HARA CULTURE IN SHIATSU AND THE JAPANESE HEALING TRADITION
Outline notes for course presented in AIX-en-PROVENCE, April 17-19, 2015. (See Workshops/Agenda area).
“Hara” is the Japanese word for the abdominal region of the body, the belly.
The centre of the belly or Hara area is called the Tanden – principal among three body-centres, all known by this name, which is often translated as “Red Field”. Equally though it can mean “fertile ground”, the origin and locus of the life force and the place where our energy and intention are united and held ready for action. Hara is thus “cultivated” as a felt centre, the common ground and the key practical reference for all followers of Shiatsu, of Seiki-Soho and the Japanese healing tradition.
This course covers all aspects of Hara practice related to the field of health, from self-regulated training to diagnostic and treatment applications. In Hara we find the power and integrity adequate to our personal path.
HARA, SHIATSU and THE SEIKI WAY
In the practice of Shiatsu, there are two ways in which Hara carries significant meaning. Firstly, we might think of its relation to diagnosis. Assessment of the Hara, the abdominal region of the body, has always been the main focus of touching diagnosis (setsu shin) in Japanese traditional medicine, much more than in China, where the pulse was preferred. According to a number of different but related theories, the Hara area is divided into zones which correspond to the inner organs, their various meridians and related functions. The tactile qualities felt in these zones may be interpreted and used as a guide in treatment.
This aspect of Hara is important, but it cannot be fully appreciated or applied in practice unless it is connected to that deeper sense of Hara which the Japanese understand as the centre of all lived experience, the ground of our natural being and the source of our vital energy, or “Ki”.
This inner, subjective feeling for Hara, with its innate gifts of natural spontaneity and power is central to Japanese culture. Traditional Japanese artistic disciplines are practised as a way of cultivating and refining this spontaneous creative force, seeking to reveal the essential truth and beauty of each situation without unnecessary embellishment or wasted effort. Hara training involves awareness and regulation of the breath, identical to the practitioner’s Ki, and develops mental, emotional and physical harmony. Its benefits for health have long been recognised and it is naturally embedded in the healing tradition.
The fact that Shiatsu springs from this same tradition and itself offers a way of Hara practice makes it unique among the popular healing arts. Treatment of the Hara area is a separate, refined traditional art called Ampuku, but in any case, to begin with, Hara breathing exercises can help both the practitioner and the patient. Hara awareness adds another dimension to the practitioner’s studies and lends great potential to the healing relationship. It makes possible subtle and sensitive forms of contact that benefit both the giver and receiver. Hara defines Shiatsu through these inner gifts, without which it is reduced to a mere clinical technique, albeit with oriental knowledge and flavour.
In view of the above, it may seem strange that many forms of contemporary shiatsu place little emphasis on the Hara, either in relation to practical technique or as a focus for diagnosis and treatment. However, we must remember that Shiatsu was re-established and introduced to the West during the 1960’s, a period when Japanese culture was still recovering from recent traumatic reversals. Western medicine was dominant and Japanese practitioners were very influenced by physiotherapy and chiropractic methods. Some Shiatsu schools preferred not to emphasise traditional elements at all and others adapted traditional knowledge and techniques according to their ideas about Western preferences.
The most elegant and successful synthesis of modern medical perspectives and traditional treatment principles based on Hara was made by Shizuto Masunaga. Even so, people generally pay more attention to learning his extended meridians and the perfection and practice of related diagnostic theories than to the simple principles of Hara based touch that he emphasised at the earliest stage of his work. It was Akinobu Kishi, Masunaga’s principle assistant and founder of Seiki-Soho, who eventually simplified the Hara disciplines into a subtle and profound way of healing where sensitivity arises from stillness, and spontaneous life-movement becomes our guide.
In this course we take Seiki as the basis of our approach. Starting at the very beginning we explore each aspect of the Hara tradition through simple movement and breathing exercises. We practice with concentrated awareness to find our own quiet centre, the still centre that is the Tanden, and so discover our own authentic power. Our aim is to trust and allow the natural energies of the body to communicate in their own way, to move us and so confirm through direct experience the underlying principles of Hara diagnosis and treatment. Recognising Hara as a way of experience, we see all theories in a different light.
During many years studying and practising Eastern medicine, I only slowly discovered the deep significance of Hara in my own life, through meditation, the practice of Qigong, and through the discipline and celebratory spirit of Seiki, absorbed in Kishi’s inspiring company and shared through many workshops. Seiki practices, open and empty, provide the clearest and gentlest guidance in the Hara disciplines. I am committed to sharing my experiences of this healing path, with all its challenges and pleasures. PL