Ba Duan Jin
What is Ba Duan Jin?
Ba Duan Jin is a complete set of qi gong exercises that was passed down from ancient China. The term “Ba” in Ba Duan Jin means the number eight. “Duan” means section. Jin refers to brocade - a rich fabric, usually silk, woven with an elaborate design especially one with a raised overall pattern. This set of qi gong exercises was deemed by the ancients to be one of their favorite techniques of exercising due to its simple and elegant nature. It was given this name because the eight movements are graceful and have a rich set of benefits woven into each movement. These movements are relatively simple and can be practiced at any place or time. It is also easy to remember, easy to learn and easy to train. The method of training is flexible – it could be fast or slow, learned by people of all ages.
It can be said that Ba Duan Jin can be described as a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, traditional Chinese medicine and a long history of wisdom. Thus, the result is that it is very beneficial and will significantly yield positive health effects. As with other qigong forms, Ba Duan Jin helps to balance the yin and yang energies in the individual by regulating the qi and the internal organs. This is accomplished by focusing on the harmonization of the breath, movement, and spirit. As attention is brought to each part of the body in relation to the breath and movement, the qi is brought through the meridian channels to the organs regulated by those meridians to enhance the circulation as well as the vitality of that area. The end result is a strengthening of the muscles, bones and tendons making the body more flexible. In addition, the ability of the individual to focus is enhanced and the expression of the spirit is unencumbered. The overall benefit is an external life reflective of the harmony and strength developed internally, a life of harmony, vitality and longevity. The unison of the body, mind, and spirit is what we should aim to achieve when practicing qigong/kung fu.
The importance of the first two steps is that is helps adjust and regulate qi in the body. The purpose of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth movements of Ba Duan Jin is to promote treatment for the body. The seventh and eighth steps are strong movements specifically used to direct the flow of qi into the lower dantian.
The 8 Movements of “Ba Duan Jin”
1. Two Hands Hold up the Heavens
2. Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk
3. Separate Heaven and Earth
4. Wise Owl Gazes Backwards
5. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
6. Two Hands Hold the Feet
7. Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely
8. Bouncing on the Toes
Two Hands Hold up the Heavens
Starting in horse stance position with hands together in front of your lower dantian, begin to inhale as you lift your hands bending at the elbows with palms up through your centerline, gradually contracting your lower abdomen and simultaneously expanding your chest and directing the qi from the lower dantian up to your chest.As your hands pass your face, flip the palms upward and extend, stretching your legs, body and arms fully.Your feet should be firmly planted to the ground.Your legs, waist and back should be straight and your body fully extended at the end of the inhale.As you exhale, spread your arms out to the side and down returning your hands to their original position in front of the lower dantian.Simultaneously, you are gradually relaxing the chest muscles and then the lower back muscles and dropping the qi into the lower dantian and returning to the horse stance position with knees bent and pelvis tilted slightly to the back.Try to feel the Qi radiating outward toward your skin as you exhale.
This movement of reaching up with the arms and the full extension of the body will promote deep breathing and regulate breathing.It also helps to eliminate fatigue.It will help condition the triple burner and adjust the muscles, meridians, tendons, bones and internal organs to prepare them for exercise.
The main function of this movement is to regulate the “Triple Burner”.The term “triple burner” refers to one of six fu organs of the human body, which is a special concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).In TCM, the five zang (yin) organs are the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and spleen and their corresponding fu (yang) organs are the small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, bladder, and stomach, respectively.(Sometimes, the pericardium is referred to as the sixth zang organ.)The sixth fu organ is the “triple burner.”It does not have a corresponding anatomical organ in the human body.It is more like a complex of cavities outside or in between the Internal Organs.
The triple burner in the human body is a collective term for the upper, middle and lower burners.The upper burner is located above the diaphragm and includes the heart, lungs, and pericardium.The middle burner is located in the region above the belly button and below the diaphragm and includes the liver, spleen, stomach, and gall bladder.The lower burner is located below the belly button, and it includes the kidneys, bladder, large intestine and small intestine.
