Ba Duan Jin
Venerable Shi Guolin
Ba Duan Jin is a complete set of qi gong exercises that was passed down from ancient China. Being a major influence in the world of medicine, China is most known for using herbs and ingredients found in nature to combat diseases. Ba Duan Jin can be described as a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, traditional Chinese medicine and a long history of wisdom. Ba Duan Jin is comprised of eight movements that 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. Because Ba Duan Jin bases its theory and practice on Chinese medicine, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, the result is that it is very beneficial and will significantly yield positive health effects.
What is Ba Duan Jin?
The term “Ba” in Ba Duan Jin literally means eight, which refers to the fact that it is composed of eight body movements. “Duan” means that the positive benefits of Ba Duan Jin can be achieved through the continous practice of each of the movements. “Jin” means silk, and how Ba Duan Jin is similar to the exquisite luxury of silk. In the earlier times when the method was first witnessed by the ancients, they deemed it to be one of their favorite techniques of exercising due to its simple yet elegant nature. The eight movements are graceful and flows like silk. Because the style of the qi gong exercises is smooth and practical, that is why it was called Ba Duan Jin.
Characteristics and Health Benefits of Ba Duan Jin
The main features of Ba Duan Jin:
In the eight steps of Ba Duan Jin Qigong, seven Chinese characters represent each movement. These characters are unique because each describes the general purpose and main function behind each movement. The Chinese characters also contain Chinese medicine theory, which explains how the primary function of Ba Duan Jin is to help regulate internal organs and to balance yin and yang.
The Role Of Ba Duan Jin
Ba Duan Jin is based on Chan (Zen) Buddhism and traditional Chinese medicine theory. It satisfies its goal of balancing yin and yang by regulating qi, strengthening tendons and improving bone strength. Through the practice of Ba Duan Jin, one can expect to improve and strengthen health, gain spiritual cultivation and even promote longevity.
In the first and second movements of Ba Duan Jin, the most important feature is to promote circulation (raising, sinking, entering and exiting) of qi in order to balance yin and yang in the body. The circulation of qi is essential in preventing diseases: according to Chinese medicine, it is much easier to prevent diseases than it is to cure existing ones. The first step of Ba Duan Jin is the starting movement as well as the ending movement of the entire sequence. The importance of the first two steps is that it helps adjust and regulate qi in the body.
The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth steps of Ba Duan Jin are primarily used to regulate the body and qi. The movements will help treat internal and external damage to the body including regulating inner health by balancing the Chinese medicine theory of “cold and heat”, which is the extremity of yin (cold) versus the extremity of yang (hot.) These movements also alleviate pain brought upon by chronic illnesses. The purpose of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth parts of Ba Duan Jin is to promote treatment for the body. The seventh and eighth steps are strong movements specifically used to control the flow of qi into the dan tian.
According to Chinese medicine theory, an indicator of good health is the unison and balance of the human body and spirit. This harmony of body and spirit is what we need to achieve in order for us to remain or become healthy. The benefits of Ba Duan Jin are expressed through adjusting breathing to make the process of breathing smoother, unity of mind and qi (breathing), strengthening muscles and tendons to make the body more flexible and the unison of mind and body. The regular practice of Ba Duan Jin will help bolster your spirits, maintain essence and preserve qi. These three elements are connected due to the fact that they are all dependent on each other. Qi (breath), body (form) and spirit (heart) together constitute an organic whole. In order for us to be healthy, we must train our body, mind and breathing to work in harmony by practicing Ba Duan Jin. This unison is what we should aim to achieve when practicing kung fu.
The 8 Steps of “Ba Duan Jin”
1. Two Hands Reach up to the Heavens to regulate San Jiao (Triple Burner)
2. Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk
3. Raise hand on each side to adjust the Spleen & Stomach
4. Turn head back to help prevent diseases and injuries
5. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail to help get rid of the “Xin-Huo” Symptoms
6. Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist
7. Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (or Angrily) to Improve Strength and Qi
8. Bouncing (7 Times) on the Feet, Toes, Heel to Help Prevent Disease
Two Hands Reach Up to the Heavens to Regulate San Jiao (Triple Burner)
The first movement for Ba Duan Jin is “Two Hands Reach Up to the Heavens to Regulate San Jiao (Triple Burner).” The first part “two hands reach up to the heavens” demonstrates the overall action of the movement while the second part "regulate triple burner" describes the main function and importance of the action. The word "triple burner" refers to one of six fu organs of the human body, which is a special concept in traditional Chinese medicine. We usually say that there are five zang organs and six fu organs in the human body.
