Meditation balls – also known as “Chinese medicine balls,” “Baoding balls,” “relaxation balls” and “Zen meditation balls” – are two little balls that can be held in one hand. As you roll them in the palm of your hand, the relative positions of both balls is constantly switching. Initially, the balls maintain contact even as they are rotated. With practice, your hands eventually learn to manipulate these balls without having them touch each other. Meditation balls purportedly improve brain function while they exercise your hand muscles. Some people believe that meditation balls help reduce stress, in which case they may be called “worry balls.”
While these Chinese balls are often referred to as “meditation balls,” their use is more focused on stress reduction, relaxation, and strength and dexterity training. Although it would be distracting to rotate them during an actual meditation session where the focus is on mindfulness of the breath, they can certainly be used as an adjunct to actual sitting meditation practice.
The history of Chinese meditation balls
Chinese meditation balls, or Baoding balls, date back to the Ming dynasty. They are said to originate from the small town of Baoding in the North China Plain and are one of the so-called “Baoding treasures.” Their adepts came from diverse classes of society, and included emperors and paupers. Before Baoding balls, soldiers and the general public exercised their hands by rolling walnuts around. This continued until iron Baoding balls that doubled as weapons began to be manufactured.
Nowadays, meditation balls are made using a variety of materials such as marble, agate, stone, and jade. Most are made of steel and are usually hollow inside; when manipulated, they produce a pleasant chiming sound. The balls vary in weight and texture. Craftsmen often choose to work with metal since metallic Baoding balls can be engraved with beautiful designs. The gorgeous hand-made designs that decorate “cloisonné” balls depict characters and symbols associated with health, harmony, wellness and a myriad of other positive forces. Balls made from stone are solid and are much heavier; most people use them to exercise their hand muscles. Since stone balls tend to chip when dropped, they must be handled with care.
Benefits and uses of Chinese medicine balls
There’s a reason why the Chinese have been using relaxation balls for centuries. Doctors in China sometimes recommend Baoding balls to patients who suffer from fatigue, since the balls are believed to activate different therapeutic pressure points found in the palm of the hand. As a consequence, the patient’s internal energy flow is enhanced.
Patients who use stress balls have reported experiencing significant benefits, including:
- Relaxed joints and muscles
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Improved memory
- Enhanced quality of sleep
The surfaces of some meditation balls sport minuscule bumps. When these bumps come into contact with the skin, the pressure is thought to enhance blood circulation. Baoding balls are also used for certain forms of physical therapy, especially when seeking to improve dexterity and exercise muscles around wrists, hands and arms. Some people claim that prolonged use of these balls even improves memory and sharpens intelligence!
In popular culture, meditation or “worry” balls can be spotted in a number of films from around the globe, including the Chinese movie Fearless (starring Jet Li), Labyrinth, the X-Men movie franchise, The Pacific and Orphan Black.
How to use Zen meditation balls
If you’d like to incorporate meditation balls into your daily routine, roll the balls around in your palm – you’ll be sending positive signals to your brain and may find it easier to let go of thoughts that are making you anxious or worried. Experienced ball handlers are able to rotate 3 or 4 balls at the same time. Dexterity and concentration are boosted by increasing the degree of difficulty, and handlers’ hands become noticeably stronger.
Meditation balls are an optional addition to your core meditation practice.