The triple burner functions to mobilize the Original Qi (Yuan Qi).That is, it is allows the Original Qi to differentiate into its different forms to perform different functions in
each organ.It also controls the dissemination of Qi throughout the body - the ascending/descending and entering/exiting of Qi in various organs and structures. It also controls the transformation, transportation and excretion of fluids.
The functions of the three burners were summarized in the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) as follows: “The upper burner acts like a mist.The middle burner acts like a foam.The lower burner acts like a swamp.”The upper burner is responsible for harmonizing the functions of heart and lungs, and governs respiration. With the Original (Yuan) Qi as catalyst, some of the Gu Qi from the middle burner is transformed into Zong (Gathering) Qi and then further refined into True (Zhen) Qi. This True (Zhen) Qi is called Wei Qi (Protective Qi) and is the qi that flows primarily in the superficial layers of the body, especially in the Tendino-Muscular meridians. It is the “Mist” dispersed from the upper burner by the lungs as sweat into the spaces between skin and muscles, the Membranes, the joint capsules, and all other cavities in the body. Part of the Gu Qi from the middle burner is also sent to the heart via the lungs, and transformed into qi and blood with the help of Yuan Qi and kidney qi. The Zhen (True) Qi that is in the blood is called Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi) and is circulated in the blood vessels as blood to nourish the internal organs and the whole body.
The middle burner is responsible for the extraction of qi from the intake of food and water into the stomach. “Foam” refers to the digestive churning produced by the middle burner, when the spleen and stomach transform and ripen food, and decomposes food into a foam. Food is first transformed into Gu Qi in the spleen.The Gu (Food) Qi is distributed via the meridian system to the lungs to be further converted into Ying (Nutritive) qi and blood.
The lower burner is responsible for the separation of food essences into pure and impure components.The pure is absorbed into the body via the small intestine and the impure is like the “swamp”.The liquid waste and excess water is excreted via the urinary bladder while the solid waste is eliminated via the large intestine.The lower burner is also the source of Original Qi, the basis of Kidney Qi at the Gate of Vitality meridian point (Ming Men) that fuels all the activities in the other organs and is ascended into the upper burner through the upward action of the liver and kidney yang.
If the triple burner is healthy and well, then all other systems will be well.
Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk
The movement: This movement starts in the horse stance position. Inhale. Contract your lower abdomen and draw the qi up to your chest while you shift into an empty stance resting your weight on your left leg with the right leg extended in front of your body (along the nose line). Simultaneously, draw the left hand into a fist to rest on the left hip while you bring the right arm up and extended out in front of your body. Your left shoulder is drawn as far back as possible while the right should is as far in front of the body as possible. On the exhale, the lower part of the body returns to the horse stance with the shoulders following your hips and you gradually relax the muscles in your chest and bring your qi downward. As you are returning to the horse stance position, draw the right elbow toward your center line (palm up) as you extend your left arm (palm up) over the right arm through your nose line. At the end of the exhale, your right hand is in a fist in front of your chest with the right elbow pointing to the right at shoulder level, your left hand fully extended to the left with the thumb and index finger making an “L” and the rest of the fingers curled in, your head is facing your extended left hand, and your qi is resting in your lower dantian.
On the second inhale, the lower part of your body moves from the horse stance to an empty stance with the weight on the right foot and the left foot in front of the body.As you begin the inhale, swing the right hand out to the right in a circular motion pulling it back into a fist to rest on your right hip while you drop your left hand by your side and extend it out and in front of your body (along the nose line).Your right shoulder is pulled back and the left shoulder is pulled forward to their limits.
On the exhale, the lower part of the body returns to the horse stance while you gradually relax the muscles in your chest downward and your shoulders follow the hips.As you are returning to the horse stance position, draw the left elbow toward your center line (palm up) as you extend your right arm (palm up) over the left arm through your nose line.At the end of the exhale, your left hand is in a fist in front of your chest with the left elbow pointing to the left at shoulder level, your right hand fully extended to the right with the thumb and index finger making a backward “L” and the rest of the fingers curled in, your head is facing your extended right hand, and your qi is resting in your lower dantian.
