This blog is a short introduction to the Qigong exercises Eight Pieces of Brocade or in Chinese Ba Duan Jin. We will talk about the origin, structure and the purpose of this Qigong set. The exercises were created in the period of South Song Dynasty (1127-1279 a.d.) by Marshal Yue Fei. He was quite an extraordinary man. He was an excellent general and highly-skilled martial artist. However, in time of peace he was studying and reading Chinese classics and history. He was very popular among his soldiers, also because of his kindness and his sense for justice. Yue Fei has created this set of Qigong exercises to improve the health and endurance of his soldiers who had to be capable to walk limitless kilometers with the heavy military equipment. In time, the exercises have become popular also among the civil population in China due to their numerous positive effects on health.
Eight Pieces of Brocade – a perfect introduction to Qigong
Eight Pieces of Brocade is often the first set of the Qigong exercises introduced to the beginners. The reasons are many. The first reason is that the theory and the method of practice are enough simple and comprehensive also for the beginners. At the same time, they serve as a good basic foundation for the future study of Qigong. The second reason is that these exercises can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age and physical condition. The next reason, very important to many people, is that if you practice this set regularly, in only a few months you should be able to notice improvements of health.
In the period of eight hundred years many variations of this set were developed. It is supposed that at the beginning there were twelve exercises of brocade, but in time the number of exercises were reduced to eight. Besides the standing Ba Duan Jin there is also a set of sitting Ba Duan Jin which is not as popular as the standing one. We don’t have to waste too much time trying to found out which version is the best and the most original. It is better to remember, that the theory and principles of each exercise are more important than form alone. They are the roots which help us to become capable to use our wise mind (Yi) to lead the qi to circulate through the body and improve our health. Standing Ba Duan Jin works with all of the twelve primary Qi channels (meridians).
The pain as communication between the body and mind
The sequence of the exercises is created purposely, considering the human reactions when there is a pain or discomfort in the body. Both mean that the body is communicating to our brain about the Qi disbalance that has just occurred. For example, when we feel tension in the liver area, we lift our right hand. In this way we release the tension or pressure in the liver due to fatigue, bad food or excessive anger. If we ignore for too long these kind of warning signs and we don’t do anything, in time develops a physical disorder or injury.
Qigong wisdom through poetry
The ancient documents about Qigong are very often written in a form of poem. So, each of Ba Duan Jin exercise is described in a form of poem. These poems were travelling through generations and represent the roots of each exercise. If you are eager to study more in detail, find a book about Ba Duan Jin which includes inside also the translation of the Chinese poems.
Type of training
Ba Duan Jin is an external Qigong training (Qigong Wai Dan, Qigong external elixir) and contains both types of Wai Dan training. The first type of practice builds qi in the limbs and then allows this Qi to flow in the internal organs. In the second type of practice we use the movement of the limbs to move the muscles around the internal organs and increase the qi flow there.
Breathing and Eight Pieces of Brocade
For the beginners the most important element should be relaxation. They don’t have to be preoccupied with the coordination of the breathing with the movements. Once we have learned all the exercises and also the way how to regulate our breathing, we can start to harmonize our breathing with the movements. The general rule is that when we extend our limbs, we exhale and we lead the qi to the periphery, to the limbs. When we withdraw the arms to the body, we inhale and we lead Qi in our spine. More experienced practitioners use normal or reverse abdominal breathing. They can also lead Qi through four gates in the Lower Dantian when they inhale and in the reverse direction when they exhale.
The sequence of exercises and the basic purpose of each exercise
We begin the exercises by doing less repetition (six to ten). Gradually we add few repetitions until we reach a recommended final number of repetitions. These numbers should serve us just as guide. If we don’t have time, we simply reduce the number of repetitions and we rather do all the exercises.
Before we start with exercises we stand quietly in the basic stance for a few minutes and we calm our mind.
Exercise 1: Two hands hold up Heaven, 24 repetitions
The purpose of exercise is to regulate the Qi in Triple burner. When Qi circulates freely in the Triple burner the internal organs are relaxed and their Qi also circulate freely.
Exercise 2: Drawing the Bow to shoot the Hawk, 12 repetitions on each side
The purpose of this exercise is to strengthen the kidneys and the waist area.
Exercise 3: Separate Heaven and Earth, 12 repetitions on each side
This is the exercise for regulate the spleen, stomach and liver. When we repeatedly raise the arms we stretch and relax the body and invigorate also the tendons and qi channels.
Exercise 4: Wise Owl gazes backward, 12 pairs of repetitions in each of the tree positions
This exercise is useful when we cure illnesses caused by weakness of five Yin organs and also to cure injuries caused by emotional disturbances.
Exercises 5: Sway the Head and shake the Tail, 12 repetitions on each side
This exercise reduces the excess of the Heart fire and relaxes the muscles of the legs.
Exercises 6: Two hands hold the Feet to strengthen the Kidneys and Waist, 16 repetitions
This exercise strengthen the kidneys and waist and also muscles, tendons and bones of the torso.
Exercise 7: Clench the Fists and glare fiercely, 8 repetitions on each side
This exercise raises the vitality and spirit. It also increases the qi flow and muscular strength.
Exercises 8: Bouncing on the Toes, 24 repetitions in each of the tree positions
This exercise helps to gain the smooth flow of qi from the top of the head to the sole of the feet.
After the last exercise we stand still, we keep our mind calm and we breathe slowly for few minutes.
Let’s not procrastinate
We have moments when we desire to do something for ourselves, but the second later we find hundred excuses why not to do it. We have to wait for the more appropriate (perfect?!) circumstances, money, time and so on. Desires wait and the years pass. If we have a lucky moment and the desire to start doing Qigong comes to the surface, do not procrastinate. Even if in our area it is not possible to learn Qigong, Ba Duan Jin, this simple set of Qigong exercises, is available to us. We can learn this set with the help of books and videotapes. It is not the same as to have a real teacher but if we study carefully and practice regularly and patiently we can gain a lot of benefits. So, don’t wait.
If you want to read about our experiences with this set of exercises read a blog The Shine of Eight Pieces of Brocade.
May the Qi be with You!
You can find step by step instructions for Eight Pieces of Brocade in our Video course Qigong for Professional Healer’s Self-care.
Photo: PetarSmiljana Qigong
Reading suggestion: Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming: Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health : The eight pieces of brocade, YMAA Publication center, 1997
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