A Set of Simple Time-Tested Health Exercises: The Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦)

There is a simple set of eight exercises that is good for health and can be performed by most people.  This set of exercises has been around for a long time, about 1,000 years; so it has been well time-tested.  It is called Eight Silk Brocade or 八段錦 in Chinese.  It belongs to the category of Qigong exercises, which are stretching, breathing, and meditation exercises.  It is often used as part of the warm-up exercises in a Taiji class.  The exercises can relax you, stretch different parts of your body, and strengthen your muscles.  It is relatively simple, takes only a few minutes to do the set (the length of time of course depends on the number of repetitions for each form).  If you have not tried it, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

The part of the name “silk brocade” may come from the fact that the exercises involve a lot of soft continuous motions, partially resembling the motion when pulling a thread of silk from a silkworm cocoon to make a silk fabric or brocade.  To pull a thread of silk from a silk cocoon, on the one hand one needs to pull the thread with a continuous and soft force, otherwise the thread will not come out.  On the other hand the force cannot be too strong or jerky; otherwise the thread will break.  The word “eight” in the name comes from eight exercises in the set.

Because Eight Silk Brocade has been practiced for so long by so many people, there are many variations of the exercises, as you can see by doing a search on the web.  In this article, I describe a set that I personally like, and which I use as part of the warm-up exercises in my Taiji classes.  Each exercise should be done slowly and in a relaxed manner, while breathing slowly and deeply.  The mind should be free of extraneous thoughts and should focus on the exercise that you are performing.  I now briefly explain each of the eight exercises.  A detailed description of each of the eight exercises can be found by clicking on Eight Silk Brocade-2018-12-18.xls.  Ideally, there should be a video of each of the eight exercises for one to learn the exercise.  Unfortunately, for the set that I like and have chosen as described in the above link, I haven’t been able to find a readily available video in the public web, although there are videos for other sets of the Eight Silk Brocade.  In the future, I will make a video of this particular set and make it available to my students.

I.  Pressing Heaven with Two Hands: This is a stretching exercise that stretches your body vertically.  It also stretches your waist muscles by bending your upper body to the left and right.  This, together with Exercises III and VI, are good exercises to avoid or reduce back problems

II.  Drawing Bow and Letting the Arrow Fly:  This is a stretching exercise that stretches your arms to the left and the right, while simultaneously stretches your crotch/groin muscles during the sitting downward part of the exercise.  It also stretches your neck muscles by turning your head to the left and right.

III.  Separating Heaven and Earth:  This is an extremely good exercise for back problems, either helping you to avoid back problems or reduce your back problems.  By pushing one hand upward and the other hand downward with both hands moving in the vertical plane right in front of the center of your body, you are stretching your spinal vertebrae to allow more space above and below your discs to avoid or reduce the negative effects of herniated discs.  It is important to have your hands in the middle part of your body while pressing them up and down, because this provides maximum stretching of your spinal vertebrae.  Exercises I, III, and VI (as well as V) are all good for back problems, and in my opinion, Exercise III is the best.

IV.  Wise Owl Gazing Backward:  This is an exercise that mainly exercises your neck muscles by turning your head to the left and right while looking slightly backward.

V.  Big Bear Turning from Side to Side: This exercises your side waist muscles as well as the abdominal, lower back, and buttock muscles.  These muscles are crucial in supporting and stabilizing your lower back and pelvis.

VI.  Opening the Spine: By reaching forward while bending your back helps to stretch and strengthen your back muscles.  The beginning of this exercise is identical to the beginning of Exercise I and so also stretches your body vertically.  Although this exercise can help strengthen your back muscles, if you already have back problems and if doing the bending forward part of this exercise gives rise to pain, then you should skip that part of this exercise,

VII.  Punching with Tiger Eyes:  This exercise is performed in a position like sitting on a stool; so it strengthens your leg muscles, as well as your waist and pelvis muscles.  The punching motion also strengthens your arm muscles.

VIII.  Bouncing on the Heels:  This exercise massages, stretches, and strengthens your feet and ankles.  It also serves as a cool-down exercise to end this set of eight exercises.

The Eight Silk Brocade is a simple set of exercises that has been time tested to provide health benefits to all kinds of people, men and women, old and young, and even people with minor physical or mental disabilities.  It should be doable by most people.  If you are new to the exercise and you are not fit to begin with, you may experience some soreness when you first begin.  That is ok.  However, if you experience pain, not just soreness, while doing any particular exercise or a particular part of an exercise, then you should just skip that exercise or that part of the exercise.

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2 Responses to “A Set of Simple Time-Tested Health Exercises: The Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦)”

  1. Tim Zebo says:

    Sounds great! Is this video a good one to follow?: https://youtu.be/3K-0JpiJu-o

  2. Don says:


    Thanks, and sorry for the delayed response. Yes, this is a good video to follow and her set of exercises is good. As I mentioned in my article, because Eight Silk Brocade has been around for so long and so many people practice it, there are many variations of this set of exercises.

    Her set has some similarities to the set described in my article, but there are also significant differences. For example, the closest of her set to Exercise III “Separating Heaven and Earth” described in my article is her Exercise 2. but there are significant differences. I especially like Exercise III because I think it is an excellent exercise for back problems, either to avoid back problems or reduce the severity of back problems.


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