Tuesday, August 20, 2013

8 Exercises for Fitness, Healing, and Longevity - Part 1

The Eight Pieces of Beautiful Silk Brocade Chi Kung (Ba Duan Jin Qigong) is a very popular Chi Kung Form.    Chi Kung (Dao-yin, Yang Sheng Gong, Qigong) are Various Ancient Chinese Exercise and Fitness Practices.

Research by Michael P. Garofalo

This post is Part 1, to find Part 2, 3, 4,5 and Part 6 follow the links below

Part 5
Part 6

     The use of calisthenics, stretching, and breathing exercises to maintain good health, fight disease, and enhance the quality of life is of great antiquity. This type of physical activity has a long documented history in both India and China.  
     Interesting theories abound about the origin and development of the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung.  It is likely that ancient dances, medical theory, military drills and exercises, shamanistic rituals, and Buddhist and Taoist practices were all sources for the specific and formal movement routines of Dao-yin or Chi Kung (Qigong). 

Literature that talks about such health and fitness exercise postures or routines, with some movements quite similar to movements in the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung, goes back nearly 2,500 years. 
"All Chi Kung exercises are intended to improve health, increase energy, revitalize the body and mind, prevent or control disease, tone the internal organs, improve balance, reduce stress, boost the immune system, remove toxins, tone the muscles and tendons, uplift mood, contribute to longevity, and provide an integrated mind-body practice leading towards enlightenment and harmony with the Tao.  Take some confidence in this promise, "Every person who uses Qi cultivation methods consistently experiences some form of health improvement and personal access to greater energy and power"
-  Roger Jahnke, OMD, The Healing Promise of Qi, 2002, p. 31. 
After you learn Eight Section Brocade, I strongly recommend to proceed to standing exercises that are usually called Zhan Zhuang. 
Zhan Zhuang - Foundation of Internal Martial Arts
Standing exercises (Zhan Zhuang) can positively affect every cell and every organ in the human body, improve the functioning of respiratory and vascular systems, and also improve metabolism. In other words, they activate the whole human organism.
Standing Qigong/Meditation produced superior results

Learning the Eight Section Brocade

    I enjoy doing the movements of the Eight Section Brocade at a moderate pace, doing up to 8 repetitions of each movement, and using the breathing patterns and the order of the movements as presented below.  I tend to do the set in a relaxed and easy manner, and primarily for loosening and stretching.  Occasionally, I do the Eight Treasures very slowly, with emphasis placed on breathing, energy movement and gathering, and for meditation.  What is most important is doing the entire set once each day, and using a pace that is suitable to your current level of physical conditioning.
     Move with intention.  Imagine willing a movement and executing the movement precisely. Imagine gently and carefully moving an infant.  Imagine driving a motorcycle in bad road conditions as if your life depended on every movement you make.  Use whatever imagery or mind-set you need to concentrate on the exercise movements.  Be focused!!  Pay full attention to the movements while moving, knowing exactly where and how to move, and where and when to stop on a dime.  

     In traditional Taoist practices, the teachers speak about the need to do this exercise routine for a minimum of 100 days before any benefits become noticeable, and before you decide to stop doing the exercise.  The cultivation of the "Dan Tien" or "Field of Elixir", like the cultivation of any garden or field, requires work (Kung) over an extended period of time before the crop grows to harvest size.  The long term cultivation of the "Field of Elixir" or "Orchard of Elixir" demands that we continue these qigong  exercises for many years to assure longevity and to aim towards attaining the special powers of a chen-jenor "realized being."  The ancients Taoists said,  
"Only after a hundred days of concentrated work is the light real;
Only then is it the fire of spirit.
To set up the Foundation requires a hundred days."
-   The Secret of the Golden Flower, Translated by Thomas Cleary, p. 17, 49.  
    Most people will enjoy and benefit greatly from doing the Eight Section Brocade in a relaxed (Sung) manner.  The use of intense muscular contractions, excessive stretching, or aggressive movements are counterproductive. 
Relax, breathe naturally and fully, move slowly, sink into the earth, become like freely moving water, be soft, be gentle.  Don't be attached to your ordinary mind of free associations, worries, and concerns - observe them and then release them into the past.  Free your mind of mundane concerns and cultivate calmness, inner peace, and not thinking.  Allow yourself to feel your body and take pleasure from it during the movements.  Be present in the here and now. 

