Here is my one sentence answer twenty two years later after first learning the Five Routines: Soaring Crane Qigong is a form of exercise rooted in Classical Chinese Medicine that uses gentle but challenging movement along with mental focus and full abdominal breathing to bring about a sense of ease as well as help prevent and sometimes treat disease.
No doubt you will be surprised at how challenging it is to keep the mind focused on different parts of the body as you move. A natural part of learning is taking note of how the mind resists staying present—things like what you will make for dinner or who you need to call, tend to push away the task at hand. With practice, it becomes an effective way to bring the mind back to the present moment which is always a good skill to hone! In addition, learning to breathe by dropping the diaphragm to expand the belly on the inhale is a useful tool to reduce anxiety and toxic levels of stress.
Of course, the best way to learn is with a qualified teacher but the next best thing is to watch and imitate the DVD I made with the originator of the technique when I sponsored his trip to America three years after I learned it (yes, I was that inspired by the changes it made in my life!) We filmed it in breathtakingly beautiful locations of natural beauty—the red rocks of Arizona, the tundra of Alaska, by the sea, and next to the salt marsh sanctuary that runs through the heart of my home in Connecticut. Zhao Jin Xiang demonstrates and I narrate the five routines twice so one can really get the specifics of it. Finally, the all of them are performed with no narration along with the bamboo flute of Richard Warner. Just watching it is enough to elicit a relaxation response! I highly suggest checking it out: