Qigong Massage &  Eight Strands of Brocade

Qigong Massage or Eight Strands of Brocade is one of the oldest styles of Qigong, dating back over 3,000 years.  It is a dynamic set of exercises (Dong Gong) that through its long history gradually branched into many ‘sub-styles'.  Among them there are several dozens of standing Eight Strands of Brocade, numerous lying and sitting Eight Strands of Brocade, several standing Ten Strands of Brocade, several standing Sixteen Strands of Brocade and many more.

Not only did Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong spread all over China very early, but it also influenced many masters of Qigong who created all kinds of other great styles of Qigong such as Five Animals Play Qigong, which also exists under numerous forms and Walking Qigong, which stemmed from Five Animals Play Qigong (see the diagram below).  Here we shall shed some light on two major sub-styles of Eight Strands of Brocade - standing and sitting form.

Eight Strands of Brocade evolution chart

Standing Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong

Have you ever thought of how many ways there are to stretch and exercise in the world today?  Just think of those calisthenics, yoga, pilates, but also of all kind of specific stretches and warming up exercises used in various sports, such as for swimming, gymnastics, athletics, football, etc.  Not to mention all those sports themselves.  A good 15-20 minutes of basketball or tennis can do more good to your muscles, joints, heart and lungs than one hour of stretching (relatively speaking).  Plus it can improve your concentration, reflexes, coordination of movements and is beneficial to all the organs and systems. 

However, not everyone can play basketball, swim or cycle.  Yet, even though aerobics and stretch classes are great, they often consist of numerous exercises, all of them designed to benefit a limited number of muscles and joints at a time, so to cover the whole body, one needs to have a lot of time and a very good memory.  That's where something like Eight Strands of Brocade comes in very handy.  Not only does it consist of as little as eight simple stretches, but it benefits the inner organs as much as the limbs and spine.

As a matter of fact each of the eight movements are designed to promote chi energy flow through its meridians, so by lifting the arms up and bending the neck backwards in the first exercise (as an example) we can not only improve our neck and shoulder conditions, but also rebalance the energy in the so called Triple Heater meridian and get rid of things like bloating, balance problems, edemas (water retention), migraines.  Or in the second Strand of Brocade where we do an archer-pose-like movement where you feel the tension in your stretched arm, especially around the thumb, which is the end of the Lung meridian, so not only does it benefit the arms and neck but it benefits the lungs, throat, sinuses, large intestine and skin (all, according to Chinese medicine, having something to do with the function of the Lung meridian).

And the best part is that it only takes about fifteen minutes to complete.  Since each movement/strand of brocade is so specific, some might think, how about limiting the number of movements to only the most appropriate ones, thus reducing the exercise time furthermore.  In other words, if one suffers from asthma and back problems for instance, instead of doing the whole lot, he or she need only do exercise number two and six, that cover those areas, and finish it in less than five minutes.  Well, theoretically speaking, you can, but that's not how Chinese medicine and the holistic approach work.  The eight strands of brocade work as a team and each of them is equally important.  Our body is a very complex mechanism, consisting of various systems, inseparable and interrelated in many ways.  So, if any of them is not working properly, it can affect all the others.  That's why, Chinese medicine stresses rebalancing and improving the overall condition, rather than focusing on the particular organ or disease.

In China it's quite common to see a condition such as asthma or diabetes that has been treated by western medicine unsuccessfully for years, yet improves relatively quickly by Chinese medicine even though all the other organs were treated except the diseased ones.  In this case, lungs for asthma or pancreas for diabetes.  It is hard to believe, but that's how it works.  It's a bit like trying to fight a criminal in a country by increasing the police force, building more prisons, making tougher laws, without success, until the new government make some changes to the economy, improve living standards and the criminal rate reduces significantly.  So regardless of one's condition, as long as (s)he is able to stand up and move, they should do all the eight exercises in the correct order which is: 

1. For the Triple Heater meridian

2. For Lungs

3. For Spleen and Stomach

4. For Eyes, Tendons, Muscles, Joints, Liver

5. For Energy and Strength

6. For Kidneys and Bladder

7. For Heart

8. Overall

Otherwise they may choose the sitting or lying form instead.

