Chinese medicine balls are called Baoding balls, after the area where they were created, and have been used for thousand of years. They were designed to help relieve stress while building finger dexterity, wrist and forearm strength. Known also as Chinese therapy balls or harmony balls, these relaxation tools are very portable, fun and easy to use.
Baoding balls come in many sizes. Start with a size that you can handle easily, working up to larger sizes. The most common sizes range from a diameter of 35mm to 55mm. The 35mm is small and is usually used by children or an adult less than 5’2″. The 55mm is usually reserved for either the experienced user or someone who is over 6’2″. The chrome-plated steel balls are easy to care for, especially if you are an active practitioner. If you are going to leave the balls inactive for a time, treat them like you would the chrome on your car – just use a light oil or automotive wax on their surface to prevent rust from forming. They usually come in a case.
Techniques and uses
Starting with simple techniques allows you to build up strength and coordination to work toward advanced moves.
Begin practicing with the two balls. Rotate them clockwise then counterclockwise within your palm – two balls in one palm. Do it easily, without creating pain. After you feel comfortable at this level, you can proceed to more difficult exercises.
Try rotating the balls smoothly, without them coming apart and clashing together again. As an alternative, you might try rotating them without touching. This will work your fingers a little more, and is difficult if the balls are a little large for your hand size.
Another alternative use of Chinese medicine balls is to turn your palm downwards and rotate the balls. This will build some finger strength and dexterity, much like rotating the balls without touching. Be inventive and try cascading them one over the other, etc. Most importantly, have fun.
If you practice for more than fifteen minutes with one hand, you will soon notice that your forearm, shoulder, and hands are receiving a substantial workout. The balls work on the meridian system much like acupuncture or shiatsu massage.
According to Chinese traditional medicine, meridians (Jingluo) are channels or pathways of vital energy (Qi) that circulates within your body. Acupuncture points are distributed along these Jingluo meridians. For example, your ten fingers are connected with the cranial nerve and vital organs of your body – including heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, gallbladder, stomach and intestines. By stimulating these points with the balls, each meridian is restored, which creates better circulation of energy and blood within your body. Using the balls helps bring the vital energy and blood to function into harmony. Your pain lessens because muscles become more nimble. The use of the balls prevent and cure hypertension as well as various chronic diseases.
Keys to comfort
- Choose a set of Baoding balls that fit your hand and experience level.
- By holding both balls in one hand you strengthen your hands, fingers and arms. Place one ball between your pinkie and ring finger while holding the other with your remaining fingers and thumb.
- Push the balls simultaneously – what is great about this – gravity assists in this movement. Move each ball from your pinkie and ring finger up toward your middle and index fingers. Next move or push the ball from your thumb area toward your pinkie.
- Many people naturally hold their hand at a slight angle with the pinkie side tilted down. Therefore when you push a ball down with your thumb it automatically rolls to the end of your palm.
- Try to rotate the top ball from your index finger to your thumb. You are pushing it toward your pinkie as you rotate the second ball up from your pinkie and ring finger to the middle and index finger. Continue this rotation, trying not to drop the balls, but do not worry if they fall, just try again. While you’re learning the rotation technique, the balls often clink together.
- When the balls no longer clink you have learned the proper form. It requires practice to get space between the two balls you’re rotating.
- After perfecting the form in the first direction, increase the difficulty by rotating them in the opposite. They might clink together again at first, but as dexterity increases, you learn to space them out so they don’t touch.
- Add intensity to your time with the medicine balls by using larger, heavier balls or even adding another ball. A third ball is difficult. Rotate the third along with the original two or hold it in the middle, rotating the other balls around it without allowing it to fall.
An Historic Look
The Chinese medicine ball – Baoding ball – originated in Baoding, China, a small city in Heibei province. They were also called “Iron Balls” because they were originally made from solid iron. Later they were also made from polished stone. The heavy solid ball has been replaced with a hollow, chrome-plated steel version, usually with a sounding plate inside that makes chiming sounds when turned. Mass production of the Baoding Iron Ball started in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Today, Baoding craftsmen still meticulously produce them in Baoding, China. Presently, Cloisonné models with Chinese symbols are often designed on the surface. Western logos have recently appeared as well.