Silk reeling is a tai chi exercise centered around a set of movement principles. These principles are based on the actions performed by an individual harvesting silk from a silkworm cocoon. The exercise stresses the importance of continuous fluid movement. With proper practice, silk reeling can increase one's flexibility, joint movement, and balance.
The silk reeling movements are a neigong exercise, which is a meditative breathing practice. This exercise is considered a major component of the Chinese traditional martial art tai chi chuan. Classified as a form of internal martial arts, tai chi chuan contains five families within itself. Two of the families, the Chen and Wu styles, consider the silk reeling exercises to be fundamental. Internal martial arts focus on training the individual from both an internal and external vantage point.
Based on the craft of silk reeling, this exercise mimics the craftsman's movements. The delicate nature of the craft requires the craftsman to perform his or her actions at a constant, medium speed. This tempo is reflected in the exercise. If the practitioner moves too quickly, the silk will break, and if he or she moves too slowly the silk will stick to itself and be ruined. The movements' form is circular in nature, and the practitioner takes care to never deter from the set path or make sudden, drastic movements.
The body must lead the movements with the dantian. In most east Asian internal martial arts and meditation techniques, the dantian is considered the central focal point within the body. This center does not originate from a muscular or nervous component of the body. Instead, the dantian is viewed as the body's center of gravity. From this focal point all movements begin to adopt the form of the nonlinear division within the taijitu pattern. The taijitu is the symbol commonly associated with yin and yang, a circle with an s-shaped line dividing it into two equal portions.
Once the arms have begun to remember the movements, the rest of the body is mobilized. This total-body movement mimics the silk reeling form of a true craftsman. Over time the body becomes better acquainted with the movements' coordination, and the joints achieve a greater range of motion. Practitioners believe that the energy channeled from the dantian spirals out to the rest of the body and enriches the joints and limbs.