What are the six fu organs? This might be unclear for those who have little knowledge of Chinese medicine. They might only be able to give five fu organs such as the stomach, bladder, gall bladder, large intestine and small intestine. What is the last fu organ? It is the "triple burner." Because there are no corresponding anatomical features or organs as the triple burner in western medicine, it seems as if triple burner is famous by name yet is invisible.
So, what exactly is the triple burner? In order for us to understand the concept of the triple burner and what the triple burner is, let me give you an analogy. Imagine that our body's five zang organs and six fu organs are like a container, and the triple burner is an even large container that encloses all the five zang organs and six fu organs. This means that the body cavity of the body is triple burner. The triple burner in the human body is divided into three parts in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM); it is a collective term for the upper, middle and lower burner. According to TCM, the upper burner is located above the diaphragm and includes the heart and lungs. The middle burner is located in the region above the belly button and below the diaphragm and includes the spleen, stomach, liver and gall bladder. The lower burner is located below the belly button, and it includes the kidneys, bladder, large intestine and small intestine.
What are the main functions of the triple burner? 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 foam. The lower burner acts like a swamp." "Mist" refers to the disseminating functions of the upper burner. With this function, qi, blood and body fluids are distributed throughout the body just as mist disperses into the environment. "Foam" means the digestive churning of the middle burner. When the spleen and stomach transform and ripen food, the food decomposes in a similar way to foaming. "Swamp,” relates to the excretion of impure substances. The lower burner separates the "clear" from the "turbid" substances and excretes these impurities as wastes like a swamp breaks down certain vegetation.
In addition, the triple burner provides primordial energy or primordial qi. There is a specific description in the famous traditional Chinese medicine book Zhong Zang Jing. It said, "The triple burner is the human body’s three Qi’s (Yuan Jing , primordial qi, primordial spirit), and is also call the House of the Zhong Qing; it is the main provider of Qi through five zang organs and six fu organs, Ying Wei (Ying meaning the absorption of dietary nutrients; Wei refers to the function of the body to resist invasion of pathogenic factors), Jing Luo (Meridians System) refers to the main channels of communication and energy distribution in the body." If the triple burner is healthy and well, then all other systems will be well.
The triple burner helps circulate qi and bring balance to the entire body. Because the triple burner provides primordial qi to the body through the qi channel, it is the main provider of qi for the entire body. If your body is weak, then the triple burner will not function properly and will cause the whole body or specific parts to be out of qi. That is why the triple burner plays such an important role in the human body.
To start, lift your arms and, following your qi, reach upwards and extend. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground. The coordination of these two movements will cause your chest cavity to expand and lift upwards. Your waist and back should be straight and your body extended. The hands and feet should be fully extended and stretched out. This will help promote blood circulation and expand the lungs. The result is you can take deeper breaths and inhale more oxygen. As qi is exchanged, it will strengthen the body and increase primordial qi and bodily fluids.
Ba Duan Jin begins with the movement of reaching up with the arms because the extension of the body will promote deep breathing and regulate breathing. The first movement will help eliminate fatigue. It will help condition the triple burner and adjust the muscles, meridians, tendons, bones and internal organs to prepare them for exercise.
Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk
The movement “Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk” focuses on the regulation of qi in the human body. From its name, it is not apparent how it can relate to Chinese medicine theory. Usually, this movement is thought of as simply using the arm and shoulder to mimic a bow to shoot the bird of prey, but if you literally follow the old saying “left liver right lung,” this understanding can be wrong. The “Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk” is actually based on Chinese medicine theory. By understanding the movement and what its purpose is, we can correctly learn and better understand some basic Chinese medicine theory. For example, when you “shoot the hawk,” it is not just an exercise routine for the arms; the main purpose is to improve your lungs and your liver. The primary function of this movement is to improve your lungs and liver through the exercise. (The saying, “left liver right lung,” does not exist in Western anatomy; it is a concept of Chinese medicine theory.)
