This article shows a version of the Eight Precious Sets of Exercise, also known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade, from Qigong Master Geoff Pike. I have written a couple of articles about Geoff Pike here and here.
I am grateful to Paul H., a qigong, meditation and yoga teacher who shared with me pages of the out-of-print Geoff Pike qigong book called – The Power of Ch’i. This article gives a brief explanation of the exercises with some model pictures.
The Eight Precious Sets of Exercise are a simple form of eight different qigong exercises, which take around 10-15 minutes to carry out. If practiced daily, they will help develop a smoother flow of Ki/Qi (energy) in the body, gently strengthen your joints and muscles, and have a positive impact on your health.
Over the centuries, different variations of the exercise have been developed and practiced, but fundamentally, the exercises are all very based on 8 specific movements.
Usually the exercises are carried out in a gentle manner with an awareness of energy flow in the body, making it ideal for people of all ages and states of health. But some versions can be carried out in a more physical way with emphasis on stretching the muscles and tendons. Here are the movements along with extracts from Geoff Pike’s Book – ‘The Power of Ch’i’:
Geoff Pike’s Eight Precious Sets of Exercise
We are ready to begin Pa Tuan Tsin. You have chosen the spot in which you feel most natural and where the air is at its best. You are dressed in loose-fitting, comfortable clothing with ample leg room, your footwear is light and flat bottomed, the sash around your waist is soft and not tied too tightly. You are stripped of metal accessories, your bladder and bowels are empty, you have eaten nothing for at least two hours and taken no alcohol for at least six. There is a pitcher of cool to warm boiled water or hot green tea nearby in case you need it. You remember that all inhalation and exhalation must always be through the nose, never through the mouth (unless exhalation is so instructed). All breathing should be concentrated on the slow, silent and deep. The words patience, discipline, fortitude and faith are firmly in mind.
(Page 97, Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i)
Exercise One: Scoop the Stream
The first exercise is one of the simplest and most pleasant to perform. Is is so named because the second movement gives the impression of scooping the water from a stream and drinking from the cupped hands.
It is excellent for expanding the lungs and stretching the ribcage. It also circulates the dormant Chi from the lower abdomen to the tip of the spinal column and to the forehead. It gives you a general lift and generates immediate alertness. A good way to wake up and get started
Page 98, Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i?
Scoop the Stream: Instructions
- Relax. Take up your position standing with feet together and hands loosely at sides, fix your eyes on a chosen object.
- Empty the lungs. Inhale as slowly as you can while raising the hands (palms down) until the fingertips touch above the head (palms now up). The time required for the movement should coincide with the length of your breath. Stretch the body upward to its fullest extent without raising the heels. Imagine that you are supporting a great weight with your two palms. Hold for the silent count of three. Exhale slowly and steadily while reversing the movement and lowering the hands in time with the exhalation until they are gently back at your sides and the lungs are drained of air. Pause for the silent count of three.
- Intertwine the fingers, forming a scoop, palms uppermost. Inhale slowly and deeply while raising ‘the scoop’ to the lips, bent arm in line with shoulders, elbows raised as high as possible.
- To the silent count of three, turn the scoop over (palms down) and exhale steadily while reversing the movement.
- Stretch the arm downward to their fullest extent as though pressing the palms down on a spring-loaded weight. Hold for the silent count of three. Return the relaxed hands to the sides and repeat both movements eight times.
Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i, page 99 and 100
Here is a YouTube Video of Exercise One: ‘Scoop the Stream’, performed by Geoff Pike
Exercise Two: Press the Sky
The second exercise is so-called because of its ultimate stretching power. The uppermost hand and flattened palm really seem to be supporting the sky.
A variation of Scoop the Stream, in which the active points are the liver and the shoulders. Chi is circulated from the liver to the shoulders alternatively, conditioning the liver, stimulating its function while relieving the shoulders of strain, and stretching the entire body to its fullest extent.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, page 101
Press the Sky: Instructions
Relax. Remain in position with feet together.