Benefits: This movement is very beneficial to the body. It helps to expand your rib cage, increase elasticity in shoulders and neck and increase blood circulation through these areas. It can stimulate the yin and yang meridians in your arms bringing more vitality to the heart, pericardium, lungs, triple burner, large intestine as well as small intestine. With frequent practice the circulation of blood and qi in the body will drastically improve.
Separate Heaven and Earth
This movement transitions from the previous movement by maintaining the stable horse stance and extending the bent left arm (rotating from the elbow) out to the left.The extended arms continue in a counter-clockwise motion until the bent left elbow ends up extended downward pointing toward the right side of the body while the right arm moves towards the head and the right elbow is lowered in front of the head until the right hand is at the left side of the face as if to protect that area.As the arms are rotating counter-clockwise, the shoulders turn from the waist to the limit (the left shoulder in front of the body).
With the weight on the left foot, step the feet together in a standing position.
On inhale, draw the right hand downward and the left hand upward as if the right hand is a sword sheath and the left arm is the sword.As you inhale, keeping your hips stable, turn your body from waist up to the right simultaneously creating an “S” with the right hand forming the lower part of the “S” (fingers pointing forward) and the left hand forming the upper part of the “S” (fingers pointing downward toward other hand) and your head turning to the right to focus on a spot on the wall behind you.
On exhale, draw the left elbow down along your center line to the right side of your face as you step out into a horse stance twisting your shoulders to the limit toward the left while the right arm points downward toward the left side of the body and your head faces forward.
With your weight on your right foot, step the feet together.
On inhale, draw the left hand downward and the right hand upward as if the left hand is a sword sheath and the right arm is the sword.As you inhale, keeping your hips stable, turn your body from waist up to the left simultaneously creating an “S” with the left hand forming the lower part of the “S” (fingers pointing forward) and the right hand forming the upper part of the “S” (fingers pointing downward toward the other hand) and your head turning to the left to focus on a spot on the wall behind you.
On exhale, draw the right elbow down along your center line to the left side of your face as you step out into a horse stance twisting your shoulders to the limit toward the right while the left arm points downward toward the right side of the body and your head faces forward.
To complete this series, keeping lower part of body in horse stance, inhale bringing arms together above your head and exhale spreading your arms out and down to the sides of the body.
The main purpose of practicing this movement is to adjust the spleen and stomach.
Through the force of the alternate and opposing pull of the arms, the abdominal cavity will follow along this motion, creating a “massaging effect” on the spleen and the stomach.As the spleen and stomach are vital in the digestion and absorption processes and are a main energy source of the body, enhancing their function improves the operation and efficiency of body tissues and other organs.The end result would be that the human body would be less prone to having diseases.
This movement also adjusts and regulates the liver and gall bladder when their corresponding meridians passing through both sides of the rib cage are stimulated during this movement.
Wise Owl Gazes Backwards
This movement begins in a standing position with the feet together or slightly apart with the hands closed in fists resting on the hips. On inhale, the practitioner fully extends the arms away from the body at a 45 degree angle (palms facing forward with fingers spread apart) while turning the head to the left and looking as far back as possible. Simultaneously, he is directing his qi up to the chest area, contracting his lower abdomen gradually upwards while expanding the lungs and chest area and relaxing the shoulders and upper back. The legs and back are fully extended.
On the exhale, the palms are rotated toward the center line and downward to the sides of the body. Simultaneously, the legs and sink down slightly as you direct the qi downward from the chest area toward the lower dantian. Meanwhile, the head is returned to the center facing forward by the end of the exhale.
