Ba Duan Jin or Eight Piece Brocade #1
by Jim Dees

One of the most simple yet profound exercises that Yan Gaofei has taught me is Ba Duan Jin. This is also known as eight piece brocade. This is a fairly well known and popular set of eight exercises which is performed daily to promote flexibility and internal health. As you will soon see, the flexibility portion of the exercises is obvious. What many people do not appreciate is how the set promotes good health. Just as in the forms of the internal martial arts, the specific movements serve to open pathways of chi and massage certain internal organs. This set of exercises originated in the Shaolin Temple. Even today this set is one of the first things that the new monks are taught once they have been accepted into the Temple. This shall be the first of two article detailing Ba Duan Jin. I will explain the first four exercises here and save the last four for the next issue of IMAR.

The key to learning these exercises is not so much trying to mimic the movements as trying to duplicate the feeling. In each exercise I will explain the basic movements and breathing pattern. Equally important is that you strive for the feeling that I describe in each exercise. Without the feeling you will not be benefiting internally.

The first exercise is SUPPORTING HEAVEN. Begin by standing with you feet about shoulder width apart. Relax and clear your mind. As you inhale slowly, raise you hands up along your center line and over your head. Keep the body straight. Rotate your hands so that your palms face up and the tips of your middle fingers should be pointing toward each other. If you lack the flexibility to point the fingers, just do the best you can and do not force anything. As your hands raise your head follows until you are also looking up . Your hands shall be rotating to maintain the alignment of the finger tips as you push your palm toward the sky. You should FEEL the areas along your sides from your waist to your arm pit stretch and open up. Hold this position for a few seconds and exhale slowly as your hands separate and go back down to your sides. This exercise improves your digestion and aids in the absorption of food into your system. Perform this exercise eight times.

The second exercise is BOW AND ARROW. Begin this exercise by getting into a horse stance. Keep the body straight. Start with your hands in front of your sternum with loosely clenched fists. Look to the left and you will begin to slowly inhale as the left hand extends to the side at shoulder level. At the same time the right hand is drawing back as if you are going to shoot an arrow from the imaginary bow. You should FEEL the sternum just above the solar plexus open. It may take a while to feel this but you should focus your execution of this exercise with that goal in mind. Hold the posture for a few seconds and exhale as the hands return to their starting position in front of your chest. Repeat the exercise on the other side as you look to the right and slowly inhale. The benefit of this exercise is in the opening of the lungs. Repeat this exercise four times on each side.

The third exercise is called HOLDING UP ONE ARM. This is probably requires the most co-ordination to learn. But, I did it so you can too. Begin with your feet about an inch or two apart. As you begin to inhale slowly, look over your left shoulder. As you begin to look over your shoulder, the right hand is rising along your center and reaching above the head as it slowly rotates counterclockwise to its maximum. Keep the body straight The palm is facing up. Simultaneously, the left hand is extending to the rear directly behind the small of the back as it rotates clockwise. The palm faces down. Rotate the body to its maximum without straining as the right hand pushes up and the left hand pushes down. Hold this posture for a few seconds and the exhale slowly as you return to face front and perform the exercise on the opposite side. You will then be looking over your right shoulder while inhaling. The left hand will now be rotating palm side up in a clockwise direction over your head. The right hand is facing palm down as it pushes and rotates counterclockwise near the small of your back. The FEELING here, besides initial confusion, is an opening all along the side of the body and a bit of the abdominal area along the same side as the raised hand. This exercise helps the spleen and stomach. Perform this four times on each side.

The fourth exercise is much simpler. It is called LOOKING BACKWARD. Begin with your feet together and your palms at your sides. Rotate your upper body 180 degrees to the left as you inhale while leaving your feet facing straight ahead. Keep the body straight Hold the posture for a few seconds and exhale as you return to face forward. Repeat the exercise to the right side. The FEELING here is a massaging of the area between the shoulder blades. This is the same area where a parent pats on the back of a child to calm him/her down when upset. The purpose of this exercise is to calm the body and eliminate moodiness. Perform this four times on each side.

I have been doing these exercise every day for 7 months and have personally benefited a great deal. While they are quite simple please do not dismiss them as simplistic. Like so many things in the internal martial arts, a lot of thought went into the movements and method of breathing. Give the exercises a chance and concentrate on the feeling. In the next issue I shall detail the remaining four exercises.

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