     There are many books, manuals and videos that are available to help you to learn the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung.   I have provided below a detailed bibliography including references to books, DVDs, links, resources, authorities, etc. 

    Millions of people practice Ba Duan Jin Qigong and could teach you to do the form in less than an hour.  I have also tried to provide you with some instructions for learning the form, as well as related background information.  For each movement I give the variations of the movement, alternative names, health benefits, and general comments.   

In this post I am only going to go over the starting position and the first movement. There is just too much information to be included in one post.

"Breathing in and out in various manners, spitting out the old and taking in the new, walking like a
bear and stretching their neck like a bird to achieve longevity - this is what such practitioners of
Dao-yin, cultivators of the body and all those searching for long life like Ancestor Peng, enjoy."
Chuang-tzu, Chapter 15, circa 300 BCE.  


Starting and Resting Position, Wuji

1.    Pressing Up to the Heavens with Two Hands
2.    Drawing the Bow and Letting the Arrow Fly
3.    Separating Heaven and Earth
4.    Wise Owl Gazes Backward     
5.    Big Bear Turns from Side to Side    
6.    Punching with an Angry Gaze    
7.    Touching the Toes then Bending Backwards
8.    Shaking the Body 
Ending Practice Options: Self Massage, Wuji, Standing Meditation, Magic Pearl Qigong, Dragon Qigong, Taijiquan

"Both hands carry heaven to regulate the triple burner.
Draw the bow left and right as if to shoot a vulture.
Regulate spleen and stomach by lifting one hand.
Remedy the 5 symptoms and 7 disorders by looking backward.
Turn the head and swing the tail to eliminate heart-fire.
Clench fists and look angry to increase qi and strength.
Two hands grab the feet to strengthen kidneys and waist.
Jolt the back 7 times and hundred illnesses will disappear."
-  Translated by Hielke Hylkema

Starting and Resting Position while Standing: Wu Ji

Stand up straight.

Your feet should be close togethe
r - touching each other. 
This aids in the improvement of balance; however, a stance with the feet 7"-15" apart may be more productive and efficient for many persons.  

The toes should be pointed straight ahead.

Both feet should be flat on the floor. 

The weight should be equal on both feet.

Don't lean to one side or the other.

Relax your body.
Stay balanced and centered.

Clear you mind and set aside the work and worries of the day.

Your face should seem happy, joyful, reflecting an "Inner Smile".
Smile!  Refer to Mantak Chia's comments on the "Inner Smile."

Keep your head up and look forward.

Your eyes should be open, with a soft and wide angle focus.

Breathe in and out in a relaxed, easy, and regular manner.

Keep your lips parted slightly.

Your arms should hang down in a relaxed manner at your sides.

The palms of your hands should face your thighs.  

Relax the shoulders and let them hang down.

Some recommend that you keep the tip of your tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth.

    This posture is often called the "Wu Ji Posture" in Taijiquan.  

    Students should note that the Wuji posture is very similar to the Yoga posture of Tadasana - the Mountain Pose.  It is also called the Samasthiti pose in Hatha Yoga.  We should stand like a Mountain: strong, stable, unmoving, grand, still, aloof, above the mundane, powerful, accepting but unbroken by the storms of ideas, emotions and worries.  The arms are held out from the body by 8"-10" in Tadasana.  Reference:  Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar, 1977, p.61-62.

    The very best book on the power of Wuji qigong is by Jan Diepersloot:  Warriors of Stillness: Meditative Traditions in the Chinese Martial Arts.
 Also refer to Jan Diepersloot's Tao of Yiquan: The Method of Awareness in the Martial Arts.

  Simply standing can have great benefit to body and mind. 