This movement focuses primarily on the care and treatment of the human body. “Wu Lao Qi Shang” is a TCM concept medicine that is translated to “the five damages and seven injuries.” “Wu Lao” refers to the damage to the liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidney. It is expressed as “look for too long, and it will hurt your blood; sit for too long and it will hurt your muscles; stand for too long and it will hurt your bones; walk for too long and it will hurt your tendons and lay down for too long and it will hurt your qi.” This means that looking, sitting, standing, walking, and laying for too long will hurt and have negative impacts on the body. “Qi shang” refers to damage to our body caused by external elements and our incorrect way of life. Wind, rain, cold and heat will hurt the body. Sitting on wet surfaces for too long will hurt the kidney and drinking too many cold beverages will hurt the lungs. Overeating, for instance, hurts the spleen while anger causes damage to the liver. Being sad, or worrying too much will hurt the heart. Being constantly fearful will harm the spirits.
This movement is meant to treat the imbalances caused by these five damages and seven injuries. To properly execute this movement, practitioners must keep in mind the following: they must look back as the head turns and their eyes must be focused to the back. The purpose of this movement is to train the spinal cord. The spinal cord is very important because all of the body’s yang energy flows through this point. These damages will damage the yang in our bodies. By looking back and focusing the eyes to the back we twist our spinal cord to enhance the role of the yang, which will help prevent diseases and external damages. Through the extension and rotation of the arms in this movement, the 3 yin and 3 yang meridians located in the arms are activated and the corresponding organ systems (heart, pericardium, lungs, large intestine, triple burner, and the small intestine) are thus enhanced.
Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
This movement of the Ba Duan Jin starts in standing position with the feet wider than the shoulders. On the inhale, the hands are drawn up through the center line (palms up) as the legs start to extend and the qi is directed upward toward the chest. The palms are turned upward as the hands passes the face. At the end of the inhale, the body is fully extended with arms extended above the head (palms up, fingers touching), the feet pushing against the floor, the abdomen contracted and the qi up in the fully expanded chest area.
On the exhale, direct the qi toward the lower dantian as you spread the arms out and down (as the hands drop below the hip level, turn the palms such that the thumbs are pointing to the body and the fingers are pointing toward the opposite hand) ending with the hands on the thighs and the legs in a horse stance.
On the second inhale, empty the abdomen, tuck the chin to the chest, turn the shoulders from the waist as far to the left as they’ll go, and keeping the lower part of the body stable, drop your head toward the left knee stretching the right side of the body as much as possible; slowly draw your head downward toward the floor and then across to the right knee. As your head passes the center line of the body, press your left arm against your left thigh to turn your shoulders to the right as far as they’ll go while you stretch the left side of your body as far as possible opening your chest to the limit (and contracting your abdomen as much as you can). On the exhale, bring the body back upright to a centered horse stance.
On the next inhale, empty the abdomen, tuck the chin to the chest, turn the shoulders from the waist as far to the right as they’ll go, and keeping the lower part of the body stable, drop your head toward the right knee stretching the left side of the body as much as possible by pressing your left arm against your left thigh and draw your head toward the floor and then across to the left knee. As your head passes the center line of the body, press your right arm against the right thigh to turn your shoulders to the left as far as they’ll go while you stretch the right side of your body as far as possible opening your chest to the limit (and contracting your abdomen as much as you can). On the exhale, bring the body back back upright to a centered horse stance.
The purpose of this movement is to rid the body of xin huo, a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Xin huo literally translates into English as “Heart Fire.”
What exactly is xin huo? To answer this question, we must first understand the relationship between the internal organs. Chinese medicine studies the five internal organs and how they relate to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water.) Traditional Chinese Medicine places great emphasis on the importance of these relationships for the human body to function well.
For instance, between water and fire, fire is considered to be the heart. This has two meanings: one meaning heat and the second is that the heat can rise. If the heat rises in the heart, then this will lead to xin huo symptoms (ie. insomnia, palpitation, mania, delirium). To control this, we must use the element water (kidney organ system) to balance this. Through this exercise, the bladder complements the kidney qi and promotes renal water to rise. Water must always go down, but if too much goes down it will cause the legs to become swollen and heavy. So in the body, kidney and heart must be balanced in order to be healthy. If the heat in the heart descends, then it can warm up the kidney. The main goal is to balance the kidney and the heart to prevent the xin huo symptoms.
This movement stimulates the “du mai,” heart, and kidney meridians.
