The following exercises are all used in traditional bagua styles, although none come from Erle Montaigue. I have picked them up from a variety of sources (workshops and videos). Before beginning any martial training it is a good idea to get the torso and limbs warmed up. Similarly, when you have finished such training, it is smart to do a little cooling down with a few of these exercises or whatever stretches you may prefer.
If you are using these exercises as a way of preparing for qigong, form work, or martial training, then you should do them in the order shown, starting with Holding Up the Heavens and finishing with Shaking the Body. If you have been doing standing qigong first, then I would recommend that you start with Shaking the Body and then follow the order shown below.
These exercises are designed to strengthen and loosen the body and teach particular body mechanics. Some of them also introduce specificjings, or martial principles; but don't think of these as being techniques. They are ways of starting to understand bagua principles that apply to both self-healing and the combat methods.
Don't do these exercises too slowly or too quickly. And even at a moderate speed, you won't normally try to co-ordinate your breathing with your actions on a conscious level unless specifically told to in certain exercises. Please ensure that you don't accidentally hold your breath for extended periods. Lack of oxygen leads to muscle tension, and vice versa. If you find that you get breathless doing any of these, you are probably going too fast, doing too many repetitions, or holding the breath.
Always begin with the quiet standing posture before stepping out to the left side with the left foot. Reverse that to return to the quiet standing posture. Do four or eight repetitions of each exercise on each side.
Exercise One: Holding Up the Heavens/Strengthens the Spine and Arms. This gently twists the spine and helps to increase or maintain the elasticity of the spine, shoulders and sides of the torso. With the arms lengthening up over the head, a natural abdominal lift is created, which tones the abdominal walls. The internal organs are also gently massaged by the rhythmic breathing. The chest is expanded. Pressure is taken off the heart and lungs by opening the chest cavity. With your knees straight, but not locked, interlace the fingers, palms up, in front of the waist and raise the hands slowly until the palms turn to face upwards when the backs of the hands are directly above the top of the head. As you do this, inhale while letting the stomach muscles gently contract inward and upwards, pushing your interlocked hands straight up over your head. Push them up until your arms are straight. Gently exhale and relax the stomach muscles and, as you do so, let the body turn to the left. Be sure that you have the feeling of lengthening up, arms as well; and that your hips do not move. Also be sure that you do not collapse or slump as you exhale. Try not to lean to the side. Relax. Inhale, letting the stomach muscles gently contract inward as you turn back to face forward, always lengthening up. Repeat to the right side. Remember to keep the hips from turning. Keep lengthening up. Exhale slowly, and as you do so, let your hands drop slowly to the sides while maintaining feeling of extension to your fingertips.
Exercise Two: Rotating the Grindstone/Co-ordinating Posture and the Bow Stance. Step diagonally to the left, as your hands "hold the grindstone" (as if your hands are cupping a stone shaped like a bowl held upside down) at waist height. Circle the hands in a counter-clockwise fashion while shifting the weight forward and back. Inhale as you come back, exhale as you go forward. Do four or eight repetitions, and then retract the left foot and hands to the starting spot. Repeat on the right, but with the hands "grinding" in a clockwise fashion. Don't bend and straighten your elbows once you are "holding onto the grindstone." The idea is to use the co-ordinated movement of your waist and spine to move your arms in the required pattern. Don't lean too far forward when in the Bow Stance, and straighten up as you shift the weight back. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
Exercise Three: Bending the Heavenly Stem/Stretches and Strengthens the Lower Back and Legs. Step to the side with the left foot into a moderate Horse Stance and position your arms as if you were holding a beach ball in front of the torso, with the left hand underneath and the right hand above. Exhale while rolling and wrapping the left hand overhead, appearing to lean back as far as possible as the right hand drops simultaneously. (N.B. Your lower back drops, the inguinal folds crease, and the knees and legs do most of the actual work.) As you straighten up, inhale and then, switching the hands again, lean forward so that your torso forms a 90 degree angle with your legs. Your right palm will be pushing forward, and your spine will be as straight as possible. Keep the chin tucked in at all times. Remember to exhale as you bend forward or back, and to inhale whenever you are straightening. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
