Remember the explosion of fidget spinners into the market? Why were they so popular and do they actually have any usefulness you might have wondered. What we find is that fidgeting helps concentration more than you might have expected. Baoding ball users have known about this phenomenon since ancient times. Baoding balls where the original fidget spinners you could say. Now there are many studies that show keeping your hands busy actually helps the mind with concentration.
ADHD Research Found Fidgeting Improves Focus
John Ratey, M.D. studied the connection of the body to the brain. He found small physical activity such as fidgeting increases levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals play key roles in the brain for focus and attention.
Another researcher, Sydney Zentrall, Ph.D., found a cause of attention deficit is because people get bored at tasks and tune out. Doing something else at the same time helps a person focus at the primary task.
Study Found Stress Balls Improved Learning
In one stress ball study, students were tested and observed before and after giving them stress balls in the classroom. What they found was the number of distractions decreased, attention span increased, and their performance improved. In one of the results, auditory learners performance increased by 15%, visual learners increased by 10%, and kinesthetic learners by 8%. One student with ADHD improved by 27%. Majority of the students agreed their improvements were because of the stress ball use.
Psychological Study Found Dual Tasks Improved Memory
A memory study done by the University of Plymouth tested people to recall names after listening to a recording. The recording was quite dull and the people were conditioned to be in a bored state by making them do another boring task first and then making them think they were about to go home. They found that the people who were listening while doing another task with their hands had 29% better memory recall. It showed that doing something with your hands, in this case doodling, can help concentration and memory.
Fidgeting Children Learned More Quickly
Dr Pine of the University of Hertfordshire, studied school children allowing some to fidget while making another group keep their hands still. They discovered that the fidgeting children learned faster and got the correct answer more than the children not allowed to move.
Fidget with Baoding Balls for Better Concentration
Many more studies have similar findings, that the movement of the body affects your concentration and focus.
Being bored dulls the mind and your cognitive ability declines. Baoding balls are a tool to keep you alert. The use of them can keep your brain focused improving your concentration at the tasks you are doing.
There have been various books written and video dvds created on baoding balls. If your giving a pair of balls as a gift to someone, a book or dvd to go along with it might be a good combo. Here’s what you can expect if you’re looking at one of these.
The Complete Book of Chinese Health Balls
By Ab Williams
This book by Ab Williams discusses various aspects of Chinese health balls. The chapters are fairly short and mainly a general overview. It would he a suitable book for someone who would be interested in a basic history on the health balls, Chinese medicine, and ball exercises. There are some drawn illustrations and some photos of different baoding balls. You can usually find this book used for $5 to $6.
Book Description by Publisher:
Do you own a set of Chinese Health Balls? Known as Baoding balls, Baud balls, or just health balls, they’re certainly much more than a curio! People have been using them for centuries. The balls are explained, exercises are include, the treatments revealed – here, for the first time!
More and more people in the West are looking for answers in Eastern medicine, lifestyle and therapies. Just about everyone has heard of yoga, meditation, acupuncture. This book is aimed at drawing your attention to the still relatively unknown phenomenon of Chinese Health Balls.
Step by step, you can practice the many exercises to master Meridian Ball Therapy, a therapy that can make a significant contribution to your physical and spiritual health!
This book is very similar the the book by Ab Williams, as if that book was a rewritten version of this book to make a new book. The publisher is the same so maybe that is why. However, this book has more depth on health ball effects and exercises while Ab’s book has more pages on Chinese Medicine and history. You can find this book used from $4 to $7 as well.
Book Description by Publisher:
You’ve seen them in all the catalogs and stores that sell health products. How do you use them? Are they just for fun? Are they just an interesting and unusual gift? The instructions say that you should move them around in the palm of your hand. But why?
Actually they are an ancient Chines fitness technique that has been in use since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). They are beleived to be a benefit to the nervous system, they improve memory, stimulate circulation, relax the muscles and tune the chi (life energy). They have even been used to prevent hypertension and arthritis. In this book, you will learn about your nervous system so that you can practice the exercises that will bring you optimum energy.
The author discusses meditation exercise, walking exercises, using them for massage, as well as working with the energy in the palms of your hands so that you can strengthen the yin/yang energy in your body.
