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The Importance of the Downward Sinking Palm in Ba Gua Zhang

The Downward Sinking Palm is usually the first posture students learn when beginning to practice walking the circle.  Downward Sinking Palm is useful for beginners because the posture is not difficult to hold and it aids balance in learning Mud Stepping (Tang Ni Bu). Much more importantly, it is the beginning posture because it focuses on rooting the steps while walking, and gathering Qi in Dantian, while simultaneously raising Qi upward to the brain, which in turn allows Qi to descend to Yongquan, Kidney 1 (“Bubbling Spring”) acu-point on the sole of the foot. This makes Downward Sinking Palm a powerful Nei Gong exercise that is critical to Ba Gua training and suitable for both advanced and beginning level students.

Internal Alignments

Circle Walking holding the Downward Sinking Palm posture gathers the Qi of the body and fills the Yao, and Mingmen (“Life Gate”), while training the Kua [1] to “sit” properly. Developing this middle section of the body, and making the waist round and powerful, strengthens the connection between the upper and lower body.

Although often considered basic and foundational, Downward Sinking Palm is one of the more difficult Ba Gua Postures to perform correctly when walking the circle. When holding this posture the six harmonies must stay connected – so that the hips and shoulders, elbows and knees, hands and feet, are directly linked.

The Downward Sinking Palm is the key posture for training critical alignments referenced in Song 7 of the 36 Songs of Ba Gua Zhang:

When the chest is empty, Qi will sink,

The back engages and the shoulders sink, extending intention forward.

Qi reaches Dantian and the grain duct withdraws,

The head erects and pushes upward to foster Jingshen

Downward Sinking Palm also helps the practitioner to engage the long chain of sinews (tendons, muscles and connective tissue) that runs from the sole of the foot to the head. Connecting and strengthening this chain is not only valuable for health and fitness, it is critical to developing whole-body power. This aspect of body training developed by the Downward Sinking Palm is mentioned in Ba Gua Zhang Song 24:

Power must be naturally released from tendons and bones,

Power issues from the bones and is channeled by the tendons.

The big tendon of the heel connects with the brain and spine,

Promote destructive power by using the follow step.

Meridians and the Qi Dynamic

Downward Sinking Palm is a crucial Ba Gua Nei Gong posture because it opens and stimulates Ren Mai (Conception Vessel) and Du Mai (Governing Vessel), the two channels that circulate the Microcosmic Orbit (Small Heavenly Circulation), which nourishes the spine and brain and gathers Qi in Dantian. The Nei Gong Classic (Nei Gong Zhen Chuan) says that: “in these two vessels in the front and back of the body the Qi  flourishes, turning and circulating constantly.” [2] The Downward Sinking Palm posture when combined with walking in the Mud Wading Step helps spiral and “roll” energy thought these two interlinked channels. As these vessels open, Chong Mai (the Thrusting or Thoroughfare Vessel) also opens, acting as a passageway for free movement upward and downward through the body. Opening Ren, Mai, Du Mai and Chong Mai supports the San Jiao (Triple Heater) System and nourishes Dantian, and the Yuan Qi (Original Qi; Primordial Qi).

Downward Sinking Palm also balances Fire and Water in the body by connecting the kidneys and heart. As the palms sink Heart-Fire descends to nourish and warm Mingmen and the kidneys. Simultaneously, Kidney-Water goes upward upward to cool and modulate Heart-Fire. This smooth circulation of Water and Fire, Kan and Li, helps to globally harmonize Yin and Yang in the body.

Bear & Tiger

In some styles of Ba Gua Zhang, Downward Sinking Palm is associated with the bear, whose casual ambling gait is deceptively powerful. In internal martial arts the attributes of the bear are its ability to stand upright and erect its head and neck, and its powerful shoulders. Downward Sinking Palm to some degree mimics the bear’s inward turned front paws, which contribute to its ambling, agile gait. This body posture, with its downward sinking or downward pressing energy, is akin to pushing a ball down into water – there is a combination of force and sensitivity that prevents the ball from slipping out from under the hands. These qualities all help develop the powerful rounded shoulders and body of the bear. The rounded body posture also opens and fortifies Dai Mai (Belt Channel) and Mingmen.

Sinking downward can be thought of as the root form from which movement begins. Many martial forms being by sinking and gathering internally. Sinking downward creates an upward counter-movement of energy that goes from the feet to the top of the head. This action of sinking and relaxing creates the upward, outward shaking, shivering Jin-Li (force; power) associated with the bear.

The Bear is associated with the Gen (Mountain) Diagram, which is often described as an upside down bowl. Power emanates upward from the Earth (the two bottom broken-yin lines) and emits from the back, associated with the upper solid-yang line.

In some styles of Ba Gua, the Downward Sinking Palm posture is called “Tiger Descends the Hill.” This conveys the image of tiger walking on all fours with an undulating downhill gait. In practicing Downward Sinking Palm, it often feels as though the two palms and two soles touch the ground, creating an inner stability and rootedness combined with an internal relaxation and internal vibration.

Practicing Downward Sinking Palm

  Guo Gu Min

Master Guo Gu Min (1887- 1968) was one of the great Ba Gua Zhang practitioners of his generation. His method of practicing the Downward Sinking Palm exemplifies and develops all the qualities of the Downward Sinking Palm mentioned above. Walking in a circle and changing directions while holding the Downward Sinking Palm Posture is both an excellent Nei Gong exercise, and a developmental exercise for developing shaking power and Ba Gua Zhang martial techniques.

    1. To begin, stand naturally with the feet shoulder-width apart facing counterclockwise on the circle. Raise the hands upward palm up and then turn the palms inward and let the wrists sink downward to the level of the pubic bone. The fingers face each other, the space between thumb and forefingers is rounded (Hu Kou: “Tiger’s Mouth”) and the thumbs adhere closely to the pubic bone. Simultaneously step out on the circle with the left (inside) foot. Begin to walk and rotate around the circle with the inside foot walking straight (baibu) and the outside foot hooking inward (koubu). Walk in the mud wading step, lifting and setting down the foot so that it is level and even. Turn toward the middle of the circle as you walk and relax the body.
    2. Walk around the circle as many times as you like. In order to change direction the right foot makes a kou bu (hook step) on the line of the circle so that the two feet resemble the Chinese character for “eight” (Ba). The body begins to rotate toward the center of the circle.
    3. As the body rotates and the left foot begins to swing outward on the line of the circle (bai bu –swing step). The position of the palms does not change as the palms follow the bai bu step, moving downward and to the right, and then upward to the left and then downward, making a large circle that goes from the pubic bones to the chest (or even as high as the head), and then back to the pubic bones. The right foot strides forward to walk along the line of the circle. As you walk the Yao and shoulder turn toward the center of the circle, but they should not turn past the center of the circle. Walk any number of circles before changing direction again.


Important Points:
  1. Use the Yao to move the arms and rotate the body. All force must be generated from the steps and the Yao, not the arms and shoulders.
  2. The change of direction has the quality of rolling a large ball, or like a ball lifting upward and then sinking downward again as you press it down, or follow it with your hands
  3. The Yao and the steps must be unified and connected so that the steps are smooth and the body turns seamlessly.

[1]Kua” refers to the inguinal area in the front of the pelvis, including both the internal and external structures of the inguinal area and the movement of Qi and fluids though this area.

[2] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A Translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. Translated by Tom Bisio, Huang Guo-Qi and Joshua Paynter (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2011) p. 3.