The Seated Eight Section (or Pieces) of Brocade is a Daoist exercise for gaining physical, mental, and energetic well-being. This qigong has ability to enhance and purify vial life energy (qi) and its flow throughout the body. It also offers an introduction to the process of spiritual liberation known as Daoist Immortality.
In Chinese the Eight Section Brocade is Baduanjin. However, in the context of this qigong, a fuller meaning of Baduanjin is "a series of eight brightly colored shimmering golden silk satin embroideries each depicting a seated gymnastic to be completed like the garment itself as a flag blowing delicately, continuously in a gentle early morning summer breeze." The idea is that in doing this qigong one should move in patterns of smoothly undulating waves.
The birth of this eight brocade qigong is shrouded in mystery and legend; disagreements abound about its origins and development; even as to what kind of exercise it was: Standing or seated? Militaristic or contemplative? Today throughout the world when most people speak of the Eight Sections of Brocade, or Baduanjin, they are referring to a standing set of qigong exercises which significantly differ from the Seated Brocade. However it seems as originally understood, the term Baduanjin only referred to the seated form.
The First Known Full Text: The Zhongli Baduanjin Exercise
What we do have with some sort of correct dating is that the first extant manuscript that contains pictures and instructions for the Seated Eight Section Brocade (Baduanjin) appeared about 1300 CE in the Zhongli Baduanjin Exercise which itself was included in the 19th juan or "chapter" of the Ten Works on Cultivating Perfection. Zhongli is the surname of Daoist immortal Zhongli Quan, the legendary creator of this qigong exercise.
Here is a replica of that document, with an English translation of its words (right to left).
The First Section. Click the teeth thirty-six times to collect the spirit (shen). The two hands embrace the head and beat the heavenly drum (back of head) twenty-four times.
The Second Section. Left and right (turn) the heavenly pillar (the neck and spine) each side twenty-four times.
The Third Section. Stir the tongue left and right up to the roof of the mouth, thirty-six times. Gargle with the saliva thirty-six times. Divide the liquid into three portions. After that the internal heat (fire-qi) will circulate.
The Fourth Section. Two hands rub the kidneys thirty-six times. The more this is done the more wonderful the results.
The Fifth Section. Rotate one shoulder [the left one then the right] like a water-well pulley, thirty-six times.
The Sixth Section. Rotate both shoulders like two water-well pulleys, thirty-six times.
The Seventh Section. Rub hands together. Five times exhale a hah [a guttural deep throat] sound. Interlock the fingers and raise the hands [palms facing upwards] to support the sky (heaven), then lower the hands and press the palms against the top of the head. Do this three or nine times. ["Pressing against the top of the head" appears to be a mistake made by the scribe of this document. Many commentators suggest simply returning the hands to the lap and not pressing them on the top of the head.]
The Eighth Section. Using the hands as hooks, bend forward and grasp the (upper) soles of the feet. Repeat this twelve times. Then pull the legs in and sit with the back straight.
The Seated Eight Pieces Of Brocade
The following instructions on how to practice this qigong was complied from the various sources listed at the end of this article. The illustrations are loosely based on those found in the "Eight Essays on the Nurturing of Life" (Zunsheng Bajian - 1591) by Gao Lian. This article is presented for educational and cultural purposes only. See your health professional before commencing this or any exercise program.
The First Piece of Brocade. Calm the Spirit [Shen] – Click the Teeth – Tap the Heavenly Drum.
Sit cross legged, with the hands holding each other. Close the eyes and rid the mind of stray thoughts. Click the teeth together thirty-six times. Cup the palms over the ears and snap the index fingers on the base of the skull thirty-six times.
Comments on the seated posture and holding the hands. Traditionally this qigong is performed in a cross legged position. This is best done with the left heel pressed against the perineum area, and the right leg over the left leg; or sit in full or half lotus. This helps prevent the leakage of essence-qi energy from the sexual center. Or you can simply sit on a chair, with your back straight and not supported by the chair so the qi is not blocked from moving in the spine.