If you’re into qi gong, then this might be of interest to you. It is a DVD on using baoding balls with qi gong movements. The creator is a qi gong instructor and it has 4 chapters. The first 2 have some basic info on the Chinese balls and the use, nothing too advanced. The last 2 chapters involve qi gong. Chapter 3 is a little over 6 minutes on fundamental motions with the balls, and chapter 4 is 18 minutes of a full qi gong sequence with the Chinese balls. It does label each of the sequences so you can learn them. For $6 it is an inexpensive way to take her lesson and class.
This is Li Zhanchun. He is holding up a tower made of baoding balls in his home of Baoding, a city in the Hebei province in China. There, he is part of the Sunset Red Iron Ball Group, and he is very well known.
Li counts up the layers, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. 11 layers. That’s 45 balls! This is a performing tower, not my best one. My best one is 65!”. When asked if the balls are heavy, he says it weighs about 10 kilograms. That is about 22 pounds. While he holds and spins the tower with one hand, Li Zhanchun sings a song he created about iron balls. “The iron balls spin both forward and in reverse. They can spin around the center, but you have to persist to spin several!”. It takes a lot of skill to rotate such a tall tower so Li is famous throughout Baoding and is well known as “King Li Tower Holder”. How did Li come to be such a famous baoding ball person?
Li says “When I put on performances in the park, people ask me if I’m in my 60’s or 70’s? I say no, my zodiac animal is the rabbit. I’m 87 years old this year! Haha, 87 years old! They don’t believe me!”
His performance lasts several minutes while he sings his iron ball song. For an 87 year old, he has quite an amazing show of arm strength. He often boasts if you don’t believe his strength, you can compete with him. Another feat he likes to show is spinning dual towers. It’s one of his tricks he likes to demonstrate. “Dual towers. One mind can’t focus on many things, right? This is really difficult. I’ve practiced with iron balls since 1984 for almost 30 years to this day. Neither wind nor rain stop me”, Li says.
His journey began in 1984. Li Zhanchun was suffering from health problems and would get sick often. He needed a way to exercise that was not so strenuous. After searching he discovered the iron fitness balls.
In Li’s words, “The iron balls are great because regardless of where you are, at what occasion, whatever time, or whatever environment you are in, this isn’t very strenuous for an elderly person and it won’t make people too tired.”
Li practiced for 4 years and became very good at them. He joined a iron ball group in 1989 where they went to do performances. But one day while performing he had an accident and his tower of balls fell apart. His coach took him off the state and Li felt very embarrassed. Not letting the incident put him down, Li secretly became more determined. He wanted to show his friends and group that it would never happen again.
“Ten years off stage for one minute on stage. I still hadn’t practiced for 10 years, so I felt like I had to become more skilled, to make my group or to make other groups see that this old guy Li wasn’t a wimp!”, Li said.
Li Zhanchun practiced and practiced. He was always holding baoding balls. According to Li’s wife, Li would always be holding the iron balls and it really drover her up the walls because he would never stop and it bothered her while watching TV. “My wife grew tired of it. I said that they were noisy. How could I watch TV since they were noisy? It wasn’t easy to fix, but I couldn’t stop! So I said I would just stop watching TV!”, said Li.
Li could give up his TV, but could not give up practicing baoding balls. He had to bring his balls everywhere with him. At night, he would put two iron balls by his bed and the first thing he would do is spin them when he woke.
“He never stopped spinning them. In the morning, they would clank, and when he finished with breakfast, he would still clank them together. He wouldn’t do anything after he ate, just go sit in the room and play with his balls.”, said Li’s wife.
Even when Li went outside his home, he would bring the iron balls with him. His philosophy was constant effort will surely lead to success. He took the balls with him everywhere while shopping. If he didn’t have time to practice at home, this was his solution.
“He would stretch his neck out like this, and say he wanted two cucumbers. They would give him two cucumbers and a plastic bag. He would pick them out with his hands and the balls still in his hands! To pay, he would have them reach into his pocket and get however much he owed. They would take the money and then leave the rest in his pocket. He did that all the time! He wouldn’t put the iron balls down.”, said Li’s wife.
