~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Eight Silken Brocades

June 23, 2020
Wouldn't you love to find a simple and enjoyable routine that strengthens the body, frees the breath and quiets the mind? And wouldn't it be especially lovely if that practice required no special equipment, could be practiced anywhere, and only took 20 minutes of your day?

The Eight Silken Brocades are my answer. This simple and uplifting practice combines movement, breathing and meditation in ways that cultivate wellbeing in body, mind and spirit. This practice was my introduction to the Chinese art of qigong, and years later it still brings a smile to my face every single time I practice. It's hard to imagine a time when the Eight Silken Brocades wouldn't be an appropriate answer to the needs of the day.

The practice is made up of eight simple movements - practiced standing or even sitting down - with each movement slowly repeated several times. The movements are accompanied by mindful breathing, mental focus and imagery. The key instruction throughout the practice is to move like silk in a fluid and gentle fashion. Moving in this way slowly nudges us in the direction of ease and harmony.

The Eight Silken Brocades have their roots in exercises first recorded 2,500 years ago, and have been passed down through the centuries in China and beyond. Today there are many different incarnations of the practice, ranging from deep and demanding to slow and simple. All of the variations are rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which posits that we have rivers of energy running through us that keep our lives flowing smoothly. The Silk Brocades are said to clear and strengthen each of the primary energy meridians in the body in a way that creates a wholesome and well-rounded practice.

Practitioners are encouraged to practice the Silk Brocades outside, so that the soothing quality of the trees and sun and sky can calm and uplift us. And we are advised to practice at no more than 70 percent of full effort. If we try too hard, it is said, we will create stress rather than relieve it. Isn't that a soul-satisfying instruction?

Practicing with an experienced guide is the best way to learn this practice, but modern technology makes it possible to learn the flow on our own. If you don't have a nearby teacher, I recommend finding your favorite sequence online and following along every day until you know it by heart.

My introduction to the practice was through this video shared by Mimi Kuo Deemer, a Britain-based qigong and yoga teacher. I followed along daily until my muscles knew the flow and I could carry the practice out under the vast blue sky. (Mimi also has many other beautiful guided routines, and even online classes, if you are inspired to learn more.)

I also love this version by Judy K. Young. It's a little softer and gentler, and just seeing Judy's beatific smile always calms me down. This offering is led silently, which deepens the sense of tranquility. (I also recommend Judy's qigong massage videos, which also can be found on her YouTube channel.)

The Shaolin Buddhist monks - renowned for their strength, suppleness and mental focus - practice a version of the Eight Brocades as a warm-up to their martial arts practices. This video offers a gentle taste of the Shaolin incarnation of the practice.

And if you would like to take a deeper dive into the nuances of the practice, here's a detailed description of the Eight Brocades shared by Michael Garofalo.

I have never once regretted slipping outside into the morning light and opening to the Eight Silken Brocades. Once the sequence nestles into the bones, the mind can rest deeply into the moment as we slip and stretch and strengthen and soften. The practice becomes a steadying ritual and a faithful companion as we move through the inevitable ups and downs of life. Enjoy!