[Note: "A cross legged, or half or full lotus position should not be attempted by someone suffering from sciatica or other medical problems in that area without a doctor's approval." Dr. Kevin Chen, 2010.]
Place the right hand in the left hand, both palms facing up, resting on the knees or lap; this helps harmonize the flow of qi (life energy). Or optionally clench the hands into soft fists and rest them on the thighs—this helps center the mind and empower the qi in the body. Do this for three to five minutes.
Comments on Calming the Shen. This section of the Brocade offers a Daoist method of meditation. Various earlier texts of this qigong tell us to take a deep relaxing breath and close the eyes and rid the mind of any stray thoughts and enter into a meditative state of silent emptiness. These texts tell us to "darken the heart" [the xìn] which means reduce your emotional feelings and thinking in words. In other words let the mind go blank, but in that closed-eyed "darkness" maintain and increase an intense silent inner-awareness centered on "nothing."
After extensive meditative practice, you may realize and experience that the essence of your physical being (known as jing) is universal; as is the life force (known as Qi) coursing through your body; as is your soul and spirit (known as Shen). "Mind," "Spirit" and "Consciousness" are other valid translations of the word shén - 神. (A fuller definition is given below in "Artistic and Spiritual Beauty in the Words of the Seated Brocade.")
Acupuncture Point Bladder-9 (Yuzhen/Jade Pillow) – Bladder-10 (Tianzhu/Heavenly Pillar) Source: tcmpoints.com. Used with permission.
Acupuncture Point Governing Vessel-17 (Du Mai-17) - "Brain Window." Source: tcmpoints.com. Used with permission.
Comments on clicking the teeth and tapping the heavenly drum. Knock the upper and lower teeth together thirty-six times. Cover the ears with the palms (the fingertips will almost touch each other), and place the index fingers over the middle fingers and snap the index fingers down twenty-four times (or for twelve seconds).
Sources occasionally disagree on where and how to tap. But the preferred spot to strike is what in acupuncture is called the governing vessel-17, the "brain window" or "brain's doorway." That very same spot in qigong is called the "jade pillow." By placing the palms over the ears with the fingertips facing each other when snapping the index fingers down over the middle fingers they will naturally hit this spot.
Other sources think of the heavenly drum as being the area of the "occiput" (the lower back part of the skull) which includes the GV-17 and the jade pillow points of acupuncture (bladder-9), and the jade pillow of qigong.
Further comments about tapping on the back of the head. This is called "Beating the Heavenly Drum" because of the sounds that are heard in the inner ears when doing it. Tap around in the area of the occiput which is located on the back lower part of the skull, or better yet on the GV-17 point. In qigong, this area is called the jade pillow and is considered to be a doorway into the center of the brain. .
A basic purpose for the Seated Brocade is to activate the flow of qi in the vessels and channels (also called the meridians) of the body. Within these passage ways blockages can occur. The place that we are tapping is such a spot as well as being an important point in the governing vessel (or dū mài) meridian. Leading Daoist scholar Louis Komjathy writes, The Daoist adept places the palms over the ears and flicks the index and middle fingers on the occiput, referred to as … opening the Upper Pass (the occiput), so that qi may complete its upward circuit, accessing the Ancestral Cavity (center of the head associated with original spirit), and awakening divine presences ("gods") associated with the brain. Komjathy, 2013, p.203.
The God Mouth is another name for the Jade Pillow or small-brain point. By picturing the God Mouth opening wide, you expand the area's capacity while enhancing the cranial pump's action to send cerebrospinal fluid and qi into the brain. Taoists regard this point as a storage place for extra energy and believe it receives information from above, like an antenna. [from Mantak Chia, Healing Light of the Tao, 2008, p. 203.]
Benefits of the First Piece of Brocade. The meditation can help reduce stress and tone and harmonize the autonomic nervous system. Clicking the teeth stimulates the spleen, improves the secretion of saliva, increases the appetite, and improves the digestion. Tapping the back of the head clears the mind.
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