Baoding balls, a.k.a. "Chinese meditation balls," help strengthen your hands as well as your immune system while reducing stress.
by Bill Mehlman
If you've ever wandered through Chinatown and poked your head into any of the stores that sell melamine "porcelain," kung fu uniforms, lucky bamboo and similar schlock, you've probably noticed the little decorative boxes with two matching balls in them. They're usually known as "Chinese health balls" or "Chinese meditation balls," but the real name, in Mandarin (I assume) is Baoding balls, named for a city in northeastern China where these balls were supposedly first created during the Ming dynasty.
The balls come in matched pairs, and are available in a variety of sizes and materials. The most common ones are made of metal, either chrome-plated or covered in cloisonné. I dislike these because they feel unpleasant in my hand, they're very light and most of all because they tend to have some cheesy-sounding gong built into them which boings as you roll them around.
You can get them in different kinds of stone, from marble to jade. These have a nice heft and are cool and soothing in the hand. You can find them readily on eBay or elsewhere online. I got my best sets walking around in Chinatown. One shopkeeper sold me a pair of beautiful yellow jade balls for a buck apiece, and threw in a quick lesson.
The use couldn't be simpler, at least in theory. Hold both balls in one of your hands, palm facing upward. Manipulate your fingers so that the balls roll around in a circle. The idea is to keep the balls from touching each other, and to reverse the rotation from time to time. Strangely enough, for me the large ones are easier to use than the smaller ones.
Once you learn how to use the balls, you can really get jiggy with it. Go to YouTube. and look for videos. You can find clips in which some long-fingered gents can handle five balls at once.
But, you ask, why bother? Well, the Chinese believe that Baoding balls, in rolling around your palm and fingers, put pressure on some critical acupressure points, thereby strengthening your chi and, consequently, various internal organs. I can't vouch for this, but I can, as someone who spends a good deal of time nattering away on a keyboard, attest that regular use of Baoding balls will stretch your hands and strengthen your hands and forearms. They also seem to have an overall calming effect. That may be psychosomatic, but any kind of repetitive movement, as I've opined elsewhere, tends to be soothing.
If you can get into the habit of using them while you're watching T.V., you'll be very happy with the results within a few weeks. Spend a couple of bucks and a few minutes practicing with the Baoding balls while you watch toothpaste commercials. It actually makes you feel better.
What could be bad about that?