Eight Strands of Brocade postures

Sitting Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong

Also known in China as Qigong Massage, "Bedside Eight Strands of Brocade" or "Longevity Self Massage".  It is a set of gentle self massage techniques that cover the whole body, all major muscles and joints as well as many energy meridians and major acupuncture points.  The First Strand of Brocade is known as "taking a dry bath" and consists of movements that imitate washing your body.  It looks as if the person washes his arms, head, legs and body, but in reality, by using their palms and rubbing along those parts of the body, they clear the energy blockages within the yin and yang meridians (yin meridians on the inside and yang meridians on the outside of the limbs).  The remaining seven strands of brocade, on the other hand, are designed to improve one's sight, hearing, sinuses, teeth, digestion, back and sleep, thus include exercises and self massage techniques that cover the eyes, ears, nose, teeth and gums, belly, lower back and soles of one's feet.  And, of course, by improving the function of all those systems and organs, one ultimately improves his/her stamina, memory, concentration along the way. 

There are many forms of Qigong Massage, but one of the most popular ones today in China is a form that until the early 1950's was kept secret by a family in northern China.  It was their pride and joy and for centuries they would pass it on from one generation to another.  However, when it came to be passed onto a scholar of the early twentieth century, he was simply "not interested".  He was a modern man whose ideals were to become an acclaimed academic, so he spent his best years studying.  His family tried several times to convince him to take up the practice, purely for health benefits, because he would often get sick, but it was only after his health deteriorated to the point of him not being able to pursue his career that he finally agreed to give it a go.

Surprise, surprise!!  Soon after he started this simple set of eight exercises that are all done in bed he noticed a dramatic change in his health and stamina.  At this time he was only in his thirties, but he was quite unfit, had lots of grey hair, had poor eyesight and suffered from several chronic conditions.  So, once he experienced the sweet taste of health, he didn't need to be nagged anymore.  He dived into it head on and became the most committed practitioner in the whole family.  Not only did he improve his overall heath, but he enjoyed his life much more (and lived a very long one too).  In the early 1950's, soon after the second world war and ending of the Chinese civil war, peace finally came to China and Gu Dai Feng, by then better known as Master Gu, who was then already in his late seventies, aiming to help his people decided to share his secret.  He started publicly teaching this miraculous self massage, first to the locals but then, as his reputation steadily grew, to more and more ‘out of towners' who would travel, sometimes very long distances, to meet him and learn from the ‘first hand man'.

The demand seemed overwhelming beyond all expectation so he decided to publish a book, making it easier for both himself as well as the masses of eager enthusiasts.  And then, one day, there it was, this tiny (yet, to many as precious as gold) little book, which explained how longevity self massage was done - step by step.  The first edition appeared in 1962 and was completely sold out soon after.  Second edition came in 1965, same thing.  Third, a few years later and the same thing happened again.  Until today it's already been reprinted 15 times (in Chinese).  His techniques were introduced in many other Chinese Qigong and longevity books and magazines.  As well as taught in many places throughout China.  It has been estimated that there were several million people practicing this style throughout the 60's and 70's alone.  And despite the availability of all kinds of fancy Qigong styles in recent years, this style does not seem to be in any less demand.  On the contrary, the official figures show quite the opposite.  Among them, the majority of practitioners are the elderly and the bed ridden, but it's also popular among some young people (at least some of the techniques), especially Kung Fu practitioners.

For classes on both standing Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong as well as master Gu's Qigong Massage in Sydney, Australia, please call 02 9968 4447 during business hours or contact us via email: info@qigongchinesehealth.com .


My experience with Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong

Among the many styles of Qigong that I learnt in China, Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong (both standing and sitting) is the most physical.  When I say that, I mean it is entirely based on mechanical movements of the body and limbs.  In the standing form, the stress is more on gentle stretching and in the sitting one, on the self massage.  Both make you feel great and are ideal for people who prefer dynamic styles.  You can say that Fragrant Qigong is also dynamic, but even though you do move, it is primarily your arms that move and the movements are quite subtle, nothing like Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong, which requires a certain amount of fitness and can greatly improve it too.  Or the Spontaneous Five Animals Play Qigong, which no doubt is very dynamic and at times wild, especially when one performs the tiger movements, but the movements in Spontaneous Five Animals Play Qigong, as the name suggests, are spontaneous and are the direct result of concentration and static preparation.  You can say that by performing the movements of Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong, ie by moving the body, one activates and rebalances chi energy, while in Five Animals Play Qigong, on the contrary, by rebalancing chi energy, one spontaneously moves the body.  In other words, the former uses the body to move chi energy and the latter uses chi energy to move the body.

