Baoding balls (Chinese: 保定健身球; pinyin: Bǎodìng Jiànshēn Qiú, literally Baoding physical exercise balls) are also known as Chinese exercise balls, Chinese meditation balls, Chinese medicine balls, and healthy balls. A person may rotate two or more Baoding balls by hand repeatedly to improve the manual dexterity and strength of the fingers. They are also said to assist in injury recovery.
It is believed that the first Baoding balls originated in Baoding, a town in Hebei, a province of China, during the Ming Dynasty. They were once called "iron balls," since they were originally made of iron. Meditation balls continue to be produced locally in Baoding.
Materials and composition
As metalworking skills improved, Baoding balls became more popular, and construction methods varied. Most Baoding balls made and used today are constructed as a pair of hollow spheres, one inside the other, with a chime which rings as the inner ball strikes it. Many modern examples are decorated with cloisonné and brass wire; however, these are not as suitable for actual use because they can easily chip when dropped or when they come into contact with each other. For injury recovery, hollow balls are generally more suitable due to their lighter weight. For exercise purposes, balls made of solid iron, steel or tungsten carbide provide added weight, requiring more effort to be rotated.
The basic exercise consists of rotating a pair of Baoding balls in the palm of the hand, ensuring even and constant contact is made between the balls. Once this has been learned, the rotation speed can be gradually increased until the balls separate in the hand. Eventually one can learn to rotate them completely without the balls making contact with each other. Exercises have been developed involving two, three, four or more balls. (For beginners this is acceptable, yet the main method is to have them not in contact with one another.To achieve this, the index finger is used as a divider between the two balls.)
The average person should be able to start with a 45-millimeter (1.8 in) diameter ball, moving up to the 60-millimeter (2.4 in) size as their muscles get accustomed to the exercise. Larger Baoding balls (70–100 millimeters (2.8–3.9 in)) can be used, although eventually it is impossible to rotate them without touching. The area of the hand exercised can be varied at advanced levels of practice, altering the portion of the hand they rotate over, or changing the orbit of the balls in the hand so that more force is exerted on a particular finger or particular finger joints. baoding balls are useful for keeping finger muscles tightened and toned. Well-known strongmen such as John Brookfield use large shot put balls as Baoding balls, rotating them to develop forearm muscles and improve grip.
In popular culture
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- In Kamen Rider Fourze, the character Kou Katsuragi (also known as the Leo Horoscopes) uses a pair of walnuts as Baoding balls, creating a distinctive grinding rattle sound.
- Fearless features a scene where Master Chin (Chen Zhi Hui) is seen to be using Baoding balls.
- Children's television series Strange Days at Blake Holsey High featured a Baoding ball originally owned by the protagonist, Josie Trent. She loses one during a trip to the past, where it winds up gaining unusual properties and becomes a key plot device in the series.
- Arnold Rimmer, a character from the television show Red Dwarf, uses Baoding balls in the episode Rimmerworld. The balls are prescribed to him as treatment for his stress-related condition. In the episode, Rimmer is imprisoned for 557 years, during which he manages to wear the balls down to the size of peas.
- In Orphan Black, the character Rudy is seen playing with a pair of Baoding balls.
- In Boyz n the Hood, the character Jason "Furious" Styles (portrayed by Laurence Fishburne) uses a set of Baoding balls while working in his home.
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