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Healing Philosophy of Chinese Health Balls

To understand how Baoding Balls keep the body healthy, a person would need to have some understanding of the Yin and Yang philosophy.  The Yin and Yang are symbols of two forces kept in balance by the flow of your internal energy.  This energy is your Qi (“chi”) which is the energy of life that guides and controls everything.

Yin and Yang are best compared to as active and passive principles.  The Yin represents the passive, dark, cold, and negative aspects.  The Yang represents the active, bright, warm and positive aspects.  They are on opposite poles in conflict with each other but always connected to each other.  A metaphor would be the Sun to the Moon and Light to Dark.  

In a healthy and balanced person, the Yin and Yang energy interact in harmony so that a person’s emotions, body, spirit, and mind are all in balance with each other.  In Chinese medicine, when a person is unhealthy, it is believed that the person’s internal energy is imbalanced and requires specific treatment to correct it.  

Chinese medicine practitioners believe that the body’s Qi (“chi”) flows through pathways known as meridians.  There are 12 meridians in the body and each is related to a particular organ.  For thousands of years, acupuncture doctors would use needles inserted into a person’s meridian to affect the flow of the internal energy.  The acupuncture doctors have studied which organs are connected to Yin energy or to Yang energy and what points of the body they must stimulate to treat the condition.  By the same theory, using pressure (Acupressure) can also stimulate the meridians through massage.  

In your hand, there are several meridians and acupressure points connected to your organs.  By using Baoding Balls in your hands, these points can be stimulated to affect the energy flow of your organs.  To increase Yang energy, the balls should be rotated quickly to increase the temperature and in a clockwise direction.  To increase Yin energy, they should be rotated slowly and in a counter-clockwise direction. 

Using Baoding Balls in this way to affect the body’s energy has given them the name of Chinese Health Balls.  However, practice with these balls has health benefits in addition to balancing the flow of Qi.  Regular use of the health balls will improve and stimulate the circulation of the fingers.  The exercise will also strengthen the muscles of your hands and fingers.

If you are suffering from the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or feel the onset of the condition, using baoding balls can help manage your condition.  Rotating the balls will stretch out the tendons and warm up the hands and wrist.  Regularly performing short warming up exercises  for the wrist before engaging in activities with intensive or long periods of wrist activity can prevent and avoid the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  

How to Select Baoding Balls

Selecting your baoding balls depends on two main factors, your hand size and skill level.  Since baoding balls are mainly made in China, the most common sizes are based on the metric system. Sizes can range slightly because when painting the balls with cloisonne enamel, it adds about 2 mm in diameter versus plain steel balls. We list them here in both millimeter and inches.

Choosing the Size (Diameters are of 1 Ball)

Small:  25 – 37 mm (1  – 1.46 inches)

 Small sizes are suitable for children as well as adults. They are easy to keep in your pocket like a pocket sized baoding ball set to keep with you. Women with small hands will also find the small size easier to work with.  People using baoding balls to rehabilitate hand injuries should also start with small size balls because they are easier to manipulate, but the small size is not good for someone looking to spin them fast because they are very light.

Medium: 38 – 42 mm (1.5 – 1.65 inches)

Medium sized balls are the most popular and common size. Often the silver chrome balls will be 40 mm and the cloisonne balls at 42 mm. Medium sized balls are a good choice for women and men and can be rotated touching for beginners and not touching for more skilled users. It is a safe size if you’re buying them as gifts because everybody can use this size.

Medium-Large: 45 – 47 mm (1.75 – 1.85 inches)

Moving up to the medium-large size will feel slightly bigger than the medium size. If you are a person with larger hands, this is a good option. This size baoding ball will feel fuller and extend your fingers more to work with them.

Large: 50 – 52 mm (2 inches)

When you have become proficient with baoding balls, you will want to move to the large size. This size will fill up your whole palm for most adults. Two balls are about 4 inches long when touching. If you’re new to baoding balls or have low dexterity, this size might be difficult. But for proficient users, the hollow large balls become easier to rotate fast for dexterity training due to the large surface of the balls while the solid balls provide greater weight for grip and strength training. Larger balls can roll across your extended fingers letting you rotate them in a larger circular motion while small balls would fall between the gaps. Large chiming balls have a better sounding chime as well, in my opinion,  because the chime inside is bigger and produces a more resonating sound.

X-Large: 55 mm (2.2 inches)

Same features as the large size but even bigger.

