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What is the Ba Duan Jin?

The Ba Duan Jin is one of the most common traditional Qigong forms and is a daily practice for monks at the Shaolin Buddhist Temple.

For more than fifteen centuries, monks at the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in Henan, China, have revered the daily practice of Ba Duan Jin Qigong. This gentle and therapeutic practice, renowned for its soft nature, complements Shaolin Kung Fu exceptionally well. By cultivating Qi through Ba Duan Jin, practitioners achieve a harmonious balance between external and internal powers, a tradition that remains captivating and inspiring today. 

The name of this Qigong form, Ba Duan Jin, is also known as Eight Pieces of Brocade, Eight Silken Movements or Eight Silk Weaving. The term ‘brocade’ refers to the silken quality produced through this form of Qigong and its effectiveness in treating illness and enhancing fitness. The Ba Duan Jin’s eight movements hold specific health benefits, creating a comprehensive exercise for overall health and wellness.

Ba Duan Jin’s eight movements activate and benefit the twelve meridians and internal organs, making it an excellent addition to any daily regimen. Studies have shown that the practice improves flexibility, enhances energy flow, boosts physical power, improves sleep quality, and regulates blood pressure and the respiratory system. Thus, it is a comprehensive exercise for overall health and wellness.

The movements in the Ba Duan Jin are suitable not only for beginners and experts but also for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Moreover, one can practice this routine seated, making it a perfect choice for anyone with physical impairments or mobility issues.

Medical Benefits of the Ba Duan Jin

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves engaging in physical activity and prioritizing flexibility. Improved flexibility positively impacts physical power and coordination abilities. One effective method for improving physical flexibility is the practice of Bu Duan Jin’s exercises, which focus on integrating mind and body during physical activity.

The memorization required to perform the choreography of Bu Duan Jin’s exercises is beneficial for enhancing memory. The smooth and gentle movements of the exercise form also promote mental calmness and relaxation.

Beyond its physical and mental health benefits, Bu Duan Jin is an essential component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Each of the eight exercises comprising Bu Duan Jin treats various diseases and conditions affecting internal organs. The exercise form promotes a deeper understanding of TCM principles by outlining each movement’s key points and purposes.

The movements of Bu Duan Jin primarily involve stretching, bending, and rocking, which affect the Triple Burner or energizer – including organs such as the heart, lungs, spleen, stomach, and kidneys. By increasing energy flow along specific meridians, or pathways through which Qi flows according to TCM, Bu Duan Jin also enhances physical power, balance, strength, and sleep quality while promoting healthy blood pressure and respiratory function.

History of the Ba Duan Jin

The ancient text, The Internal Medicine of Emperor Huang, contains historical records of Qi and meridian-related health exercises, which played a significant role in the development of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Ba Duan Jin, a form of exercise that involves stretching and expanding the body like birds and bears, is mentioned in several encyclopedias from the Song Dynasty. The Ten Compilations on Cultivating Perfection from 1300 AD even feature illustrations of all eight movements of the Ba Duan Jin. 

In the nineteenth century, scholars attribute the exercise to General Yue Fei, a renowned military general believed to have created it to keep his soldiers physically fit and prepared for battle. This historical context gives the practice added depth and significance, making it particularly appealing to health enthusiasts and those interested in traditional Chinese medicine.

Sequence

The Baduanjin consists of eight exercises, each focusing on a different physical area and qi meridian. As this is a prevalent Qigong form, there is some variation in how people practice the Ba Duan Jin, but the following order is the most common.

The first movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Hands Support the Sky

Hands Support the Sky

By stretching your body with your palms facing upward and then twisting, you help the cervical and lumbar areas of the spine to relax and relieve local pain. Moving your hands up the body’s centre through the Lower, Middle and Upper Burners in the body’s abdomen benefits the stomach and San Jiao (Triple Burner) health and improves blood circulation. The routine is also beneficial for loosening shoulder joints, reducing shoulder stiffness and building up arm muscles. The movement also helps with the relaxation of the body and spirit.

The second movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle

Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle

The second movement focuses on the waist, specifically the kidneys and spleen. But it also realigns the back muscles and the spine and strengthens the arms, abdomen, back, and legs. The practitioner stands in a horse stance and mimics drawing a bow to shoot an eagle.

The third movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Separate Heaven and Earth

Separate Heaven and Earth the Bow to Shoot the Eagle

In the third movement, the practitioner presses their hands in opposite directions. One hand moves upward to hold the heavens, and the other pushes downwards towards the earth. Having the hands switch positions stimulates the stomach and opens the chest for better breathing.

The fourth movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Wise Owl Gazes Backwards

Wise Owl Gazes Backwards

The fourth movement of the Ba Duan Jin targets the neck and eye muscles. The practitioner stretches the neck to the left and the right in an alternating fashion.

The fifth movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Sway the Head and Shake the Tail

Sway the Head and Shake the Tail

The fifth movement regulates the function of the heart and lungs by removing excess heat (or fire) from the heart via the lungs. The practitioner starts by squatting in a horse stance. They then place their hands on their thighs and then alternate twisting their torso to look behind on each side.

The sixth movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Two Hands Hold the Feet

Two Hands Hold the Feet

In the sixth movement, the practitioner alternates between stretching upwards and bending forward to hold their toes. This movement strengthens the kidneys and the waist. More critically, lengthening the spine promotes the circulation of freshly oxygenated blood to the brain.

The seventh movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely

Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely

The purpose of the seventh movement is to increase general vitality and muscular strength. The practitioner squats in a low horse stance and alternates punching with each fist.

The eighth movement of the Ba Duan Jin: Bouncing on the Toes

Bouncing on the Toes

The final movement of the Ba Duan Jin is to “smooth out” the Qi after practicing the first seven movements. The practitioner takes a breath, raises their heels, exhales sharply, and drops them to the ground.

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