In “Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk,” the lower half of the body is in a horse stance while the two arms mimic the action of holding a bow to shoot a bird of prey. The movement is practiced by alternating sides, switching the direction that the “bow” is pointing at. When we aim the bow to the left, we raise the qi to the liver. When aimed to the right, we use our lungs to sink the qi. Through this movement, we use our qi to adjust our lungs and liver. Therefore we must coordinate these movements to maintain and regulate lungs and liver. It is executed by extending the chest cavity, stretching the arms and turning the head. The movement is very beneficial to the body. By practicing this movement, you can expand your rib cage, increase elasticity in shoulders and neck and increase blood circulation through these areas. You can also improve your heart and lungs and regulate the upper burner. Simultaneously, it can stimulate your arm’s three yins and three yangs (meridians). With frequent practice, the circulation of blood and qi in the body will drastically improve.
Raise Hand on Each Side to Adjust the Spleen and Stomach
The main purpose of practicing this movement is to adjust the spleen and stomach. In order to successfully do this, the practitioner must correctly “raise the hand on each side,” as described in the movement’s name. The central point of the movement is to regulate the spleen and stomach and to keep them healthy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen and stomach cannot remain healthy on their own accord. To properly maintain the spleen and stomach, one must take in proper nutrition to keep these organs healthy. It is essential to regulate the spleen and stomach because they are vital in the digestion and absorption processes and are a main energy source of the human body. If the spleen and stomach are functioning normally, then the operation and efficiency of body tissues and other organs will also be healthy. The end result would be that the human body would be less prone to having diseases.
This movement not only adjusts the spleen and the stomach, but also regulates the liver and gall bladder. The movement requires the practitioner to raise one hand while the other hand presses downwards. Through the force of the alternate and opposing pull, the abdominal cavity will follow along this motion, creating a “massaging effect” on the spleen and stomach. Simultaneously, it will adjust the meridians on both sides of the rib cage. The rib cage is considered to be a passageway of the liver and gall bladder meridians. Thus, the key purpose of this movement is to adjust and regulate the liver and gall bladder.
Turn Head Back to Help Prevent Diseases and Injuries
This section of the Ba Duan Jin focuses primarily on the care and treatment of the human body. “Wu Lao Qi Shang” is a concept in traditional Chinese medicine that is translated to “the five damages and seven injuries.” According to Chinese medicine, there are many reasons for an individual to become sick. The most apparent reason is the “Wu Lao Qi Shang.” “Wu Lao” refers to the damage of 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 of our body caused by cold and heat and our incorrect way of life. Overeating, for instance, hurts the spleen while anger causes damage to the liver. Sitting for too long will hurt the kidney and drinking too many cold beverages will hurt the lungs. Being sad, or worrying too much will hurt the heart. Wind, rain, cold and heat will also hurt the body. Being constantly being fearful will harm the spirit.
In Ba Duan Jin, the “turn the head back to help prevent diseases and injuries” movement is meant to counter these five damages and seven injuries. The movement was designed to care and treat these damages to the human body. 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 from this point.
The seven physical injuries are external damages done to our bodies. 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 damage. The second part of the movement is the arm rotation. The arm has six meridians. Through this movement of the arms, it will help activate the yin and yang in these meridians.
Through the act of looking back and turning the head, the spinal cord will improve and the role of the yang will be enhanced. Thus, the five damages are internal injuries while the seven injuries are external. The motion of rotating the arms is to train the six yin and yang meridians. Through this movement, we can prevent and cure the “five damages and seven injuries.”
Sway the Head and Shake the Tail to Help Get Rid of “Xin Huo” Symptoms
The exercises in this section “Sway the Head and Shake the Tail to Help Get Rid of Xin Huo Symptoms” are for both health and therapeutic reasons. Through this movement, which consists of swaying the head and shaking the tail, the end result is to rid the body of xin huo, a concept in traditional Chinese medicine. Xin huo literally translates into English as “Heart Fire.” According to traditional Chinese medicine, xin huo is the reason for diseases and why we are susceptible to disease.
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 is 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. To control this, we must use the element water (kidney) to balance this. Water must always go down, but if it goes too much it will cause 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 goes down, then it can warm up the kidney. The main goal is to balance the kidney and the heart to prevent the xin huo symptom.