- Reach behind with the left hand and firmly clasp the back of the thigh just below the left buttock.
- Drain the lungs of air. Form a ‘cup’ with the right hand hooked at the wrist.
- Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the cup to the lips, elbow in line with shoulder.
- Without pause, turn the cup outward and over, rise on your toes and continue inhaling until the right arm is ‘pressing the sky’. From toes to upturned palm, your body is stretched to its absolute utmost and full of air. Hold for a count of three.
- 6. and 7. Exhale slowly and steadily and reverse the action exactly: lower the upturned palm to the lips while lowering the heels. Form the cup at the lips, lower to the groin, relax with both hands at the sides. Reach behind with the right hand to grasp the right back thigh below the buttock. Repeat the movements exactly with the left hand. Complete four times with each arm.
Geoff Pike – The Power of Ch’i, Page 103
Press the Sky: Video
Exercise Three: The Shaolin Archer
The third and much revered exercise is perhaps the most ‘beautiful jewel in the crown of the Precious Eight’… at least that is how it was once described by a Shaolin priest. Its quite classical performance is reminiscent of a Chinese opera, where all sets, props and even weapons are imaginary. It is best described as the drawing of a longbow hewn from the oldest yew or blackwood or forged of the finest steel. It is a bow that takes the strength, artistry and skill of the true archer to bend.
This exercise can be used alone when time does not permit the full sequence, it being considered the most benefical of the set. Its primary purpose, because of its separate (left and right) stretching, is to exercise alternate lung power. At the same time its twisting motion under pressure relieves and strengthens the liver. Executed from the Half-horse (or full Horse, if you feel like it), it also brings into play the leg, hip and spinal exercise explained under Horse Stance, plus the stretching and strengthening of sinew and joint in the arm, developing unexpected power.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, Page 104
3. The Shaolin Archer: Instructions
Relax. Drop into a Half-horse stance (high seated, knees half-bent. Settle comfortably, checking your stance for perfect balance; move your foot a centimetre or two to find it.
- Take a long, silent breath while raising the right arm and holding it at shoulder level. The left hand is on the left thigh. The right hand is relaxed from the wrist, the right arm firm but not tensed. Keep your eyes, half-closed, upon the outstretched hand. Think of nothing else but the hand. It is a beautiful thing. It is your hand. It has many times saved you as it moves to your will.
- Swing the hand in its gentle state slowly across your body just below eye-level, keeping the arm locked but relaxed. Watch its progress as though it were a bird in flight, until it is across your chest and pointing left. During this flight, you are gently exhaling, emptying your lungs quietly but completely.
- Before it has finished travelling, bring up the bow (left hand). Your lungs are now empty and ready to draw breath. Raise the forefinger of the left hand as though its tip were a target (or a gun sight).
- Inhale slowly, quietly, steadily, as you push out the bow to full arm’s length, keeping your eyes fixed on the raised finger tip. Straighten the left arm to its fullest extent, locking the elbow until the full breath has been drawn. At the same time, the ‘arrow hand’ has been slowly drawn back to its fullest extent. All motion should cease with the peak of your inhalation. In other words, your movements last as long as your slowest inhalation and exhalation. Hold the pose for the silent count of three. During that period of three seconds, with lungs fully extended, concentrate through willpower your entire bodily strength into your raised fingertip. Stretch that extended right arm to its absolute maximum and a little bit more. The elbow and wrist should tighten like a stretched rope, just the way a cat puts every ounce of power into the awakening stretch of its forelegs.
- On three, begin to gently exhale and repeat the exact procedure in reverse, lowering the right hand slowly to the thigh and relaxing the taut left hand at the wrist.
- 7. & 8. The left hand has now become the arrow hand and the right will raise the bow. Exhale as the left hand swings slowly into position and draw the bow to the right. This may sound complicated but you will find that it is not. Just imagine the fitting, drawing and releasing of an imaginary bow, drawn first to the right and then to the left. Repeat four time on either side.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, pages 105-107
Shaolin Archer Video
Exercise Four: Search the Clouds
The fourth exercise is referred to in Wu Shu circles as ‘a very essential health dose’. This may be an added incentive to practice it correctly as it appears quite awkward to perform and calls for considerable physical application. It is called Search the Clouds because the movements command attention upwards.