Note: Since the range of motion and physical strain of this movement is high, those with hypertension or are elderly need to practice this in moderation. Do not overuse this movement to safeguard against dizziness, discomfort, falls and other accidents or incidents.
Two Hands Hold the Feet
On the inhale, bring the hands (palms up and fingers touching) up through the center line, flipping the palms up as the hands pass the face. Simultaneously, contract the lower abdomen and direct the qi upward. At the end of the inhale, the body is fully extended with the abdomen and lower back muscles tightly contracted and the qi up in the fully expanded chest, the feet firmly pressing against the floor and the spirit lifted.
On the exhale, bring the arms down through the center line with palms down and elbows out to the sides. Allow the fingers to trace the center line stopping at the belly button. Resting the palms on the abdomen, sweep the hands around the waist to the lower back and while bending forward at the waist, direct the qi down pressing firmly the back of both legs with the palms until the palms reach the ankles. Without breaking contact to the feet, swivel the palms from the back of the feet around the outside of the ankles, rest the palms on top of the feet about a third of the way from the tip of the toes. Press the feet to the ground as you press the hands on the feet.
While in that position, look up.
On the inhale, stretch both hands out in front of the body and come up with flat back, again directing the qi upward as you come up. Again, at the end of the inhale, the body is fully extended with the abdomen and lower back muscles tightly contracted and the qi up in the fully expanded chest, the feet firmly pressing against the floor and the spirit lifted.
To complete this movement, exhale, bring the arms down through the center line with palms down and elbows out to the sides. Allow the fingers to trace the center line until both hands cannot go further down; then, allow the arms to naturally fall to the sides of the body.
The meeting of the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet during this movement is based on the most essential feature in the “heart and kidney intersect method.” According to TCM, The yang Heart belongs to the Fire element and is in the Upper Burner and the yin Kidneys belong to the Water element and is located in the Lower Burner on either side of the spinal cord. In the middle of the palm, there is a pressure point call Lao Gong and it is an important point in the Xin Bao (pericardium) meridian. In the soles of the feet, there is a pressure point called Yong Quan (Bubbling Spring), which is the starting point of the kidney meridian. This movement promotes the "mutual support of Fire and Water” where the Heart Yang descends to warm Kidney Yin and the Kidney Yin ascends to nourish the Heart Yang.
In addition, through inhaling and exhaling, the abdominal cavity, waist and back muscles and the meridians will be stimulated. In the waist area, there are many meridians such as “leg san yang” (stomach, urinary bladder and gall bladder meridians) and “Du Mai (governing channel)” which are both located in the lower back. The back of the waist between the kidneys is the “Gate of Life (Ming Men)” which sources the energy necessary for the production of Marrow (which includes the bones, bone marrow, brain and spinal cord) as well as all other functions related to the transformation and transportation of qi in the body. The kidneys also govern the absorption, transportation and elimination of water in the body and the reception of Qi from the Lungs. The kidneys are also responsible for reproductive development. Thus, if practiced correctly, this movement will create a vertical massaging effect and stretch on the back, from the Du Mai opening from our tail bone through the spine to the top of the head. The movement will help regulate qi and blood while also improving the meridian system as well as all bodily functions and protects the body from disease and sickness. It will also balance yin and yang.
This movement requires a good amount of flexibility so those who are elderly or have poor health (poor cardiovascular health, brain diseases) must use caution and practice slowly.
Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (or Angrily)
This movement begins in the horse stance with the head facing left; the left hand to the side with palm out and right arm resting across abdomen toward left arm with thumb down and palm out.
On inhale, extend both hands out and up to shoulder level while you contract your abdomen and direct the qi up into your chest as you expand your ribs. Simultaneously, press your feet down to straighten out your legs until your body is fully extended.
On the exhale, while rotating the palms to face down as you clench them into fists, sink your qi and sink lower in the horse stance.
Turn your shoulders to the right as you turn your head to the right, allowing the arms to naturally follow. The right hand is at the side with palm out and the left arm is resting across abdomen toward right arm with thumb down and palm out.