Anyway, what I like about Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong, is that it is simple, feels good, requires very little space and can be mixed with other styles of Qigong (unlike many others).  You are fully aware and conscious at all times, during the practice, ie it does not require any deep concentration or special breathing techniques and can be practiced any time of the day or night, indoors and outdoors, in any kind of weather. 

And unlike many other styles of Qigong, it can be stopped at any stage without the need to do a closing procedure first.  To make it even easier and more practical the whole set does not have to be done at once but the movements can be done individually throughout the day.  You can use it as warming up, such as prior to a game of tennis, swimming or soccer and is highly praised by people who spend most of the day sitting, say in the office,  car or bus or standing like shop assistants or chefs.  Ten to fifteen minutes of Eight Strands of Brocade can make a huge difference straight away.

I myself was quite fit when I started practicing Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong but I still did improve on a couple of things.  One of them was my stamina and the other one my sensitivity to light.  When I first started practicing I had problems with keeping the balance when I'd stand on the tip of my toes in exercise one and eight, standing in riding horse stance, while imitating the archer in exercise two, keeping the eyes still in exercise four.  In less than two weeks I could do all the movements properly, would not get tired and enjoy them all tremendously.  But what surprised me even more is that prior to practicing Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong, I was quite sensitive to sunlight to the point of always wearing sunglasses, regardless of the time of the day and weather conditions.

It started when I was a student and I would sometimes wear them in the sun, like everybody else.  But then, gradually, I started noticing that I needed them even when there was no sun, until at one stage it became a must.  If I was going out, I would definitely put them on.  I don't know whether I created the condition myself by getting used to them too much and somehow becoming addicted to them, but I didn't consider it a ‘problem' and did not worry about it.  Yet I noticed an improvement after practicing Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong.  At first when I practiced it, I'd always choose to face north in order to avoid the sun.  But as soon as I started doing the exercise that requires turning the head left and right, such as exercise number 4, I'd start squinting and my eyes would fill up with tears.  However, a few days later, I noticed that that wasn't the case anymore.  And so, day after day, more often than not, I'd "forget" to take my sunglasses with me when I would go out, until I completely stopped wearing them.  This was fifteen years ago and it still is true.

My father was a builder who until the age of sixty rarely saw a doctor.  Apart from a little problem (at times quite painful), which was night cramps in his calves, he considered himself a very healthy man.  But as for the cramps, they came almost every night for nearly thirty years.  Sometimes in one leg, sometimes in the other, sometimes slight and sometimes so painful that he would kick in bed with a large ‘ouch', that would scare my poor mum in the middle of the night.  Not that he was complaining about them, but when they were bad, without him mentioning it, we all knew because he would be limping for a day or two.  He would blame it on being exposed to different weather conditions at work.  His job was mainly outdoors and there would often be wind, rain or heat and cold intermittently changing.  But that was not the reason I taught him Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong.  To be honest, after eight years in China, I completely forgot his nightly torture.

So once I came home and started using Chinese medicine, I just wanted to help everybody live healthily and enjoy life, and who would be more important than my closest family.  So one day, I said to him, "Come here I want to show you something".  I explained that it is very good for his health, especially for seniors and I had no idea that (1) he'd be so committed and (2) that he would benefit so much from doing it. 

Anyway, I showed him both forms, standing and sitting (Qigong Massage), made sure that he did it properly and off he went.  Everyday, first thing in the morning, he would sit in bed and do the self massage and then after that he'd go out and either work in the garden or do the standing form for another fifteen to twenty minutes.  He felt great.  One morning he needed to get up a little earlier and do something in the garage, so he missed his morning ritual.  After he finished, he went straight to the garden (those days his favourite activity) but somehow, it didn't feel right, as if something very important was missing.  Of course, he remembered, I hadn't done my Chinese massage.  He left everything, went back inside the house, did it once and when he came out, he instantly felt so much better.

