

Four fingers bent together. Thumb press on the tip of the index finger and form a circle.


  • Movement led by the motion of the waist, not hands
  • As the body rotates, hands move. Visualize the energy circling the Dantian
  • Breathing in as the body shifts upward and breathing out as the body bends forward
  • When the body is upward, lift the chest and contract the belly to stretch the front side. When forward, draw in the chest to squeeze the internal organs 


  • Movement of the lumbar joints and muscles prevent lumbar muscle strain and soft tissue injury 
  • Hands movement helps to guide the energy circulating, which improves function of  stomach and spleen 
  • Movement has a massaging effect on the digestive system, and helps with indigestion, sluggishness, bloating and constipation


  • Lift hip and leg first then shift the weight to the front foot with knee bent 
  • Drop the front foot heavily on the ground in a manner that creates vibration to the hip joint. Visualize yourself moving like a massively strong bear


  • Tones the liver and spleen 
  • Strengthens muscles around the hip. Improves balance and helps with weakness at the lower limbs, and knee pain

Bear Swaying is supposed to help with knee pain. But I found that it can bring out an old injury if you have already had knee issues. Use your own judgment when you feel knee pain doing Bear Swaying to identify if the movement is causing the issue or is part of the healing process.


  1. Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine: Plain Conversation [黃帝內經:素問], translated into English by Li Zhaoguo (Xi’an: World Publishing Corporation, 2005).
  2. Health Qigong Management Centre of General Administration of Sport of China, Health Qigong – Wu Qin Xi [健身氣功 -五禽戲] (Beijing: People’s Sports Publishing House, 2005).
  3. VCD, Health Qigong – Wu Qin Xi [健身氣功 -五禽戲] (Beijing: Beijing Sport University Audio & Video Press, 2005).

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