On the second inhale, extend both hands out and up until they are level with your right shoulder while you contract your abdomen and direct the qi up into your chest as you expand your ribs. Simultaneously, press your feet down to straighten out your legs until your body is fully extended.
On the exhale, while rotating the palms to face down as you clench them into fists, sink your qi and sink lower in the horse stance.
The primary goal and what we aim to achieve through the practice of this movement is to improve overall strength and qi. In TCM, the liver stores the blood and its main function is to preserve and maintain accessibility for the qi and blood. A healthy liver will result in healthy tendons, better hearing and overall better performance of the human body. The function of the liver includes the promotion and distribution of blood in the body, operation of spleen and stomach, excretion and secretion of bile, men’s ejaculation, and women’s ovulation, regulation of emotions, etc. The health of the liver is translated into the hepatic blood support of the tendons. If there is sufficient hepatic blood, then the tendons will be strong and this will be shown on the nails. On the contrary, if there is a deficiency in hepatic blood, then the tendons will be weak and this will result in thin and frail nails.
The theory behind this movement is based on the “five changes of the five elements” in TCM - there is an external effect for each of the five organ/element when it is diseased. Thus, change in the liver is demonstrated by gripping the fists tightly. This means that when we are angry, the liver qi will rapidly circulate, and the natural reaction to this is to clench the fist. The changes in our liver’s qi can be reflected in our eyes as well. This movement is derived from our natural tendencies so the practice of this movement can be effective in improving our health. With continued practice, you can improve the tendons. Therefore, it not only trains and benefits the liver but also the waist and kidneys, enhancing overall strength and qi.
Bouncing on the Toes
With feet together and hands in fist on hips. Inhale, pull the fists back as you contract your lower abdomen and direct the breath/qi up toward the chest. Open your chest by pulling the shoulders back and down and draw the elbows as far back as possible. On exhale, direct hands downward in front of the body, palms up and descend the qi downward into the lower dantian.
Keeping the qi in the lower dantian, inhale and bring the arms out and up in front of you (palms up) until they’re at shoulder level. Hold 3 seconds and drop suddenly onto your heels. Repeat as desired.
The main result of this movement is to treat and prevent hundreds of diseases from the human body. This does not mean that if you complete this one exercise alone, then hundreds of diseases will disappear. The body is treated of diseases if this movement is done as the final movement after you’ve finished the previous 7 movements of Ba Duan Jin correctly.
In TCM, the toe is the contact point of the “leg san yang” meridians and the “leg san yin” meridians. When the ten toes grip the floor, this stimulates the six yin and six yang meridians. This causes the qi and blood to be regulated and improves the function of the corresponding internal organs. Furthermore, bouncing on the feet can stimulate the “Du Mai” (governing channel), adjust the balance of the body’s yin and yang and promote health and rehabilitation. The Du Mai flows through the Bao Zhong (uterus in women and testes in men) and continues through to the Hui Yin pressure point (perineum). It then travels up the spinal cord, to the neck, to the head, up over and then down to the upper lip. The path the Du Mai follows is separated by branches, which give off qi to the kidney and other essential organs. The Du Mai is closely connected to the brain, spinal cord and kidney. “Du” literally means a commander, which governs a whole system. The Du Mai passes through the back and makes contact with the yang meridians of the hands and feet. It has the function of governing and balancing qi of the whole body’s yang meridians. Therefore, people refer to it as a commander and regulator of the yang. From a modern Western medicine perspective, the nerve supporting the internal organs comes from the spinal cord. The spinal cord and the brain nerves are at the center of the body. The five zang organs and six fu organs are affected by the nerve. In this bouncing feet motion, the power passes up starting from the heel, to the joints, and passes up to the spine then to the brain. This movement makes the spine shake slightly and stimulates the body’s central nervous system. Similarly, since the Du Mai affects the kidneys, the bouncing motion also stimulates the kidneys. These two different systems help improve the qi and blood operation of various internal organs, promote physiological function of internal organs, regulate the balance of yin and yang and strengthen the body.