After completing each of the eight movements in the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung, then use Wu Ji as the transition:
Return you left foot back into the Wu Ji position to rest and realign the body-mind. 
Wu Ji signals the end of one movement and the beginning of the next movement. 
Wu Ji is called "Mountain Pose" Tadasana in Hatha Yoga.
Bring your feet closer together or have heels touching.
Keep the knees slightly bent.
Enjoy some cleansing breaths.  Opening/Closing.
Stand up straight and tall.  Lift the head.  Tuck the chin inward a little.
Loosen Up, Soften, Merge and Relax.
Feel yourself sinking and rooting into the Earth.
Free up the mind, reduce thinking, forget, become outside more.
Wu Ji is the fertile nothingness that precedes Yin and Yang, an empty and free state of being conscious, the still place before movement, the Zhong Ding of the Tao, a stop-rest-pause stop, an orgasm of the Chaos of Emptiness at the Big Bang, a transition point in the exercise routine, etc. 

"When you see excellence, you should try to surpass it.
When you see the opposite, examine yourself."
-   Lao Tzu

1.  Pressing Up to the Heavens with Two Hands

Starting Position:  Wu Ji

Movement Name: Pressing the Sky with Two Hands, Lifting the Heavens with Two Hands, Holding Up the Sky
Step out with your left leg into a comfortable and wide horse stance.

The toes should point at about 45 degrees to the outside.
Lift your arms up to your shoulders, palms down.  Inhale.

Your palms should be up, with your fingers slightly apart.

Draw the arms down in front of the body as you squat down and bend your back.  Exhale.

Bring both hands together, palms facing up.

Imagine energy from your body intermingling with energies from the Earth through the Yong Quan (Bubbling or Gushing Well) acupressure and acupuncture point on the front center of your feet.  Yong Quan is an endpoint on the Kidney meridian.
Imagine scooping up some water from a lake or the ocean.

Draw both hands, palms up, up the center line of the body as you rise up out of the squat and straighten the upper body.

Inhale as you draw the arms up to your face.

When moving up imagine your internal energy (Chi) moving up from your waist, up your spine, and into your head.
Imagine the energy of the air, sky and the Heavens filling your lungs and whole being.

The fingers of each hand should point to each other, and be kept about 2 to 4 inches apart.
When your hands reach your face, turn the palms to face outward. 
Raise both hands up until you reach your forehead.
Press your arms upward and outwards in front or your body. Exhale.
The arms should press out at a 20 to 45 degree angle from the body, do not press the arms straight up.
Keep your wrists bent so your fingers point to each other.
Keep your fingers 2  to 4 inches apart.
Gently stretch the whole body upward as the arms press upward.
Rise your heels up slightly as your hands reach their maximum height.
Keep your head looking forward as your arms move up, keep a wide angle focus to your eyes, and follow your hands with your eyes.
Imagine energy from your body intermingling with energy from the Heavens through the Lao Gong (Palace of Labor) acupressure and acupuncture point on the center of your palms.  Lao Gong is connected with the Heart and is a pericardium meridian endpoint.
Stretch your arms up to the limit of your comfort zone, then begin the downward cycle of the movement.

Turn the palms outward and down as you circle both arms out and down.
Continue to slowly exhale as your arms move down.
Return your feet to a flat footed position.
Gently tighten your abdomen as your exhale.
When moving your hands down imagine moving energy from the Heavens and from your head and lungs down the front of your body into your waist area - into the center of your being in your Dan Tien or Field of Elixir (about three inches below and behind your navel).
Keep your head looking forward as your arms move down, keep a wide angle focus to your eyes, and follow your hands with your eyes.  Keep both hands in your field of vision as your hands move down.
Begin to squat and bend forward as the arms reach the legs in their downward arc. 
Draw the arms down in front of the body as you squat down and bend your back.  Exhale.
Bring both hands together, palms facing up.
Imagine scooping up some water from a lake or the ocean.
Draw both hands, palms up, up the center line of the body as you rise up out of the squat and straighten the upper body.
Inhale as you draw the arms up to your face.                 
Generally, inhale when moving up, exhale when moving down.  Make adjustments in your breathing as needed.    
Repeat "Pressing the Sky" 2, 3, 6, 9, or 12 times.   Whatever number of repetitions are chosen for the first exercise should be duplicated in each of the other exercises.  I prefer 6 repetitions with a count of four to six seconds on the inhale, and a count of four to six seconds on the exhale. 

Return you left foot back into the Wu Ji position to rest and realign the body-mind.  

Wu Ji signals the end of one movement and the beginning of the next movement. 