XX-Large: 60 – 63 mm (2.36 – 2.6) inches 

Not a very common size, but people do use this size to really stretch their fingers out.

Choosing Hollow vs Solid Balls

Hollow balls are better suited for dexterity and coordination training due to the light weight. They can be used for longer times before getting tired and can be rotated quickly or slow for meditation. Hollow balls can have chimes or without chimes.

Solid balls are better suited for exercising your hand muscles. When made of stone, they are light enough for dexterity training as well. Solid steel balls are heavier and really target strengthening the hand and forearms. The small to medium solid steel balls provide a balance of exercise training while not being too heavy for improving dexterity.  A good feature of solid balls is they will not disturb people around you that chiming balls might do.

 

With practice, you can be skilled enough to rotate 80 balls like this guy.

In summary, determine what your goals are for using the balls and pick a size to match your skill level and hand size. So if you want something to casually use for stress relief at the office while exercising to prevent work related hand problems, a medium solid steel set should work well. The elderly wanting a gentle way to improve hand control at home or on a walk can use a hollow small or medium size baoding ball. In contrast, a rock climber may want to use a large solid heavy set of balls for hand strength while a piano player may want an extra large hollow set for finger dexterity. 

The sizes and types of baoding balls are versatile to fit your needs. With practice, you will see improvement in your goals as well as your health. All sizes of baoding balls will increase blood circulation in the hands and chi flow in your body. Collect all the sizes and don’t worry about being limited to one type!

History and Types of Baoding Balls

Baoding balls could be referenced to as far as 26-220 AD during the Han Dynasty to the Hebei province in China where Baoding city is located. Although, the archives show balls were not used at this time, the people used walnuts instead to train the hands. Many centuries later, iron balls replaced walnuts during the Sung Dynasty, 960-1279 AD, when their use as weapons became adopted by the martial arts and acrobats used the balls do demonstrate their skills. They believed the balls provided them enhanced powers for their performance.

It was not until the Ming Dynasty that the traditional hollow baoding balls we know today came into existence. Emperor Jia Jing (1522-1567) had his court study the balls for their effects. With the increased attention, a method was invented to create hollow balls instead of solid balls. The invention of the hollow baoding ball can be thought of the age when baoding balls came to existence for use on the meridians and good health.

Emperor of China Holding Baoding Balls

Then in the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong (1736-1799) was prescribed the daily use of the baoding balls by his physician. His enthusiasm for the balls popularized them into a cultural practice. Qianlong was China’s longest living emperor and it promoted the use of the balls greatly. During this time the balls became widely used and were sought after in high demand. As one of the “Three Treasures of Baoding” (the other two being flour sauce and potherb mustard), the balls became a work of art. A method was invented that placed a smaller ball and spring inside the hollow ball to produce a musical chime. Baoding factories developed secret manufacturing techniques which produced beautiful cloisonne designs on the metal spheres.

 

Ronald Reagan receiving Baoding Balls, a treasure of Baoding China

Today, most common baoding balls you will find are cloisonne and chrome plated steel chiming balls. Some hollow steel balls are also filled with material like sand which gives the ball a heavier feel but at the cost of having no chime. In the old days, the cloisonne balls were made with thicker metal and thicker copper wires for the designs. They were a great quality piece and had a nice feel.  You can sometimes find these vintage baoding balls for sale. However, as time progressed, factories began focusing on cost and many baoding balls on the market today are made with thinner metal, smaller designs, and imitation cloisonne. As with any product, you will have high quality balls, and some very low quality. 

On the higher end of the spectrum you can find solid steel balls, copper balls, and gemstone baoding balls. Gemstone balls are popular for the metaphysical properties of the gemstones and some even feature intricate carvings.

 

Jade walnuts. Walnuts were used before the discovery of metal.

Some less common baoding balls you can find feature little nubs or spikes all around the ball. The nubs stimulate acupressure points more and have their own unique feeling. For the collector there are even metal balls with elaborate engravings or hand painted oriental art.

 

Each type has their own properties that make them better for a particular use. Large hollow balls for example can help stretch fingers and warm up hands before playing instruments. Read our post on picking a size and type of baoding ball for more details.

Over the years baoding balls have been called many names.  The most commonly known names are Chinese health balls, Chinese stress balls, Chinese exercise balls, harmony balls, dexterity balls, meditation balls, chiming balls, and just Chinese balls. All the names signify a benefit the balls provide and came about on what the a seller of the balls was targeting for their customer. The good thing is that baoding balls can do all of those things!

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