San Francisco 
 Hunyuan Taiji Academy 

Silk-Reeling (Chansigong


Silk-reeling exercises performed by Master Zhang Xuexin, 1990. For a list of the exercises in the complete silk-reeling routine, see bottom of page. 


Silk-reeling (Chansigong): Overview and benefits


Silk-reeling, or chansigong, is a dynamic qigong routine that builds health and vitality, opens and relaxes the joints, develops core body strength and flexibility, and increases internal energy flow. 


An essential foundation to serious tai chi practice, silk-reeling is also a great way to build core body strength and slim and tone the body (see student Annie A's First Person Story here). It's also an excellent program for those seeking relief from stress, chronic pain, back problems and joint stiffness (see student Kevin D's First Person Story here). Silk-reeling is non-impact and low-aerobic. See class schedule here. See principles of practice and list of exercises below, at bottom of page.


What is "silk-reeling"? 


The name "silk-reeling" refers to "reeling silk from a silk-worm's cocoon." The "silk" in this case is internal energy, or chi. The "cocoon" is the central dantian, the sphere of energy just below the navel where chi is stored (also known as the third or navel chakra). To maintain strength, vitality, and good health, chi must be able to circulate throughout the body freely. Stress, injury, illness and overwork can impede or even block the flow of chi. Silk-reeling is the art of removing these impediments and strengthening the flow of chi through a special series of simple physical exercises that draw the "silk" out from the central dantian and help it circulate through the body in long spiral waves.

 

In order to "reel silk" successfully the exercises must be done in a smooth and consistent manner without jerking, stopping, or changing direction sharply: Move too quickly, and the silk breaks; move too slowly, and it sticks to itself and becomes tangled. So silk reeling movements are continuous, cyclic patterns performed at constant speed with the "light touch" of drawing silk. Ultimately, the goal is to develop "spiral power," the ability to move the chi at will throughout the body in continuous spiral waves, starting from the central dantian. This is the foundation of tai chi, both as a martial art and a health regime.  

 

Silk-reeling exercises are derived from the tai chi forms and from push-hands practice. By isolating basic foundation movements and repeating them (usually 9 times each), the focus in silk-reeling practice shifts away from the complex outer choreography of the tai chi forms and toward the basic underlying principles of body mechanics and internal energy flow. This focus on the basics helps build body awareness, strength, flexibility, and balance, and clarifies the active principles that underlie all tai chi movement. In this way silk-reeling turbocharges the development of neigong—internal tai chi energy and skill—and builds a strong, healthy body and a calm, alert mind.  


Silk-reeling principles of practice


• Silk-reeling is a form of qigong ("energy practice"). Although some of the full-body movements are physically quite rigorous, the focus, as in all qigong, is on alert relaxation and mind/body integration. Movements vary from simple to complex, and from physically easy to fairly difficult, and are designed to move energy through all 18 joints of the body simultaneously, from toes to fingertips, with a special focus in each exercise on a particular joint or set of joints. They're done at a moderate pace to give you time to observe your own body's unique internal energy patterns and gradually smooth out any rough edges. The goal is to develop strong and vital chi that flows smoothly and continuously throughout the body.


• All silk-reeling movement starts from and returns to the dantian, the "sphere of chi" three fingers below the navel, the center of both the physical and energy bodies. Thus, all silk-reeling movement goes from inside to outside. This is the natural way to move, but unfortunately, modern civilization has switched this around and taught us to move from outside to inside. It's this reversal of the natural way of moving that causes the mind/body split—and by reversing the reversal, silk-reeling helps repair that split. 


• Internal energy is stored by coiling and bending the body, and is released by uncoiling and straightening: this store and release cycle generates the 'spiral power' of tai chi silk-reeling:


Yin (store) Yang (release) Tai Chi (balanced Yin & Yang)


The inward storing and outward release of chi is initiated by the mind, generated by the dantian, directed by the waist and legs, and expressed by the hands. All silk-reeling exercises are therefore full body exercises: all 18 joints of the body are involved in every movement, however subtly. The 18 joints of the body are: 


Limbs: 12 joints

Shoulders and hips (4)

Elbows and knees (4) 

Wrists and ankles (4)


Trunk: 6 joints

Neck (1) 

Thoracic hinge (chest/abdomen) (1) 

Waist hinge (1) 

Waist/rotation (1) 

The kua (inguinal or 'inner' hip joint) (2)


Performed at a moderate training pace, as in our class, these full-body silk-reeling exercises gently open and circulate chi through the joints and tissues, promoting health and vitality, flexibility, balance and coordination (left/right, upper/lower, and inner/outer body coordination, as well as mind/body integration). Performed at a very fast, or even explosive rate, these same spiral power cycles are the basis of taiji as a martial art. 