Bring your feet closer together or have heels touching.
Keep the knees slightly bent.
Enjoy some cleansing breaths.  Opening/Closing.
Stand up straight and tall.  Lift the head.  Tuck the chin inward a little.
Loosen Up, Soften, Merge and Relax.
Feel yourself sinking and rooting into the Earth.
Free up the mind, reduce thinking, forget, become outside more.
Wu Ji is the fertile nothingness that precedes Yin and Yang, an empty and free state of being conscious, the still place before movement, the Zhong Ding of the Tao, a stop-rest-pause stop, an orgasm of the Chaos of Emptiness at the Big Bang, a transition point in the exercise routine, etc. 
Breathe naturally a few times.  These are often called "cleansing breaths."  Sometimes the arms are raised up in front of the body to about chest height while breathing in through the nose, and then the arms are lowered to the sides as one exhales through the mouth.  Use as many "cleansing breaths" as needed to help you relax, lower your heartbeat, and compose yourself.  Another transitional movement could be the Opening Hands and Closing Hands (He Shou, Kai Shou) movement of the Sun 73 Form.

Again, this neutral, standing position is often referred to as Wu Ji -  the place before movement, an empty and free state of being, the fertile nothingness that precedes Yin and Yang.  Some Chi Kung enthusiasts stand in this position for many minutes, doing nothing, bothering nobody, not interfering, minding their own business (wu wei). 

Variations of the 1st Movement
 (Pressing Up to the Heavens with Two Hands) The Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung 
a)   This is the most common version of Pressing Up Heaven with Two Hands that I have seen, done, or read about.
Don't squat.  Keep the knees slightly bent.
Remain standing up straight during the whole movement.
Bring the hands to the Dan Tien (waist area) with your palms facing up.
Draw both hands up the center line of the body, palms up.
Inhale while drawing the hands up.
When the hands reach the face area, turn both palms and face the palms outward and slightly upward.
The thumbs can touch the forehead.
Begin to exhale.
Press both arms up from the forehead, keeping the wrists flexed and the palms facing out.
Press up the arms has high as you can.
Raise the heels slightly.
Stretch upward.
Also called "Supporting Heaven" or "Holding up the Void."
When you reach the maximum upward press, then release the arms.
Allow the arms to trace a graceful arc downward.
Exhale completely on the way down and begin to inhale.
As the arms come down, the palms face down.
When the hands reach the waist area, then bring the hands back to the center line, palms facing up.
Breathe in when lifting arms up, breath out when pressing upward. 
Some teachers have you interlace your fingers as you move your hands from the forehead upwards.  
Demonstration by Mike Garofalo of Movement #1: Pressing Heaven with Two Hands (2005, 175Kb, Animated GIF) 
b)  My version involves some squatting as the arms come down to scoop up water.  I think that the squats or deep horse stances of Drawing the Bow (2), Punching with Angry Eyes (6), and Pressing Up to the Heavens with Two Hands (1) give the body a more challenging workout.  Most teachers of Movement 1 of the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung do not squat.  Their movement concentrates on the shoulders, arms, upper back, and chest muscles.  I prefer a little more leg work in my version.
    I would like the title for this Movement 1 to be "Scoop Up the Sea and Carry to the Top of the Mountain" or "Scoop Up the River Water and Present It to the Heavens."  Earth low, Heavens high, Water both low and high.  I liked Maoshing Ni's (R12) titles of "Water and Fire Meet, Bringing the Sea to the Top of the Mountain." 