Its benefit can be seen after internal injuries such as bruises or contusion caused from heavy sparring or actual combat. This indicates its internal effectiveness. It is also accepted as a pick-up for fatigue and over-exertion ‘especially after sexual intimacy. ‘Sexual exhaustion or tiredness can interfere with bodily functions, in particular the digestive system. Searching the clouds hardly seems a recuperative procedure for a bruised or weary body, but with careful and regular practice you will find it is.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, pages 108
4. Search the Clouds Instructions
Relax. Remain in the Half-horse Stance (or rest your legs for a moment if you must), then lower into the full Horse Stance.
- Place the hands on the thighs, fingers spread inwards
- Slowly inhale, while bending the upper body backwards and to the left as far as you can go. The lungs and body should be filled with air by the time you have reached the full extent of your backward bend.
- Hold for the silent count of three, pressing back to gain another centimetre. Exhale steadily as you bring the upper body to its central position, by which time the lungs and body are drained of air. Relax. Hold for the count of three.
- Repeat the movement to the right. Complete four times on each side. Close the Horse Stance and stand erect.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, page 109
Search the Clouds Video
Exercise Five: Lift the Rock
The fifth exercise is a combination of exercises one and two: scooping and pressing. The basic movement is that of taking the weight of a rock or nearby object in the hands, lifting it to the chin and raising it as high above the head as possible.
It offers all-round internal benefits while bringing about the utmost in upward stretching. We have all observed the animal stretching habits, particularly feline, upon waking or rising. No authority on physical energy control and bodily relaxation could deny that stretching has considerable restorative effects.
5. Lift the Rock Instructions
- Relax. Stand erect with feet together. Empty the lungs of air.
- Entwine the fingers, palms uppermost (to accept the rock).
- Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the joined hands level with the chin.
- Continue the upward press without breaking the finger grip, turning the palms outward and upward as you continue to press above the head. Follow the movement of your hands with your eyes until your flat, upturned palms have reached their utmost height. Strain to gain an extra fraction, to the silent count of three. Relax.
- Exhale steadily while reversing the movement exactly.
- Back to the beginning position. Press down for the silent count of three. Repear eight times.
Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i, page 110-111
Lift the Rock Video
Exercise Six: Touch the Sky Press the Earth
The sixth exercise combines maximum upward stretching with maximum forward and downward stretching, hence the name.
Maximum stretching and bending combines arm and shoulder loosening, chest expansion, abdominal, back and leg exercise whilst greatly benefiting the kidneys and spleen.
6. Touch the Sky Press the Earth Instructions
- Relax. Stand erect with feet together, hands loose at sides. Empty the lungs of air.
- Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the hands above the head and continuing a backward bend as far as possible. Hold for the silent count of three.
- Exhale steadily while reversing the movement forward and down until the fingertips are pressed on the ground as far ahead of your toes as possible. Pause for the silent count of five.
- Inhale slowly and deeply while straightening, drawing the hands up the legs to the thigh.
- Hold for the silent count of three.
- Repeat eight times.
Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i. Pages 112-113
Touch the Sky Press the Earth Video
Exercise Seven: Eye of the Tiger
The seventh exercise is perhaps so named because of the tiger’s ability to look directly behind it while keeping its body poised for a frontal spring. We have all seen a cat stalking some unsuspecting prey, only to be disturbed by a sound of movement behind it. It will stop dead in its tracks, front paw raised, every muscle and sinew frozen in the direction of its chosen path, while turning its head to look directly back over its tail. Apparently tigers do this also.
Whatever the origin of its name, this seems as good an explanation as any, for it is just this action that the exercise calls for. It loosens neck sinews, develops neck muscles, exercises the vital organs of the throat and promotes excellent balance while working calves, ankles and feet.