I was so happy to hear that from him, but what made me even happier and his "nightlife" so much easier is the fact that from day one, his cramps disappeared for good.  After thirty years of daily torture, they simply vanished!  I received quite a few other "health reports" from him, but I'll just list a few that come to mind.  One is about his balance that greatly improved.  When I first showed him the standing form, especially the first and the eighth strand of brocade, which both require standing on tip toes, he would wobble and fall.  However, after a few days, he could not only easily lift himself up, standing on his tip toes, but he could stand straight and feel quite comfortable in that position.  Once he told me he attended a meeting in the open and since there were many people, he could not see the stage, so he lifted himself up on his tip toes and, for about an hour, he stood without feeling tired.

Another great benefit of doing Eight Stands of Brocade is that he experienced and admitted to having some kind of peace of mind which helped him cope with the bloodiest war Bosnia ever had, before he moved to Australia.  From 1992 to 1995, there was so much going on, from killing, torture, destruction, rape, humiliation and all the worst possible things that good honest people, which I am proud to call my parents so, simply could not stand witnessing.  They both did morning sessions of Qigong Massage and then my father would do the standing Eight Stands of Brocade Qigong, while my mother would do the Relaxing Qigong, and they both admitted that Qigong definitely calmed them down and kept them going. 

The first person I taught Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong to in Australia was a naturopath from Glebe in Sydney that I worked with in a health centre.  She reported that it helped her get rid of athlete's foot which she suffered with for years and tried everything without success.  I taught many people since then and most reported improvement soon after embarking on the practice.


Qigong Massage (Sitting Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong) Typical Case Histories (from China)

Case 1

Twenty years ago I injured my lower back and since then the pain was constantly there.  Sometimes it got better and sometimes worse, but it would especially hurt bad when there was a change in the weather.  It was affecting my study and work and my mood would often fluctuate as a result.  About eight years ago, I heard that Qigong Massage is very good for back pain, so I took up the practice. Within three months, my back gradually improved and then within six months, I never had the problem again.

Case 2 

I am seventy one years of age.  Before I started practicing Qigong Massage, I suffered from chronic gastrointestinal problems, had very low blood pressure, often felt dizzy and suffered from insomnia.  Nine years ago, I bought this little booklet called "Chinese Longevity Self Massage" and started practicing straight away.  At the very beginning, it looked too simple, so I doubted it would do anything.  But I decided to give it a try anyway.  In the first year since starting I was not practicing regularly, but even so, I felt some improvement.  My sleeping and appetite improved greatly and because of that I felt motivated to take it more seriously by practicing daily.  My condition improved immensely and ever since, I have never missed a day.  Unlike previous years, for the last five, I neither took any medication nor visited any doctors.  I also continue to read for many hours and I have never felt the need for reading glasses.

Case 3

In the past, I would often suffer from cold and flu.  However since I, by chance, got a hold of a book called "Chinese Longevity Self Massage" and started applying its techniques, I started noticing an improvement within a couple of months.  Since last year, I have not caught any colds or flu.  Interestingly enough, last winter, there was a flu epidemic and in my family of six, I was the only one who didn't catch it.  I strongly felt the power of this simple massage.

Case 4

I am a sixty five year old retiree and I have been suffering from high blood pressure for the last five years.  During the Spring Festival, I happened to come across a little book on Qigong Massage at my friend's place.  I borrowed it and started practicing everyday, morning and evening, following the diagrams.  When I performed the head massage it felt really good and it brought my blood pressure down considerably.  Since I started practicing, I did not miss a day, I did not take any medication and I did not need to see a doctor.  I strongly recommend this simple massage.  It does so much more than any medication ever did for me and, on top of this, there are no negative side effects.

Case 5

I find that Qigong Massage is really great.  Within six months, I felt an improvement in the following areas:

  • For the last few years, I had been having problems with indigestion. Since I started practicing Qigong Massage, my indigestion problems completely disappeared and my poor appetite changed for the better.
  • In the past, I would very easily catch cold or flu which is not the case any more.
  • I suffered from double vision and now I can see everything clearly.

Case 6 

I'm a 53 year old male who used to suffer from severe high blood pressure and heart complications.  A few years ago, after having suffered heart infarction, I was hospitalized for several months and then when I went into remission, I was sent to a sanitarium to recover.  For the first three months I was so exhausted that only after taking a couple of steps I had shortness of breath and chest pain.  The doctor ordered me to rest in bed.  By accident I met a fellow patient in the sanitarium who was recovering, amazingly quickly, from a stomach operation after applying a self massage technique he was taught by a friend.  He offered to teach me too and I accepted gladly.