• Most silk-reeling exercises are performed 9 times to promote full energy flow. Some 'medicinal' or stretching exercises, like Dragon Head and Wrist Lock, are performed only 3 times. Some, like pelvic girdle exercises, are performed 18-36 times. Any exercise may be done as many or as few times as you like, but they are traditionally done in sets of 3 or 9. 


• See list of movements below. The routine outlined here, when done at a moderately rigorous pace with a single short break halfway through, takes 90 minutes to perform (the length of our standard silk-reeling class): 


Ultimately, the goal is to develop "spiral power," the ability to move energy throughout the body in long spiral waves, starting from the centraldantian (navel chakra). This is the basis of taiji as a martial art—and it also happens to be very good for your health.  


Silk-reeling exercises are derived from the taiji forms and from push-hands practice. By isolating basic foundation movements and repeating them (usually 9 times each), the focus shifts away from the complex outer choreography of the taiji forms and toward the underlying principles of body mechanics and internal energy flow (the 'silk' in silk-reeling is your internal energy, or qi). This focus on the basics builds body awareness, strength, flexibility, and balance, and clarifies the active principles that underlie all taiji movement. In this way silk-reeling turbocharges the development of neigong—internal taiji energy and skill. 

Ultimately, the goal is to develop "spiral power," the ability to move energy throughout the body in long spiral waves, starting from the centraldantian (navel chakra). This is the basis of taiji as a martial art—and it also happens to be very good for your health.  


Silk-reeling exercises are derived from the taiji forms and from push-hands practice. By isolating basic foundation movements and repeating them (usually 9 times each), the focus shifts away from the complex outer choreography of the taiji forms and toward the underlying principles of body mechanics and internal energy flow (the 'silk' in silk-reeling is your internal energy, or qi). This focus on the basics builds body awareness, strength, flexibility, and balance, and clarifies the active principles that underlie all taiji movement. In this way silk-reeling turbocharges the development of neigong—internal taiji energy and skill. 

Names of the Silk-Reeling Exercises 

Abbreviations

l = left

r = right

f = forward

rev = reverse

cw = clockwise

ccw = counterclockwise

(X) = number of repetitions

 

1 Opening

a Taiji qigong (9)

• Repeat taiji qigong three times between each numbered exercise set below:


2 Shoulder Girdle Reels

• Rotate around X,Y, and Z axes (li, ping and shu dimensions) as follows:

a Head turns (zhuan tou)(ping), l/r (9)   

b Neck rolls (xuan jin)(shu), cw/ccw (9)   

c Spinal waves (he shou)(li), f/rev (9)  

d Dragon Head (lung tou), (3)  


3 Pelvic Girdle Reels 

• Rotate around X, Y and Z axes (li, ping and shu dimensions) as follows: 

a Inner hip rolls (fu gu yao xuan)(kua)(ping), cw/ccw (18) 

b Outer hip rolls (fu gu yao xuan)(tun)(ping) (18) 

c Snake Sheds Skin (huchi cu), l/r (9) 

d Abdominal rotations (li), f/rev (18) 

e Abdominal rotations (shu), cw/ccw (18) 

f Dantian shaking (dou), (36)


4 Shoulder Reels 

• Shoulder reels (jian chan si) as follows:

a Single (dan jian), l/r, f/rev (9)  

b Alternate, f/rev (9) 

c Double (shuang jian), l/r, f/rev (9)

d Strikes (jian kao), advanced only (9)  


5 Thoracic Hinge Reels 

• Thoracic Hinge (feng kai) reels as follows:

a Double arm (shuang bi), l/r (9) 

b Feng kai fajin, (advanced only)(9) 


6 Diagonal Reels 

• Diagonal reels (xia chan si) as follows: 

a Double arm (shuang bi), l/r (9)


7 Hidden Hand Reels 

• Hidden Hand Reels as follows: 

a Yang/yang palm (mo pan dan), l/r (9)  

b Yang/yin palm (mo pan qie), l/r (9) 


8 Center Reels 

 Center reels (kai he chan si) as follows:

a Double arm open up (shuang bi shang kai), l/r (9) 

b Double arm open down (shuang bi xia kai), l/r (9)