His efforts were paying off as his skill using the iron balls greatly increased. As Li demonstrated his many tricks, he says “You can spin to the balls forward, then reverse, and around the center. You spin them around like this. There’s jumping, which also has a reverse. Rotate them horizontally, and quickly. 120 rotations in one minute. You have to reach this point with two balls in order to be up to the standard. And then after that come three balls. You can spin them forwards and jump them horizontally or vertically. And then there are four balls, which you can spin forward, backwards, and then with three on the bottom spinning one in the middle. And then there are five balls.”
Li even demonstrated using 7 balls with one hand. He would place one ball in the center while rotating 6 balls around the center ball. This trick he calls the “big dipper”. There was no stopping to Li practicing and becoming better with new tricks.
“The balls either hit my foot or the ground. If they hit my foot, it swelled up. This floor was hit. My wife wasn’t pleased, she got angry with me. “Your’re ruining the floor with your iron balls! What could be done?” I said it was like tuition. Students have to pay tuition, right? The floor will be fine, if it gets ruined, we can fix it. There was no other way. If I hit my feet, I would mend them, put some medicine on them, and then get back to practicing!”, said Li.
“It didn’t matter what you said, he was set on those iron balls. He didn’t want to stop practicing. He wanted to keep getting better, with no turning back.”, said Li’s wife. When traveling, the iron balls went with him. “I carry dozens of them in a basket. I went to Jilin, to the Century Plaza, because I practiced everywhere.”, said Li.
Then one day Li saw on TV a person holding a tower of iron balls. Li thought it was amazing and had to see if he could do it as well. He found someone to custom make his materials and tools.
“I put four balls on it and then spin it, and see if I can stack another. They gave me a “plate” and I tried at first, and with the plate it was fine just spinning like that. I spun it with great practice and stability so I thought that since I could spin one plate, could I spin two? Could I spin three?”, said Li.
Since then, Li would practice with iron ball towers. Every time Li would add a layer of iron balls, the weight would increase. For a 70 year old at the time, it was really straining his arm strength. His arm would hurt so much after practicing that he couldn’t spin them or pick up the balls anymore.
When asked if he thought about quitting, Li said “I thought about it, but that would mean that my determination had failed, and I couldn’t let my own determination fail. I just had to practice with towers. From that point on I continued to practice for 4 hours a day.”
Li never gave up and on his 80th birthday, Li performed a iron tower demonstration with 80 balls as a present for himself.
At 87 years old his tallest tower he can do comfortably is 65 balls. He is the only elderly person in China that can perform such a feat which earned him the title “King Li the Tower-holder”.
When talking about how the iron balls helped his health, Li said “I used to have coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. I also often caught colds. In the past, whenever I got sick, my whole body would hurt, and I would be clogged and panicked. It would be hard to breathe, and my whole body would sweat. After I started using iron balls, my energy gradually relaxed, and I used to get sick once every week, but afterwards, I only got sick once and then it disappeared. When I had my yearly physical, everything was normal! With iron balls, all fingers are connected with the heart. There’s the three Yin and Yang points of the hand, and the movements of the balls stimulate the acupoints, and then the nerves from the brain go to the organs, and when that happens, the iron balls can stimulate the brain, clear and invigorate the meridians, relax the muscles, and invigorate the blood. And then that connects with… If you move every day, your blood and meridians will be clear. If your fingers move, your blood will be free and clear.”
The healthy aspect of using iron balls is widely known in the area. From a medical perspective, when we talk about coronary heart disease, today we typically believe that it is related to stagnation in the Qi and the blood. Rotating balls in the hand is actually and exercise for the entire hand, because while the balls are being rotated, all five fingers are actually moving, including the backs of the hands and the wrists. It is actually a complete exercise for the hand. We talk about how half of the 12 meridians are in the hands. They are connected by the hands, and half are connected by the feet. The hand, then, is the starting point or ending point of the foot meridian, so it is actually the connection point for the hand meridian. At this point of connection, communication is essential. Here, all sorts of meridians connect, and it is a channel of free-flowing Qi and blood. So by exercising the hand, not only is he exercising the hand alone, he is actually opening the flow for the Qi and blood in all of the meridians in the hand and the acupoints of the meridians’ endpoints. This sort of stimulation can stably make the Qi and blood flow, and will actually help the treatment for coronary heart disease.
