Here is an introduction to the history, philosophy, and practice of The 18 Luohan Hands. In romanized Chinese, the 18 Luohan Hands is written Shiba Luohan Shou, which is pronounced as follows:

• Shi (like the word “ship” but without the “p”)
• Ba (rhymes with “La”, )
• Luo (rhymes with “claw”)
• Han (rhymes with “con”)
• Shou (sounds like “show”)
The word Luohan comes from the Sanskrit word Arhat. Both words refer to a person who has cultivated a high level of spirituality. After the Buddha passed away roughly 2500 years ago, 500 of his top disciples gathered together in a grand council. Together, they reviewed and discussed his teachings word by word. These disciples became known as the 500 Arhats. 
When Buddhism spread from India to China, there were some cultural adjustments. For example, the Chinese paid special homage to 18 of the 500 Arhats. Statues of these 18 Luohan are often found in Buddhist temples today. 
When Bodhidharma taught at the Shaolin Temple (roughly 1000 years after the passing of the Buddha), he chose to pay homage to these 18 Luohan, perhaps in an effort to reach across the cultural divide. So he named a set of Qigong techniques after them. 
The word Shou means “hands”, but refers to the 18 techniques. So a figurative translation would be the 18 Techniques of the Enlightened Ones.

Over time, the 18 Luohan Hands evolved into the 18 Luohan Fists. Here, “fists” also refers to the techniques, but implies that they are not just for health. In other words, it was a form of Kung Fu. This was the birth of Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that would become legendary.

The 18 Luohan Hands is one set of Qigong exercises that I teach.
Many of my students have found the 18 Luohans useful in healing. Some results they have shared include: relief from ringing in the ears, indigestion,and irritable bowel. One of my students cured her endometriosis. If you practice these exercises on a physical level (which is the norm today), then you won’t get the same results that my students get. The visible form is the least important aspect in Qigong. It’s what happens on the inside that matters most.
 The secrets are not in the visible form, but in the internal dimensions of energy and mind. All over the world, students practice the visible form correctly, often for years, but they don’t get the results they deserve because they don’t understand this important point. The visible or mechanics is 10% of the practice, breathing technique is 30% and the most important is entering zen.  This is where the magic happens when you reach a mindful, state of relaxation.   

The Benefits of Luohan Qigong

In theory, the benefits of The 18 Luohan Hands are limitless. Many of my students and most of my teachers students spend most of their time practicing these techniques. So most of their results also come from these techniques. This is why we say that The 18 Luohan Hands can heal “1000” diseases. I am a firm believer that stress causes disease.  Qigong, relieves stress, and teaches you how to manage your stress in a healthy way. I also believe that a relaxed body & mind can heal itself. Give it a try, and see for yourself. 
Here are some general benefits of this type of Qigong:
• Open the energy meridians.
• Get the energy flowing.
• Improve balance
• Increase strength
• Relax the nervous system.
• Dynamic meditation (great for those who can’t sit still!)

Harvard school of medicine has endorsed Qigong and Tai Chi.  In a recent review, Harvard researchers cited the following improvements from practicing Tai Chi and Qigong:

  • cognition, attention, concentration, mental tracking
  • strength, balance, coordination (no more falls!)
  • improve mood, memory, and reduce anxiety
  • lower heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate

Links to the research and more articles –  click here

I typically teach the 18 Luohan hands in a series of three 2 hour workshops. In each workshop you will learn 6 of the 18 Luohan Hands. In the first workshop we learn an opening routine which sets the stage for your practice, 6 Luohans, and the closing sequence where we learn to settle the energy and end our practice. The purpose of learning the 18 Luohans is to enhance or maintain health. Learn all 18 Luohans and your body will have a qigong pharmacy that it can call on anytime to improve health. Pictures and written materials describing the benefits of each movement are provided.

This article has been adapted from an article written by my teacher Sifu Anthony for more about him or the original article go to