The 8 Brocades – an easy way to improve your health

The 8 Brocades or BaDuanJin qigong are a set of 8 exercises to improve your health and increase your vitality. They are simple and easy to perform and when you practice regularly, you will quickly begin to feel their invigorating and rejuvenating benefits.

Roel – 8 Brocades Qigong

So many versions

The history of the Eight Brocades is very old and some of these exercises can be found on the Daoyintu, a painting dated to 168 BC which shows 44 exercises to prevent disease.  Over the centuries, these postures and movements have undergone quite a few changes and adaptations. How to know which way to practice the 8 Brocades can be confusing and challenging.

I learned two different versions myself, one from the Hapkido class and one from a Tuina & Acupressure course I took years ago but I wasn’t quite pleased with how they felt while practicing. Having an extensive background in qigong and having developed a sensitivity for the effects and movements of energy in my body, I decided to try out several more versions. I watched, practiced, felt and observed myself energetically.


My daily routine

Months of trial and practice resulted in establishing my own daily routine (see video below). I tried to find a way of practicing that was easy to understand so I could share it with you, felt natural to my body and energy field and made me feel good. All the different versions I tried have their own benefits or focus so I don’t think that one is better than the other. It is a matter of personal taste and feel. Also, I don’t care too much for the choreography of the sequence so I don’t formally transition from one exercise to the next, I just do them. I like to keep things simple, simple yet effective…

Practicing the 8 Brocades in the morning is a great way to wake up and to energize your body and mind. You could even continue your morning regimen with the 5 Tibetan Rites if you have the time. What a way to start your day!


The 8 Brocade sequence

Before you begin, take a couple of slow, deep breaths.  Calm your mind and relax for a moment.  You can step out to the left to stand with feet at shoulder-width apart or to stand in horse stance.  Repeat each exercise 8 times (or more if you feel like it, e.g. 12 or even 24 times).


1. Push the Sky with both hands

– Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
– Bring hands in front of lower abdomen, palms up – inhale hands up to the heart, as you interlock the fingers, turn palms out and push up to the sky. Straighten your legs.  You can lift your heels for a moment.
– Drop the heels and exhale as you lower the hands down sideways, slightly bending the knees again.

Variation: When you drop the heels back down, you can gently tilt the body to the left and the right for a gentle side-bend before lowering the hands back down.

Benefits: Regulates the SanJiao or triple burner, the system responsible for regulation and distribution of qi and heat to the internal organs (in the three visceral cavities: chest, upper/middle and lower abdomen).


2. Pull the Bow and let the arrow fly

– Stand in horse stance: feet are wider than shoulder width, knees bent, back straight (gently tuck your tailbone to straighten the lower back).
– Cross your hands/wrists in front of your chest, palms facing you, right hand in front of left (left hand is closest to you).
Inhale, extend left arm to the left, turn and open your hand as if pushing to the left. At the same time, make a fist with your right hand and imagine you are pulling a bow.
Exhale, release the right fist, bend your left arm as you return to starting position. Your left wrist is now in front of the right.

Benefits: Horse stance strengthens the legs, waist and lower back/kidneys. Pulling the bow improves functioning of the lungs and is good for neck and shoulders.


3. Separate Heaven and Earth

– Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
– Bring hands in front of lower abdomen, palms up – inhale hands up to the heart.
Exhale, turn your palms and press up with your left hand and down with your right hand.
– Now reverse your hands and inhale both hands back to the chest, pressing down with your left hand and up with your right.
Exhale, continue pressing your left hand down while turning your right palm out and pressing up.

Benefits: Regulates the spleen and stomach; positive effect on structural alignment of the body.


4. Look Back like an Owl

– Stand comfortably, feet shoulder-width apart. Arms relaxed and palms slightly facing forward.
Inhale, slowly turn your head to the left and look back as far as you can. Keep your chin slightly down.
Exhale, slowly look forward again.

Note: when turning the head, your eyes can look back and slightly down. Do not turn your upper body, only the neck.

: loosens the neck, strengthens the muscles of the eyes and so improves eyesight. Helps heal the internal organs and illnesses caused by emotions.


5. Big Bear turns from side to side

– Squat in a low horse stance, hands on your thighs.
– To begin, bend forward with a straight spine as you exhale. From there: as you inhale, press your right hand on your thigh to help you twist from the waist to the left. Lift the chest a bit and keep your head up. Press with your right foot, your right leg may straighten a bit. Gently allow the left shoulder to move back and the right shoulder forward.
Exhale, return the same way and inhale continue to other side.
– To end, inhale back up from the center forward bend.

Alternative name: “Sway the head and swing the tail, to expel fire from the heart.”

Benefits: removes fire energy from the middle dantian (solar plexus/heart area) through the lungs. Helpful for heartburn (heart fire),  stomach and chest related problems. Strengthens legs, waist, back and energizes kidneys (invigorating effect).


6. Touch the toes and bend backward

– Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart.
Inhale while you place your hands on your lower back for support and do a gentle backbend. Focus on lifting your chest up to the sky.
Exhale slide your hands down the back of your legs and place your hands on your feet. Bend your knees as needed.
Inhale back up, letting your hands slide up the front of your legs.
– To repeat, continue sliding your hands up to your belly, around the waist to the lower back to support your backbend.

Note: to protect the lower back, engage your core (“tighten your abs” from the inside out, as if drawing your belly button to the spine) while bending forward or curling up.

Variation: When touching the toes, take another inhale as you look forward (see drawing), point your hips backward and try to straighten legs and back a bit more. Exhale, relax your head and spine, letting your upper body hang in a relaxed way. Inhale, curl back up.

Benefits: Stimulates and strengthens the kidneys (yuan qi or original qi), improves immune system, flexibility of the spine, circulation in the legs and the brain.

(A word of caution: if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, you may have to avoid inverted poses. You could possibly modify this exercise by reaching down to your knees instead. Talk to your doctor first.)


7. Punch with angry eyes

– Stand in a horse stance.
– Inhale, gently clench your fists near your waist. Fists are soft and relaxed.
– On your exhale, punch your right fist forward in slow-motion.
Inhale your fist back to your waist.
– Every time you punch, have an intense and angry look in your eyes. Relax your gaze between punches.


Variation: Make a “Haa!” sound during your punch to release anger with more gusto.

Benefits: releases angry feelings and expels angry qi from the body through the eyes. Angry qi is often a cause of many illnesses.


8. Bounce on the toes

– Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart.
Inhale, slowly come up on your toes. Hold a second.
– Exhale, suddenly drop your heels to the ground.


Note: to soften the jolt, slightly bend your knees, or imagine there is something under your heels and you don’t want to break it. Bounce lightly, but still so you feel the impact in your body.


Variation: Especially in case of back problems such as herniated disks, do not jolt at all but lower your heels gently.

Benefits: Bouncing invigorates the energy and immune system of the body and can help eliminate sick energy.


Video 1 (Brief Discussion)



Video 2 (Practice Session)


Note: If you do not regularly exercise or if you have any health concerns, talk to your physician first.

Physical Exercise Disclaimer.

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