c)  Don't Squat.
Remain standing up straight during the whole movement.
Use Reverse Breathing (Taoist or Reverse breathing).
Breathe out when your arms are pressed upward/outward, breath in when your arms return down.
When breathing in gently tighten your abdomen and expand your chest.
When breathing out expand your abdomen and sink the chest.
Do the movements very slowly when you begin Reverse Breathing techniques.
Note: It is best to begin with Regular breathing (Buddhist style): relax and expand your abdomen as you inhale and slightly compress/tighten the abdomen as you exhale.  Breathe into your belly.  Don't expand the chest very much.)  
d)  The arm movements of this exercise can be done while seated or while walking.  
e)  Some emphasize lifting the elbows up, with the hands, so to speak, being just along for the ride.   This style lifts the scapula and shoulders up for a stretch, and flexes the trapezes muscles more.  I recommend keeping the shoulders down in Movement #1.  
f)  Some begin the movements by stepping out with the right leg instead of the left leg.  Having a Yang style taijiquan background, I generally open with the left leg stepping to the right.  Feet are parallel, toes facing forward.  
g)  You can practice the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung indoors alone or with a small group.  Select a quiet room or space in your home.  Taoist and Druid artwork indoors is enhancing. Silence is cultivated during your practice.  However, sometimes, you might try doing Chi Kung to some soft, New Agey, melodic, ethereal music.  
h)  Doing Chi Kung outdoors in the early morning, when it is not windy or bitter cold, is always recommended by Chi Kung teachers and masters.  I enjoy doing the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung on my screened back porch.     
i)  You can raise your heels and balance on your toes when you push both arms up to the sky.     
j)   Do only two repetitions in a very slow and deliberate manner with little muscular effort.  Keep your feet flat on the floor at all times during the movement.

Health Benefits of Movement 1: Pressing Up to the  Heavens with Two Hands) The Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung

Deep soft breathing helps to lower your heartbeat and blood pressure.
Stretching helps contribute to the relaxation of stiff and tense muscles.
Standing up straight helps realign the back muscles and the spine.
Many Chinese healers believe that this exercise helps regulate and improve the heart, lungs, stomach, spleen, and liver.  It stimulates the internal organs in the upper trunk area.  The Triple Warmer or Triple Burner (Sanjiao) refers to the heart, lungs, and stomach.
A clear and peaceful mind reduces negative stress on the body.
Shoulders, pectorals and triceps are exercised a little in this exercise.
Bending the knees exercises the front thighs.
Squatting down exercises the leg muscles including the thighs (quadriceps), hamstrings (biceps femoris), buttocks (glutes), calves (gastrocnemius), iliopsoas, and increases demands on the cardio-vascular system.


Sat Chuen Hon, in his book Taoist Qigong, includes a movement sequence very similar to "Press Heaven with Two Hands" and using the healing sound "Hey", and considers these actions to be of great benefit to the health of the Triple Heater.   
Ba Duan Jin Exercise Set 1  Instructions, illustrations, video.  "Support the heaven with both hands regulate the three visceral cavities housing the internal organs (san jiao)."
It should be noted that traditional Chinese medicine does not ascribe to the same views on anatomy, physiology, or causation that are used in contemporary scientific bio-medical theories.  The "Spleen Organ" or "Heart Organ" in Chinese medicine have functions and attributes of a different nature than we might understand the heart or spleen in contemporary medicine.  For an excellent explanation of these concepts please read the bookThe Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, by Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D..  

Comments about Movement 1 (Pressing Up the Heavens with Two Hands)
The Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung 

Observations, Notes, Quotations, Reflections, Questions and Answers

"In order for this to have any beneficial effect on your health, approaching it with confidence, sincerity, and perseverance in practicing the exercises is very important. Only with confidence can you develop sincerity and focus your mind while exercising; only with sincerity can you persevere to practice and gain the essence of the exercises; and only with perseverance can you get the beneficial effects of the exercises and develop more interest in them."
By Jiawen Miao,  Eight Section Brocade Simple Fitness Exercises: Traditional Chinese Movements for Health & Rejuvenation.

    Each movement of the Eight Section Brocade has specific techniques for using your eyes.  Exercise your eyes in accordance with the instructions, e.g., following the movements of your hands, looking off into the distance, looking upward, keeping a wide angle focus of vision, etc.  In some ways, these exercises are similar in style to those developed by optometrists and vision improvement advocates such as William H. Bates, Jacob Liberman, Martin Sussman, or Aldos Huxley.  Learning to use your eyes in new ways and exercising your eye muscles are thought to be of benefit to your general well-being.  Chi Kung and internal martial arts are seen as intertwined; and acute, careful, alert and lively visual skills are essential to self-defense and success
as a martial artist.  Your safety is dependent upon seeing what is going on around you, keeping your eyes out for trouble, keeping your eyes peeled, and seeing what is coming up.  Do not neglect this important dimension of the Eight Treasures.   