7. Eye of the Tiger Instructions
- Relax. Stand erect with feet together, hands loose at sides. Empty the lungs of air.
- Inhale slowly and deeply while gradually rising on the toes and turning the head as far to the left as possible. Do not turn the shoulders or upper body. When the breath is complete, you should be fully raised on the toes, head twisted as far to the left as possible in an attempt to look behind you. Hold for the silent count of three.
- Exhale steadily while reversing the movement back to the starting position.
- Repeat movement to the right. Complete four times on either side.
Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i. Pages 114-115
7. Eye of the Tiger Video
Exercise Eight: Grip the Swallows egg
The name of this eighth exercise is derived from the unique way of closing the fists. Each fist is fully formed yet leaves a hollow in its centre as though protecting a delicate object from being crushed. The fist, tensed to its full power when outstretched, must control the energy that surrounds the inner palm. This exercise develops a formidable hand grip, greatly strengthens the arm while demanding passive control. It is one of the classic restraining movements, which, when released with full speed and impact after long practice, can unleash unbelievable but easily controlled force.
To increase power in the arms, from shoulder to elbow, to wrist, to fingers, is the main purpose; at the same time exercising the legs and lower trunk. It is in fact the slow ‘motion’ performance of the ‘kung fu’ punch with strict control on pressure and the restraint of energy. It is a little difficult to master and should be practiced patiently and diligently from one stance at a time until ready to progress to the next. Pa Tuan Tsin only teaches the frontal punch, but I have included punching from the Right and Left Bow.
Grip the Swallows Egg Instructions
- Relax. From the Horse Stance, empty the lungs of air.
- Inhale slowly and deeply while extending the right fist in a frontal punch. The movement should begin from a relaxed shoulder, gradually increasing pressure as it turns and extends. When the fist is fully extended (imaginary swallow’s egg safely shielded inside), tensed as if in a strike, the arm is also locked at the elbow, exerting full pressure. Hold for the silent count of three.
- Exhale steadily as you reverse the movement, withdrawing the fist and slackening pressure as it returns to the waist and complete relaxation. Hold for the silent count of three.
- Repeat the movement with the left fist. Repeat eight times.
- & 6. Without rising from the Horse Stance, twist into the Left Bow position and repeat the exact movement, aiming the restraining punch at an imaginary target on your right. Four punches with each arm.
7. & 8. Twist into the Right Bow position and repeat two punches to the left. Close the Horse Stance, stand erect. Relax and lower the hands to the sides. Inhale. Exhale.
9. Bow to the light that is in you.
The final exercise of the Precious Eight may leave you a little wobbly at the knees, but otherwise feeling fine once you have closed the Horse Stance and straightened up. The temptation to sit down will also be great. Resist it. Ease tired leg muscles by walking about or, if you are practising in a room, just walking on the spot. Keep your legs moving for at least a five minute period.
Sip some water or tea, allow your breathing to settle and become completely normal.
Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i. Pages 116-119
Grip the Swallows Egg Video
Advice on Practicing Pa Tuan Tsin
In his book The Power of Ch’i, Geoff Pike gives some basic advice on ways to get the maximum benefit from your practice of the Eight Precious Sets of Exercise. I will summarise these points below:
- As with learning from a book, and without the guidance of a teacher, there is the risk of dropping out. This can occur with losing faith and confidence in what you are practicing, especially in the early days. How do we avoid the temptation to drop out?
- Firstly – patience, discipline and will power are the vital ingredients. Unlike many ‘get-fit’ systems, these breathing exercises do not carry a ‘money back guarantee’ or ‘a magnificent body in 7 days’ for five minutes a day of exercise. They do not promise easy effortless easy results with no disruption to your daily life. However, what they do offer is a ‘definite, self-evident improvement in general fitness, increased strength and a degree of immunity from immunity which might otherwise affect a less healthy body’.
- The various benefits to be had from Pa Tuan Tsin and the time to achieve them is completely up to you, as is the ultimate goal of Ch’i development.