This movement is used to practice the “du mai,” bladder and kidney. Through this exercise, the bladder complements the kidney qi and promotes renal water to rise. Since the range of motion and physical strain of this movement is high, those with hypertension or who are elderly should 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 to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist
The sixth movement is called “two hands hold the feet to strengthen the kidneys and waist” and it regulates and treats the body. To properly execute this movement, the practitioner uses both hands to grasp along the legs. The primary purpose of this movement is to strengthen the kidneys and the waist and its concept is based on traditional Chinese medicine theories on the meridians.
According to Chinese medicine, the kidneys are located in the lower burner and on either side of the spinal cord. Due to its location, the waist is oftentimes described as a “house” which encloses the kidneys. The main function of the kidneys is to store essential qi, produce bone marrow and provide nutrition for bones. The kidneys are also responsible for reproductive development. They also absorbs qi, water and balances yin and yang. If the kidneys are healthy and functioning correctly, the results can be seen in the person’s hair. A shiny and healthy head of hair is a good indicator that the kidneys are functioning well. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered to be the water element.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, if the kidneys are lacking essential qi, then bone support of the body will suffer. If there is not enough essential qi, the first part of the body to be affected is the waist. If the waist is weakened, the human body becomes more susceptible to disease and sickness. The health of your kidneys is shown by the strength of your waist. In the waist area, there are many meridians such as “leg san yang” and “du mai,” which are both located in the lower back. The back of the waist contains the “Gate of Life.” Both the Gate of Life and the kidney directly affect one another.
The “Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist” movement, if practiced correctly, will create a vertical massaging effect and stretch on the back. This will exercise and stimulate the spine and meridians in the back. Through inhaling and exhaling, the abdominal cavity, waist and back muscles and the meridians will be stimulated. The movement will help regulate qi and blood while also improving the meridian system. It will also balance yin and yang.
When practicing this movement, the reason why it is important for the arms and legs to come into contact is based on the “heart and kidney intersect method” in traditional Chinese medicine. In the middle of the palm, there is a pressure point called Lao Gong and it is an important point in the Xin Bao meridian. In the soles of the feet, there is a pressure point called Yong Quan, which is the starting point of the kidney meridian. The meeting of the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet is the most essential feature in the “heart and kidney intersect method.” 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) to Improve Strength and Qi
The movement “Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (Or Angrily) to Improve Strength and Qi” is based on health theories in Chinese medicine. To improve overall strength and qi is the primary goal and what we aim to achieve through the practice of this movement. The theory behind this movement is based on the “five changes of the five elements” in Chinese medicine.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, 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.
According to the “five changes of the five elements” (if the five organs have diseases, then it will have five external effects) in traditional Chinese medicine, change in the liver is demonstrated by gripping the fists tightly. This means that when we are angry, our 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. The movement “Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely to Improve Strength and Qi” is derived from our natural tendencies so the practice of this movement can be effective in improving our health. Actions in this exercise include horse stance, gripping floor with toes, clenching the fist and giving a fierce stare. 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 (7 Times) on the Feet, Toes, Heel to Help Prevent Disease
In this section, the movement “Bouncing on the Feet, Toes, and Heel to Help Prevent Disease” requires the practitioner to bounce 7 times on ones feet, toes and heels to protect the body against diseases. The main goal of this exercise is to prevent hundreds of diseases from the human body.
The practice of “Bouncing on the Feet, Toes, and Heel to Help Prevent Disease” does not mean that if you complete this one exercise alone, then hundreds of diseases will disappear. It is the final movement in Ba Duan Jin, and if you finish the previous 7 movements correctly and add this final section, you will be protecting your body against diseases. The movement is executed by lifting the heels up, creating a small rocking motion in the ankle and then bouncing the feet. The end result of this action is that it will help treat and prevent hundreds of diseases. We will analyze the three actions involved in this movement and how it is able to treat and fend off diseases.
According to Chinese medicine, the toe is the contact point of the “leg san yang” meridian and the “leg san yin” meridian. 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 corresponding internal organs.
Furthermore, bouncing on the feet can stimulate the “du mai” (du meridian), adjust the balance of the body’s yin and yang and promote health and rehabilitation. For even those with little knowledge in traditional Chinese medicine, it is known that the du mai flows through the bao zhong and continues through to the hui yin pressure point. 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.
To analyze this 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. According to Chinese medicine, power transmitted by this movement causes vibration in the du mai. Because the du mai affects the kidneys, the bouncing motion also stimulates the kidneys. Therefore, the function of this movement can be explained through Chinese medicine theories of meridians and nerves. 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.
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