The Baduanjin qigong (八段錦), also known as Eight Pieces of Brocade, Eight-Section Brocade, Eight Silken Movements or Eight Silk Weaving, is one of the most common forms of Chinese qigong used as exercise. The name Baduanjin suggests a silky-smooth quality (similar to brocade) to the body’s movements and energy. Baduanjin is principally a form of medical qigong, used as way to improve and maintain the practitioners’ health. However, it is often used by many martial arts practitioners, as a form of supplementary exercise.
The Baduanjin consists of eight discrete exercises that focus on different physical areas and qi meridians, with each of the movements repeated eight times. Additionally, each of the movements may be practiced individually to reap the same health benefit. Traditionally Baduanjin has standing and seated versions; however, the standing version is by far the most widely practiced. The particular order in which the eight exercises are undertaken sometimes varies, with the following order being one of the most common.
According to legend, in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Shaolin senior monk Ling Qiushan practiced Baduanjin qigong daily and lived to the age of 109. By the Song dynasty (960-1279), Baduanjin had continued its spread throughout China.
Baduanjin exercise is refered to in several encyclopaedias originating from the Song Dynasty. The Pivot of the Way (Dao Shi, c. 1150) describes an archaic form of this qigong and The Ten Compilations on Cultivating Perfection (Xiuzhen shi-shu, c. 1300) features illustrations of all eight movements and assigns the foundation of this exercise to two of the Eight Immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin.
During the Southern Song Dynasty in China (1177-1279 CE), General Yeuh Fei created a set of twelve exercises to train to his men to help keep their bodies strong and well-prepared for battle. Eight of these 12 exercises were later practiced at a slower speed and became known as the Eight Section Brocade. The fact that he and his army were never defeated in battle was attributed to this training.
In 527, CE Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma introduced the Eighteen Movements of the Lohan to monks at the Shaolin Temple when he saw that other exercises left the monks weak and sleepy during meditation. The first eight of these steps are the same as the Eight Section Brocade.
In 1973, archaeologists excavated the tomb of a noble who lived during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 24 CE) in Hunan Province. Here they discovered alongside medical manuals a silk scroll featuring 44 drawings of humans in varying postures, each had a caption giving the name of the disease that the pose might help cure. These poses closely resemble poses in the Eight Section Brocade.
Roger Jahnke, ‘The Healer Within’ and ‘The Healing Promise of Qi’ states that the regular practice of Qigong can “improve health, increase energy, revitalize the body and mind, prevent or control disease, tone the internal organs, improve balance, reduce stress, boost the immune system, remove toxins, tone the muscles and tendons, uplift mood, [and] contribute to longevity,”