Li explains that he no longer has to worry about hypertension, “Every year the veteran cadres have a physical. When I had mine done, everything was normal. My hypertension was gone, My blood pressure was 80 and 120, which is normal. Sometimes it was 85.”
This sort of long-term exercise is beneficial to the sympathetic nerves’ balance and stability, so in that respect, it definitely helps the blood pressure. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the heart governs the spirit and blood vessels. If his blood is flowing clearly, then his spirit will be at ease, and so the fire element in his heart will be easily reduced. When that happens, the fire element in his liver is also reduced, and so his blood pressure stabilizes.
Not only has the iron ball exercises improved his health, Li believes his mental health has improved. “In the past, I would visit a friend’s home, and just what unit was it? What floor was it? I forgot! I couldn’t remember! Sometimes I would go to the market and my wife would tell me to buy some celery, but when I returned home, I found that I’d forgotten! That happened. But that doesn’t happen much anymore. I don’t forget. I can even recite the Three Character Classic and the Book of Family Names.”, says Li.
You would have to hear if for yourself, but Li could recite many poems and songs making you doubt he was really an 87 year old man.
Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the ten fingers connect to the heart. Actually, ancient Chinese people discovered very early on that hand exercises where beneficial to improving the brain. Not only did this include iron balls, there were many other hand exercises that the ancient Chinese discovered could help prevent senility, and aging of the brain by keeping them fit. Fine motor movement has a receptor in the brain, especially for the hands. The finer the movement is, the larger the receptor’s area is in the brain. So fine motor movement, especially at the tips of the fingers, will actually act to stimulate the corresponding region in the cortex of the brain.
Li Zhanchun, is not the only evidence of these health improvements. In his Sunset Red Iron Ball Group, there are many elderly members where they come to share techniques and practice. They have all expressed improvements to their health when exercising with baoding balls.
As one women in his group said, “In the past, my fingertips couldn’t touch could water, but after this, the water doesn’t seem so cold. My hands used to be really cold, but after using these balls, well, they used to be tight, but they aren’t now. My hands seem to be more flexible.”
Another woman also expressed her health improvements, “In the past when I worked I used a pen, so my wrists would get really sore. After I started playing with these, my wrists relaxed a great deal, and the Qi and blood flowed freely, so they don’t hurt anymore.”
As we end this story about Li Zhanchun, He shares his love for his iron balls which he calls his treasure. His poem is called “Honest Words from an Elderly Man”.
“Why be upset that an old man’s hair is white? I’m happy to have iron balls to accompany my golden years. My ball skill will never fade, throughout my golden years, the singing and laughter never ends. I want to sing and I’m happy to practice. I will continue to persist in my exercises, like an old tree growing green in the spring again, with cheerfulness and optimism to aid my glory.”
Ever wonder how they make these intricate hollow musical balls? It’s a process that has been developed for many years and once a secret of China. Machines have taken over much of the world’s manufacturing of products these days, but the chiming baoding balls are still handcrafted by hand in a very detailed step by step process. It makes you appreciate the work that goes into making baoding balls.
The first step is making 2 hollow half spheres by cutting out circular pieces of metal. Sometimes they will use left over metal sheets where other shapes were cut out. These circle pieces are then pressed into a half spheres.
A wire is wound into a coil and welded into one of the half spheres and a ball is placed inside. Two half spheres are then welded together to form the ball. The rough balls are then put in a grinding machine to remove burrs and make them smooth.
Copper is shaped by hand to form the beautiful designs and glued onto the surface of the bare metal balls. Then cloisonne enamel is painted by hand to fill the copper outlines. Designs with multiple colors can take several steps and some designs are very complicated which require much skill to create.
The baoding balls are then placed into molds and filled with the enamel of the color of the ball. This fills in the areas around the copper designs. When the mold is ready, the balls are grinded down to the copper layer revealing the design of the ball.
The baoding balls are polished by hand making the balls smooth and shiny and a protective coat of varnish is applied to the finished ball.
The finished product is a beautiful painstakingly hand made piece of art with great health benefits. Check out this documentary video of a baoding ball factory below that was made many years ago. You can see that not much has changed on the process of making the cloisonne baoding balls.
The Baoding Balls Blog
Various topics and information all about baoding balls.