    Most Qigong and Taijiquan routines emphasize "Respecting the Curves of the Body."  Your neck, back, legs, and arms are all naturally curved or bent in a particular direction.  It is always best for any posture in Qigong or Taijiquan to respect the natural curves.  Legs should be slightly bent; don't lock your knees.  Arms should be slightly bent; don't lock your elbows.  You should not move in ways that bend or curve the body away from or counter to their natural curve or bend.  To do so is to risk hyperextension, dislocation, and painful injuries to your muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, joints, or bones.  Whipping you neck backwards or twisting your back backwards are extremely dangerous.  Highly conditioned athletes (e.g., dancers, gymnasts, acrobats, jumpers, divers, contortionists, etc.) might be able to push the limits; but, ordinary folks, sensible people, need to be very careful and use restraint when doing some qigong exercise movements and postures.  Many fitness instructors remind their students to "mainatin a neutral spine" to avoid injury.  This general caution applies to all the postures of the Eight Section Brocade, and especially to some of the movements such as Touching the Toes and Bending Backwards.  

Generally, we begin a movement by lifting our left foot and moving it to the left.  We inhale as we lift the foot and exhale when the foot settles down into the floor.  Many taijiquan forms also begin with a step to the left.  

    Every beginner should stay within their comfort zone, don't over stretch, and be gentle with your body and mind.  Don't try to "exactly" imitate a fellow student who is an intermediate or advanced Chi Kung player or the teacher.   Know and respect your own body and mental state.  Don't go beyond your own personal bodily conditioning, skills, abilities and limits.  Some advise reducing your exertion levels and doing 30% to 40% less than you can do.   Be reasonable and kind to yourself.  Take your time, advance slowly, be careful, be patient, and remain injury free.  Sometimes, an old or new injury, or joint disease, will limit your range of motion.  Know your own strength and limitations - the practice of Chi Kung and Tai Chi forms will reveal to you your strengths and limitations.  Resolve to make two positive contributions today.  Stay within your comfort zone, explore with the body-mind, and renew-recreate both self-awareness and awareness of Self, and come to experience your comfort zone.  Float on the Wu-wei raft on the Tao River; when standing on Earth then root, soften, move.   

    The late Jane Hallander calls this movement "Holding the Moon (Peng Yue)" and describes and explains the purpose of the movement in "Tai Chi Chuan's Internal Secrets" (pp.16-17).  

    This movement is called "Hold the Moon and Reach for the Sun" and is described and illustrated in the book "Secrets of the Dragon Gate" (2011, pp. 36-39) by Steven Liu and Johathan Blank.  As you rise up from the squat your arms are positioned as if embracing or holding a large beach ball, i.e., the moon. 

The word "Heavens' (tian) has a number of meanings, including the abode of our ancestors, the cosmos, the universe of which we are part, a source of energy, and the skies above.  In part, the ideas of our civilization and our language do "hold up" that which we know about the "Heavens" and our ideas of the world beyond; and, in part, these realms are beyond our comprehension - beyond our grasp and holding power.  

In many ways this is just the delightful, restful, and natural movement of raising the arms and stretching upwards.  Some would say "nothing special" with a wink in their eye.  This is good!

This post is Part 1, to find Part 2, 3, 4,5 and Part 6 follow the links below

Part 5
Part 6


  1. I have been doing Qigong for 2 years and I know all of these! But I know them by different names (Lifting the Sky, Plucking Stars, Carrying the Moon, etc.). My Sifu is Anthony Korahais, but I have also learned from his Sifu (my Sigung) Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit. You have provided a ton of information here and I am going to take the time to go through it in more detail later. Thank you! I enjoy all of the information that you share on your blog. I have a couple of blog posts about Qigong, too :)

    1. Thanks Amanda, I have to check out your Qigong Blog posts. I used to do them, but now I practice the standing meditation and Nei Gong. There is just not enough time for everything. I feel these exercises are a good starting point for anyone who is just starting with Qigong.

  2. While spirituality is oftentimes mixed up with religiosity, they are actually different. Spiritual healing is not directly connected to a formal religion or belief system. Believers of spiritual healing consider all aspects of life that are unconnected to the physical self to be parts of a person's spiritual nature.

    Ilchi Lee