Archive for the ‘chi (qi)’ Category

The Eight Brocades: a nifty little exercise

July 26th, 2016 No comments

On a 2007 trip to China, we were introduced to a little exercise called “The Eight Brocades,” “Eight Pieces of Brocade,” or baduanjin. Our instructor was a tall, beautiful dancer and Kung Fu expert whom we nicknamed “Jade.” She was one of those people who could stand on one leg and slowly extend her other leg up until it touched her head. No hands. Geeez.

Baduanjin is a little qigong (Chi Gong, Chi Kung) exercise that can be done whenever you want. It’s meant to be done slowly and with awareness of all your parts’ working together.

Dr. Shin Lin, a clever researcher (and good guy) at University of California Irvine has studied qigong since the sixties. He, and others have said that to be a qigong exercise, a moving exercise requires three elements:

  1. movement (duh)
  2. breathing
  3. intention

I know what you’re saying: “standing practice can’t be qigong, because you don’t move.” Well, zhan zhuang is referred to as standing qigong. Do it for a while, and that will make sense.

Back to the three elements: baduanjin is based on movement, but requires the other two in order to become more than just a gentle calisthenic. We need to synchronize our breathing with our movements, always keeping it deep, but gentle. Check out this little animation to help slow down your breathing.

There’s a standing and sitting baduanjin set, but I, like most people, do a standing set. However, I do it in a slightly different order from that of the set described on Wikipedia. Instead, I do the sections in the order taught to us by Jade:

  1. Hands Hold up the Heavens
    • I keep the arms round, not too close to the chest. I keep them slightly bent at the ends of the motion.
  2. Separate Heaven and Earth
    • I turn palms out relative to the sternum: palms up when above it, palms down when below it.
  3. Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle / Hawk / Vulture
    • Breathe in when the arms come in, out when they go out.
  4. Wise Owl Gazes Backwards or Look Back
    • relax in order to maintain your balance.
    • See if you tend to shift to one side or the other, and gently compensate so you stay balanced.
  5. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
  6. Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist
  7. Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (or Angrily)
  8. Bouncing on the Toes

But you may ask: “what does this do? What’s the point?” Good question! Qigong practitioners make a lot of specific claims that seem pretty odd to westerners, but because they require some sensitive and complex navigation (well, I think so) I’ll have to tackle them in another post.

Caveat: to me, it’s not a stretching exercise. If you do it as a stretch, you’re doing a stretch, not qigong, in my opinion. By all means, stretch, but do it in addition to a non-stretching qigong version. By “qigong version,” I mean that as we do the exercise, we need to be sensitive to our feeling of physical unity and our physical energy. The energy feeling is pretty subtle, and can be misinterpreted pretty easily. I’ll go into my impressions of it later.

If you look for examples on the web, you’ll find a few different ways of doing the exercise. When I find a video that matches what I do, I’ll link to it. If you do start, pick a method (or order) that seems right to you. However, you should be prepared to change over time as you discover what actions feel best to you. I’ll write about my progress.

Right now, let’s just say that if it’s done slowly, with synched breathing and awareness of the feeling of how the body’s parts integrate, all parts moving and stopping together, the exercise helps me get going and focus in the morning. More to come.


One example of baduanjin. . If the left column were numbered down 1,2,3,4, and the left column were 5,6,7,8, I would follow this diagram in the order 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 7, 5, 8, just because that’s the way I learned it.

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July 5th, 2016 No comments

Check this out:

Animated expanding geometric form.

In praise of standing (again)

June 13th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve been off Zhan Zhuang (jam jong), or standing practice for a little while, being busy with school and work, but it’s time to get back into it. Returning to a practice after having been away usually gives me a new insight into it, though usually a small one. Sometimes I come back with some skill, effectively resetting the “beginner’s mind”, but usually I just return somewhat refreshed.

In the case of standing, I’ve had some time to think about what it has done for me in between standing sessions — you know, when I’m moving around like a normal person. At those times, I pay close attention to where my weight is, how I’m balanced, and I also notice little anomalies in my body sooner, leading me to avoid the habits that caused them. In general, standing has helped me get to know my body better, and not by learning anatomical vocabulary (useful though that may be for communicating about the body). No, standing has helped me find my balance, use my weight to act on things yet stay physically centered and find an optimal way of interacting with the forces of the real world.

Yes, stand in one spot for a while and see the world. An inner worlds, I guess. Stand long enough — properly — and you’ll begin to adjust your position and alignment until your weight is distributed by a greater and greater number of your muscles, tendons and bones. The more body parts that help out, the less work each one has to do. Now of course, there’s an optimization here: some parts are not involved. However … given that most standing postures involve the arms being held up, this allows you to engage body parts that would be limp if you didn’t have to hold your arms up.

So what? Well, I’ve found that not only is there a structural reason to involve a number of systems in standing, there’s an energetic reason too. Now I’m not going to get all “chi” on you, but I’ll just say that when I place a relaxed attention on part of my body, I get a pleasant tingle. When I can enlarge the area to which I’m attending, the tingle gets stronger. When the whole body is being attended to, the tingle is really something, and I feel like jumping up and running around the block. It’s quite something.

It’s hard, as I’ve written before, but I’m now remembering how good it felt when I did it regularly.

(Holy cow, was I ever off-center back then.)

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Hand stand?

February 24th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t done Zhan Zhuang in a couple of months. As far as I can tell, these are the consequences I’ve noticed so far:

  • reduced body sensitivity
  • reduced level of energy
  • reduced ability to do Zhan Zhuang (well, that’s a no-brainer)

The first one became manifest in a small way at Mr. Rosenfeld’s Tai Chi workshop. During an exercise, he corrected my hands, saying that they were too tense and needed to be softened. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had forgotten the feedback mechanisms that I had developed (to some small extent) because of Zhan Zhuang. In other words, it was hard for me to tell whether my hands were soft or not. (This processing delay may explain the dumb look I gave Mr. Rosenfeld at the time.) I then attempted to implement the correction, but it felt very manual, deliberate and clunky. In contrast, a few months ago, if I had been given the correction at all, I probably would have recalled immediately what soft hands felt like and been able to return to that state by recalling the slightly tingling, open, “un-anchored” sensation of soft hands … as I’ve experienced it, anyway.

Guess I’ve got some work to do. More standing? More standing.

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