Ba Duan Jin

The 8 Silk Brocades

Ba Duan Jin

When practiced between one in the morning and noon,
Ba Duan Jin brings practitioners into harmony with the universe - Gao Lin

Derivation

Ba means ‘eight’, duan means ‘achieved through practice’ and Jin means something brilliant and beautiful like silk brocade. So, applied to exercises, we have a set of 8 movements to practice in a smooth or silky fashion.

What is Ba Duan Jin?

Ba Duan Jin is just one of the many sets of exercises that make up Qi Gong. Each Ba Duan Jin exercise is intended to focus on a different meridian of the body and the routine, performed daily is designed to improve health (both physical and spiritual) and prevent sickness. They are usually performed while standing but can be done in a seated position. The standing versions are described here.

Origins of Ba Duan Jin

The earliest recording of the term “Ba Duan Jin” was in ‘Record of the Listener – Selections of Chinese Supernatural Stories’ during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279). The Pivot of the Way (Dao Shi, c. 1150) also describes an early form of the exercises and attributes their invention to Zhongyi Quan and Lu Dongbin, two of the eight ‘Immortals’ of Chinese legend. However, the exercises themselves appear much older. Four of the exercises are depicted in a brocade painting from the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and similar illustrations are also found in books from the Southern and Northern dynasties (420 – 589).

The Exercises

The 8 exercises may be performed in any order, but the traditional order is shown below. As 4 of the exercises use a narrow stance and 4 use a wide stance and alternative sequence that enhances the flow between the exercises is also given. The emphasis is on a calm, focused mind that regulates the breathing and in turn produces slow, controlled movements of the body balancing the yin and yang.

Holding Up Heaven

Narrow stance – Start with palm-over-palm at the Lower Dantien (Qi Hai)
As you inhale the arms float out to the sides, and the hands meet, interlocking the fingers above the head
As you exhale turn the palms to face the heavens
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, lower the hands slightly, separate the fingers, then float the arms back to the starting position

Connecting Heaven and Earth Energy

Narrow stance – Start with the right hand level with the heart centre palm facing down, left hand at Qi Hai level, palm facing up – as if holding a large ball.
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, the left hand floats up palm facing the heavens while the right hand floats down to waist height fingers pointing forwards
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, the left hand floats down to the heart centre palm facing down, the right hand turns palm facing upward.
Repeat on the other side

Wise Owl Turning to Look Back

Wide stance – Start with palm-over-palm at the Lower Dantien (Qi Hai)
As you inhale sink into your left knee
As you exhale, rotate to the right, left hand moves out to the side and up finishing with the palm touching the base of the skull, while the right hand moves out and round finishing with the back of the hand resting at the base of the spine (level with the navel)
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, rotate back to the starting position

Side to Side

Wide stance – Start with the hands resting lightly on the hips
As you inhale, sink the weight into the left knee
As you exhale, tip the pelvis and upper body to the left in line with the right leg
Inhale slowly
As you exhale return to the starting position
Repeat on the other side

Punching

Wide stance – Start with soft fists resting at the hips fingers uppermost
As you inhale, sink into your left knee
As you exhale, turn half to the right and extend and twist the left fist
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, twist and retract the fist to the starting position
Repeat on the other side

Drawing the Bow

Wide stance – Start with the wrists crossed in front of the forehead, left hand closest to the face
As you inhale, sink into your left knee, keeping the body upright
As you exhale, bend the thumb and fingers of the left hand and pull the left elbow outwards level with the shoulder, Open out the right arm, with thumb and index finger extended, palm facing away, turn the head to the right and look over the index finger
Inhale slowly
As you exhale, open the hands, return to centre with crossed wrists – right hand closest to the face
Repeat on the other side

Forward and Back

Narrow stance – Start with palm-over-palm at the Lower Dantien (Qi Hai)
As you inhale, the arms float out and up above the head
As you exhale, bend forward from the hips keeping the back straight, reaching as low as you can comfortably
As you inhale, trace the fingers up the inside of the legs, across the groin and rest the palms in the kidney area, fingers pointing down
As you exhale, lean back slightly, supporting the back with the hands
Inhale slowly
As you exhale return slowly to the starting position

Lifting the Heels

Narrow stance – Start with palm-over-palm at the Lower Dantien (Qi Hai)
As you inhale, lift the heels and the arms float out and up above the head
Exhale slowly
Inhale slowly
As you exhale lower the heels and return to the starting position

Alternative Flow Sequence

  1. Holding Up Heaven
  2. Lifting the Heels
  3. Forward and Back
  4. Connecting Heaven and Earth Energy
    [shift the weight and step to a wide stance]
  5. Drawing the Bow
  6. Turning to Look back
  7. Side to Side
  8. Punching

Health benefits

Whether Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has anything to teach western medicine is a subject too large for this article. The health benefits of performing Ba Duan Jin and other Qi Gong exercises are a great deal easier to measure, but there have been very few high-quality studies to quantify the effects.
An important, and often quoted, study of the benefits of Ba Duan Jin concluded that it helped prevent bone loss in middle-aged women, but systematic review of research into the effects of Qi Gong on anxiety and depression concluded that most of the studies reviewed had poor research methodologies.

Further Reading

If you would like to find out more about Ba Duan Jin:

Read the Wikipedia entry on Ba Duan Jin

Visit the Health Qigong Federation UK website

“The effects of Ba Duan Jin Qi Gong in the prevention of bone loss for middle-aged women”, Chen H H, Yeh M L, Lee F Y.

If you would like to learn Ba Duan Jin and other Qigong exercises then join our Active Qigong course.

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