- There is a yardstick to judge your progress on, and protect against losing your confidence and faith in your practice. The first four weeks are when you are at greatest risk of dropping out. During this time, you will find some of the exercises uncomfortable and awkward to carry out in the beginning. Or conversely, they may seem so easy, you cannot fathom any benefit coming from them. There will be days, when you don’t want to practice, especially in a pair of droopy pyjamas posed in front of a mirror or seen by your neighbours in your garden in bad weather. You may find the co-ordination of breath and the movement difficult. However, it is the first month that is the ‘testing ground’. It is the ‘proving period’ you must pass through no matter how slowly, before you realise that you have only just begun.
- Be aware of these early stumbling blocks and learn how to deal with them. Firstly, do not hurry in your efforts to immediately follow the routine as laid out. You can leave the extra exercises until you are ready. You do not have to follow the exact sequence of exercises. Instead, you can work on individual exercises – practice the stances or get familiar with the different postures before attempting to coordinate them with your breathing. If a particular muscle or joint is uncomfortable with a specific movement, be patient with it, massage it, coax it and take your time. You will discover your own body’s capabilities and develop your own style.
- If there is difficulty with co-ordinating breathing and movement, you can practice the breathing separately. Concentrate first on prolonging and controlling the length and depth of your inhalation and exhalation by deep breathing as often as you can. Remember breathing can be practiced at any time – in the car, walking the dog, by the office window, in bed or the bath.
- You cannot always choose the quality of your air, so restrict deep breathing exercises to when the air is relatively clean. For example, it would be better to take shorter breaths when you are behind a diesel or petrol engine, or on a crowded train. But when you can take deep breaths in a relatively clean area, take the opportunity to do so.
- Breathe through the nose. You will know when your breathing is improving, because the length and duration of your breaths will be longer and you will find it cooler at the back of your throat, like a cool breeze in the back of your throat, rather than a scarcely noticed rhythm in the nostrils. Also your diaphragm will rise and fall rather than your chest and ribcage.
- Geoff Pike does recommend that if you have any doubts about your ability to cary out any of these exercises, then you should take this book to your doctor and ask his opinion. This is particularly the case if you have any chronic health complaints or any specific disease. (I would add that if you are elderly, have mobility issues, are at risk of falls, or suffer from any illness affecting your breathing, this advice would be recommended – my note).
- Feel free to drop any exercises out of the sequence if they are not possible for you or just simply don’t feel right. Chi gong is a personal practice. The wonderful thing about Pa Tuan Tsin is that even if you were to practice just one of these exercises alone and nothing else, you would still reap benefits. For example, the Shaolin archer is a popular favourite. Also the Horse Stance can vary in how low or high you go.
- Finally, Geoff does make a reference to frequency of practice as being – every day, or at least every other day. However, in the spirit of Geoff Pike’s other advice, I would add that the practice should suit you, your schedule and current state of health. For some people, this might mean that they could only manage once or twice a week. For others, every day. You have to find what suits you at your stage of life. However, it is important to maintain a regular practice and above all, to practice – patience, discipline and will power.
I hope you have found this article helpful. I have quoted heavily from Geoff Pike’s book The Power of Ch’i. Geoff Pike’s version of the Eight Precious Exercises does differ from other more common versions of the Eight Pieces of Brocade that are taught today. In fact, I started practiced this version while working on this article and I immediately noticed improvements to my posture and especially in regards to my forward neck and shoulder habit. I actually prefer this version of qigong.
Geoff’s book is a goldmine of information and I heavily recommend you grab a second hand copy, as it is out of print now (Amazon link here). Again thanks to Paul H. for the copies of the pages.
- A Tribute to the Qigong Master Geoff Pike
- Katsugen and Richard S. Omura: Encounters with Spontaneous Qi (9)
- Jim McMillan: The First Western Student of John Chang and Mo Pai
The Power of Ch’i: The Secrets of Oriental Breathing for Health and Longevity. 1980. Geoff Pike. Bell Publishing Company
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