These famous and widespread Qigong exercises are at least 800 years old. They are used for gently training the intrinsic health of the muscles, joints, connective tissues, digestion, the spine, and more. The Eight Brocades engage the physical body wholly, bringing flowing, resilient, flexible, strength. There are many different versions of the Eight Brocades. The version below is from Shanghai Lan Shou teacher Master Wu Ji, via Bob Lau (Lan Shou is a type of Kung Fu that is usually practiced at slow speeds, and gently.)
Indications: excellent warm-up when practicing Taiji Chuan in the morning.
Only Exercises 5 and 7 have a prescribed number of repetitions.
1. Hold Up the Sky
Inhale: Raise palms up the centerline, fingers pointing to each other; turn palms over as they reach the top of the torso. Look up only with the eyeballs as you press the palms straight over head.
Exhale: Lower arms in arcs down the sides with straight arms, then bring palms inward—fingertips leading—to the LDT, bringing the eyes back to neutral.
2. Pull the Bow
Right side: Lower the arms and turn to the right (3:00) into a right, xin yi-style bow stance while raising both straight arms to shoulder height, palms almost touching, fingers pointing to the right. Pull the left arm to the left shoulder while making fists with both palms and turning the torso and legs to a front horse stance. You are still looking to the right. Right arm is pushing to the right at shoulder level. Push the right fist to the horizon, stretching the ligaments of the wrist and arm. Left elbow is horizontal and pushing back to the left (not twisting back.) The pull is through the side-to-side width of the chest. Left side: Lower the arms to waist level as you twist the body counterclockwise, 180 degrees, to a left bow stance to the left (9:00). Raise the arms up to shoulder height,
palms almost touching, fingers pointing to the left. Pull the right arm to the right shoulder while making fists with both palms and turning the torso and legs to a front horse stance. You are still looking to the left.
Alternative version from Bob Lau: Pull the bow with two fingers, not a fist and come to rest the pulling fist on the side of hip instead of the at the shoulder.
3. Press Heaven and Earth
Press ands stretch one hand high and one low. The high hand is over the head and the lower hand at the outer thigh. The palms are bent on the stretches, with fingers facing inward. Inhale as hands go away from each other. Exhale as they come toward each other, crossing at the chest. The hands also twist as they rise or sink, especially the rising hand.
4. Twisting the Spine
Transition Move: Raise the arms to the sides, straight and at shoulder height in fists, pushing to the sides with the knuckles of index and middle finger in order to stretch the tendons of the hand, wrist and arm.
Twisting Move: Turn from the spine to look behind. The lower fist stretches behind lower
back on the opposite Kidney area. This is the arm on the same side you are turning to (left turn = left arm behind back.) The high fist comes to rest in front of the head. Both fist are in the fingers-out position.
Transition Move: Lower the upper arm and raise the lower arm so they pass each other as open with arms to the sides and straight at shoulder height in transition; then you twist to the other side.
Alternative Version: Just look left and right with the head turning. [Kind of lame.]
5. Shake the Apple out of the Tree
No more than 7 reps. Don’t let the head shake too much.
Look up and keep looking up during the whole of this exercise. Raise straight arms straight up, shoulder width, palms facing each other. Come up on the toes and make fists above the head. Drop on the heels and let arms swing down and back as palms open. As the arms swing forward, raise up into the next rep.
6. Hip Circling
Hands on hips (or Kidneys.) Make big circles of the torso from the hips (not from the back.) Do a bunch of reps one way, then a bunch the other direction. This helps relax the body and open the kua.
Alternative Version: Instead of circling the torso, lean left then right, from the kua.
7. Squeeze the Fists
Begin with slightly open palms near the waist on either side. Elbows are bent. Palms face mostly downward. Make tight fists with fingers facing the sides of your torso as push the fists toward the ground. This action greatly stretches the tendons, fascia and joints of the arms and wrists while strengthening the grip. Is also excellent for opening the upper shoulders and cervical spine, preventing a great many physical ailments. Release the fists back to the beginning position. This exercise is said to bring the Qi to the extremities.
8. Fold Over
Stretch arms and palms above the head. Palms are essentially facing each other at shoulder width. Bend over at the waist as low as you can go safely. Grab the undersides of the toes (or place palms behind the legs if you are not flexible), Pull slightly to stretch down a bit more. Let go of the hold and unhinge at the waist to stretch up again.