Exercise Four: Wrap & Chop/Trains Co-ordination Between the Upper and Lower Body. Stepping to the side with the left foot, assume as wide a Horse Stance as possible. Shift/swivel from side to side, turning smoothly on the heels (don't let the toes lift too high as you do this), as you first chop with the edge of one hand before "wrapping" the arms and finishing with a second chop with the other hand. It is important to remember that your torso and arms will have to move faster than your waist and legs if you are to accomplish two chops on each swivel. At the end of each swivel, the rear hand should feel as if it is holding an opponent's wrist that you caught after having intercepted a punch with your initial chop. Your front hand does the final damage—feel with the "hammer" portion of the lower outside edge of the Dragon Palm. Allow your head to turn with the torso, but remember that your eyes and attention must stay to the front where the opponent would be standing if you were doing this as martial technique. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
Exercise Five: Twisting the Tea Cups/Trains flexibility in the Arms and Shoulders. This method is done in a moderate Horse Stance (ma-bu), and only the waist and arms will move. Start on the left side and imagine that you extend your left palm—don't drop your invisible cup of tea cradled in the palm of that hand—by twisting the wrist so that the fingers go to the left side, and then forward and upwards over the head, and then down to the front before coming back to stop momentarily by the left hip. "Don't spill your tea" while doing this, and you will go a long way to stretching and relaxing your shoulders, elbows and wrists. (N.B. the advanced version of this dictates that you never let one hand rest by the hip while the other moves—both will be constantly moving until you have done an equal number of repetitions on each side.) The other way to make your training more challenging is to hold round objects of varying sizes and weights while practising. I have used croquet balls and Bocce balls as improvised bagua spheres. The heavier the object, the better the training in terms of building strength and flexibility, but be careful that you don't overdo this. I have seen old photos of masters walking the circle while holding and twirling stone balls of impressive sizes. So, this is a traditional, and challenging, way to practise. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
Exercise Six: Changing the Guard/Trains the use of the Changing Step as well as how to use the Palms. This method uses the posture recommended for the advanced standing qigong method I described earlier, Push the Palms, but instead of holding each side for a certain number of breaths you retract and extend each side alternating from left to right. For example, this necessitates that you lift and retract the left foot as you retract the left arm. Place the left heel back next to the right heel, and then extend the right arm and leg. This teaches you to do a Changing Step, which is a very valuable way of mobilising the momentum of your body weight when you don't have enough room to step more normally.
It also teaches you to lift your front foot before retracting it, so that you could avoid having it trapped by someone else trying to immobilise your leg with a toe-in stance. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
Exercise Seven: Rising and Falling/Strengthens and loosens the hips and buttocks. This method is done while in a moderate Horse Stance and consists of dropping the torso by bending the knees and folding the inguinal area while exhaling. As you do this, extend your arms forward, palms up, and to the height of the shoulders. Don't bend your knees excessively and don't drop so low that your thighs exceed being parallel to the floor. You can lean forward slightly as you drop, as long as the spine is straight, and you don't incline forwards excessively. As you inhale you will reverse this process and rise up to your original position.
Exercise Eight: Shaking the Body/Relaxes the Body and Stimulates the Hormone-producing Organs. Pause for a few moments after completing the previous exercise and, with arms still hanging at the sides, bend both knees slightly and start gently vibrating the body from head to feet. In the beginning you may need to start this process by bouncing up and down by alternately bending and straightening the knees. Keep the tip of your tongue pressed lightly upwards on the upper palate, but do not force the mouth to remain closed, or hold your breath, or try to co-ordinate it in any way with the shaking and trembling. Don't let the latter become violent spams. You should feel a mild trembling of the muscles and tissues in all parts of the body. Do this for roughly a minute in a continuous manner. This ecercise is relaxing once you get the hang of it. It helps to regulate glandular function for the purpose of building helth and preventing sexual dysfuncion. Particularly in terms of traditional Taoist thought, the most important hormons are those produced by the sexual organs, as these are used in the production of Qi. In addition, shaking relaxes the muscles and joints in general.
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