I started practicing diligently, every morning, afternoon and evening and I started feeling much better.  My ECG examination results kept improving each time.  Within four months my ECG was normal.  I stopped having chest pain, shortness of breath and exhaustion.  At the moment, I can effortlessly walk three kilometers within half an hour.  Apart from all of this, I also experienced the following improvements: before I started practicing Qigong Massage, I had backache and every time I bent over I had difficulties coming back up.  Now, I can move my back with ease.  I had bad vision for many years and I was not able to read without my glasses, especially in the evening, while now I can read without them.  My blood pressure went from 160/110 to presently 130/80 mmHg. 

Case 7

This year I will be seventy eight years of age.  Due to many chronic health problems, I embarked on Qigong Massage about ten years ago and received good results in many different ways.

I used to suffer from high blood pressure, which according to my doctor was a result of arterial sclerosis.  It would usually be around 180/120mmHg and I often felt dizzy.  At times I felt as though the room would start spinning and I'd lose balance, even fall.  Despite medical intervention, I was not able to rid myself of these problems.  Luckily I came across this little booklet called "Chinese Longevity Self Massage" and I started practicing daily.  Within a year my blood pressure dropped to 140/100 mmHg.  I especially focused on the massage around the chest area in order to improve my heart condition and soon after I got rid of my chest pains and arrhythmia which, by the way, used to happen every five or six beats.  I also suffered from another condition which began when I was sixty.  My teeth started hurting and feeling loose and some even fell out.  However, since I've been doing Longevity Self Massage, especially the tapping teeth technique, my teeth are much stronger, they don't ache and they did not fall out.  Finally, my backache and arthritis have all improved greatly. 

Case 8

I started practicing Qigong Massage fifteen years ago and I do it every morning and evening.  As a child, I contracted TB which most probably affected my health thereafter.  When I was about fifty, my hair was all white, my eyesight was bad and I was partly deaf in my left ear.  I would often have dizzy spells, backache and joint pains.  After practicing Qigong Massage, not only did my health improve, but I felt rejuvenated.  All of these problems either improved or completely disappeared.  This year, I am seventy three and able to see without the need for eye glasses.  Last year I had a general health examination and the doctor gave me a "clean bill of health".  I had chronic constipation for many years and often suffered from toothaches.  Within four years of practicing Longevity Self Massage, both conditions improved.  Interestingly enough, once after I finished my self massage, my stomach started gurgling and then, half an hour later, my whole body felt really warm.  I had some other improvements, but I found that the results of these two extra conditions were the most notable.

Case 9

Several years ago, I bought this book called "Chinese Longevity Self Massage" and started applying myself to the exercises.  After about six months of doing these exercises, I started noticing amazing results.  My headache and dizziness eased, the stiffness in my limbs improved considerably and I had much more strength.  The feeling of bloatedness had disappeared and I felt lighter.  At work I was able to take on much more than before.  At my office, I showed a few of my colleagues how to do the massage and they had great results too.  The most common one they experienced was clarity of mind and general comfort & lightness in the body. 

Case 10

One winter I had terrible bronchitis, the following autumn I ended up with a stomach ulcer and then a few years later, I started having chronic inflammation of the bowel.  On top of that I contracted tuberculosis, which had me bed ridden for six months and, within that period, I lost almost twenty kilos.  Due to my condition, I was transferred to a bigger local hospital, then to the county hospital and, in the end, I was admitted to a state hospital.  The opinion of a few doctors was that I needed an operation.  But even though I was desperate, I was not willing to have an operation.  By chance I met someone who was doing this kind of longevity self massage and so I decided to try it.  I started practicing daily.  I was also shown the standing form of Eight Strands of Brocade Qigong and Relaxation Qigong.  I diligently practiced everyday for fifteen months and with all these, my health improved dramatically, I completely got rid of my bronchitis, ulcer and bowel condition.  With regards to the tuberculosis, x-rays only showed traces of calcification which, I was told, was a sign of recovery, like a scar on the lung tissue.  My weight increased from 42 to 61 kilos.  In the past, every time I got sick, I would go to a doctor, but since I started treating myself, all I have to do is increase the amount of times I do Qigong.  I very seldom get flu, I never had a day of sick leave at work since improving and I have a healthy appetite.  I used to take all sorts of medication and used to be very inactive, while now, I don't take any medication and I love being active.  And I'm still full of energy. 

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