9 Lazy Dragon Reels 

• Lazy Dragon Reels (lan long lou xuan chan si) as follows: 

a Single arm (dan bi) l/r, f/rev (18)

b Alternate arm, f/rev (18) 


10 Arm Reels 

• Full Body Arm Reels (bi chan si) as follows: 

a Single arm (dan bi), l/r, f/rev (9) 

b Double arm (shuang bi) f/rev (9)

c Alternate double arm, l/r (9)


11 White Ape Reels

• White Ape Reels (qian/hou shen luo xuan chan si) as follows: 

a Double arm forward, l/r (9) 

b Double arm backwards, l/r (9)


12 Horizontal Reels 

• Horizontal Reels (ping shen chan si) as follows: 

a Double arm forward (ping shen lou xuan) (9) 

b Double arm backward (hou shen lou xuan) (9)  


13 Cloud Hand Reels 

• Cloud Hand Reels (yun shou chan si) as follows: 

a Alternate arm (shun ni chan si), l/r (9) 

b Alternate arm walking drill (9) 

c Double arm (luu chan si), l/r (9) 


14 Golden Rooster Reels 

• Golden Rooster on One Leg Reels (jin ji du li chan si) as follows: 

a Golden Rooster, l/r (9)


15 Elbow Reels 

• Elbow Reels (zhou chan si) as follows: 

a Single elbow (dan zhou), l/r, f/rev (9) 

b Alternate elbow, l/r, f/rev (9)

c Alternate elbow strikes walking drill (9)  

d Double elbows (shuang zhou), f/rev (9) 

e Double elbow strikes, f/rev (3) 


16 Wrist Reels

• Wrist reels (wan chan si) as follows: 

a Single wrist (dan wan), l/r, f/rev (9) 

b Double wrist (shuang wan), f/rev (9) 

c Alternate double wrist, l/r (9) 

d Wrist rotations (yao wan), l/r and double (18)

e Wrist locks (na wan), l/r, f/rev (3)  

f  Eagle Claws (zhua), double (36)  

g Wrist flaps (dou wan) double (36) 


17 Dantian Rotations

• Rotate around the X, Y and Z axes (ping, li and shu circles) as follows:

a Ping circles, cw/ccw (18)  

b Li circles, f/rev (18)  

c Shu circles, cw/ccw (18) 


18 Spiral Punching Reels 

• Spiral punching reels (luo xuan chong quan) as follows

a Alternate fist punch, l/r (9)

b Alternate fist punch fajin, l/r (advanced only (9)


19 Waist Reels 

• Waist reels (yao chan si) as follows:

a Deep horse stance waist turn spinal twists (18) 

b Deep horse stance waist turns, l/r (9)

c Deep horse stance waist turns with double arm circles, l/r (9) 

d Deep horse stance big waist circles, (da xuan yao) cw/ccw (18) 


20 Knee Reels 

• Knee reels (xi chan si) as follows:

a Elbow to knee reels (xi yao xuan), l/r, f/rev (9)

b Massage the knees in deep horse stance (18)

c Snake Creeps Thru Grass sustained half splits, l/r (3)

d Snake Creeps Thru Grass moving half splits, l/r (9)  

e Knees together reels (shuang xi bin long yao xuan), cw/ccw (9) 

f  Knees apart reels (shuang xi yao xuan), cw/ccw (9)

g Deep squat butterfly stretches (xia dun) (3) 


21 Leg Stretches 

• Leg and pelvis stretches as follows:

a Snake Creeps Thru Grass squatting half splits, l/r (3)

b Butterfly squats (3) 

c Full splits (3)

d Calf stretches (3)


22 Kicks & Knee Lift Reels 

• Kicks & Knee lift reels (deng jiao ti xi) as follows: 

a Close knee and kick, high, middle and low (chan si deng jiao), l/r (9)  

b Lift knee reels (xi chan si), l/r (9)  

c Shake out kicks (3) 


23 Ankle Reels 

• Ankle reels (huai zu chan si) as follows: 

a Hinge ankles, l/r (9) 

b Ankle reels (huai lou xuan chan si), l/r, f/rev (9)

c Foot twists (zu yao xuan) and full plies, l/r, f/rev (9)


24 Closing 

• Closing as follows: 

a Golden Rooster Shakes His Feathers (jin ji dou ling) (36) 

b Cleanse the dantians

Brush the body, close the pores 

d Salute the class