Ba Duan Jin, or Eight Sections of Brocade, is a set of eight stretching exercises that may increase energy levels and flexibility when performed regularly. The Chinese Health Qigong Association supports it as a Qigong exercise. The Ba Duan Jin has a long history in China spanning hundreds of years. Qigong practice manuals mention the eight basic postures, but teachers may add other stretching postures or change the sequence.
There are two ways to do the exercises. You can do it while sitting down or while standing up. The most popular way to do it is by standing on your feet. Start by standing in the Wuji stance with your feet slightly apart and your arms hanging down at your sides. Keep your spine straight and bend your knees a little. Breathe deeply by inhaling air through the nose and exhaling it out of the mouth. Here is a short description of the eight sections or postures of the Ba Duan Jin.
1. Holding up the Heavens with Two Hands
Move both hands upwards along the front of the body and then turning and holding both hands with the palms towards the sky as if trying to support the sky. It is impossible to support the heavens or keep the sky from falling on our heads, but this is merely a symbolic action and not a practical application. Bring both hands back down the front of the body to the lower abdomen. Inhale while moving upwards and exhale while bringing the hands back down. If you decide to do reverse breathing, exhale when holding up the sky and inhale your breath when returning both hands to the field of elixir or the lower abdomen just below the navel. Repeat this stretch 6 to 12 times.
2. Archer Drawing the Bow and Shooting the Hawk
This exercise is a symbolic representation of an archer who stands in a low horse stance, draws the bowstring, aims at an imaginary hawk flying in the sky and lets the arrow fly towards its target. Draw the imaginary bowstring first to the left side and then to the right side. Inhale when drawing and aiming the imaginary bow and exhale when releasing the arrow and preparing to change direction from left to right and vice versa. You may repeat this stretch or pull 3 times on each side.
3. Separating Heaven and Earth
Move your left hand up the front of your body and turn it palm towards the sky while lowering and turning right hand palm down towards the earth. It seems like you are pushing heaven and earth apart in a symbolic action. Of course, neither your upper hand or lower hand actually touches and pushes apart anything. Reverse your hands so that the left hand is now below your groin besides your upper thigh. Right hand is now above your head to the right. Breath in while pushing apart heaven and earth and breathe out when returning hands to the center of your abdomen. Repeat for 3 or more times on each side.
4. Wise Owl Looking Backwards
Stand upright with hands by the sides of the upper thighs. Turn your neck like an owl to look back towards the left and then back towards the right. Exhale when looking back and inhale when returning the head to look forward again. If you see a mouse or some other small edible critter, remember that you are not actually an owl but are just imitating it. Do this 3 times to the left and right.
5. Turning the Head and Shaking the Tail
Stand in a low horse stance and put your hands on your hips. Now bend your upper body forwards and twist it to the left to look backwards. Inhale as you twist to the side and back. Exhale as you return your upper body to the front. Twist to the right to look back and return to the front again. Repeat this 3 times on both sides.
6. Raising Arms Above Head and Holding the Feet
Inhale and move both arms above your head with the palms turned towards each other. Exhale and bend forwards until you can touch your feet. Inhale again as you stretch your hands up over your head. Do this 6 times.
7. Punching with Fists while Looking Angry
Stand in a lower horse stance and punch forward with the left hand while bringing the right hand to the side of chest. Bring left hand back to side and punch out with the right fist. Inhale when bringing fist back to the side and exhale when punching forwards.
8. Lifting the Heels Up
Stand with your feet close together and lift up the heels of your feet while inhaling. Lower your heels back down and exhale. Do this a couple of times. Keep your hands at the sides.
End by standing in the Wuji stance for a minute or two. The Ba Duan Jin stretching routine is usually done in the morning, but it is also used before doing other forms of martial arts. I have done the routine in the morning, but I think the stretching postures are too gentle to really wipe the sleep out of your eyes. The deep breathing and movements does help to relax the mind and body, so you may do it in the evening before going to bed.