When doing a Shiatsu massage, and even for most Western techniques, the practitioner can preserve his or her own energy by working through the Hara (belly) rather than using muscular strength when working with a client. The movements of the practitioner, when using the Hara, will then come from a leaning type of movement involving the whole body, rather than just the muscle of the arms and shoulders. This becomes a much more effective and powerful technique for successful bodyworkers. It is similar to the theory in martial arts where the warrior uses the whole body, not just throwing a punch from the shoulder, which has only a fraction of the power.
Most of that energy in the Hara comes from a place just below the navel known as the tanden (or dan tian). Using the tanden will allow you to have more strength, use less energy and feel more grounded, as well as a maintain a good balance of mind, body and spirit.
Using Your Own Hara
When doing bodywork, you can save your own energy and increase the effectiveness of your work by focusing on and working through your Hara or abdominal area. For the practitioner, or giver, this is an area of energy and intention.
An easy way to do this is by visualizing a string, or perhaps a beam of light, coming from your belly area and connecting to the client. You can also place one hand flat against your belly and the other against the client’s, creating a physical connection as you start the session.
Strengthening the Hara: Exercise 1
Using meditation can also help to strengthen the Hara. Sit comfortably in seiza position (on the floor, legs crossed). With your eyes closed, focus your attention on your breath. Don’t try to change it in anyway, just observe it. Is it fast or slow, shallow or deep, smooth or uneven? After observing it, the breath should fall in to a soft, easy pattern. Place your hands on your abdomen and bring your breathing down to that area, feeling your belly move gently in and out.
Visualize your belly as a bowl. With each inhalation imagine it filling with light. As you breathe in, it becomes brighter and stronger. As you breathe out, it becomes less intense, smaller, yet remains bright. After several breaths, let go of the image of the bowl, but retain the image of light and keep your awareness there. Relax your attention after a few more breaths and slowly come back into awareness of the present moment. Open your eyes and allow yourself to return to normal consciousness.
This would be a good time to perform some stretches, such as the Makka Ho sequence of exercise. (See “Using Makko-Ho Stretches to Balance Energy” article.)
Strengthening the Hara: Exercise 2
Another way to help strengthen the Hara is to stand with your feet toes forward and about shoulder’s width apart. Keep the knees soft and slightly flexed. Your back should be straight and the shoulders soft. The eyes should be looking straight ahead.
Start with the hands by your side and slowly raise them to about waist high. Bring the palms to your Hara, placing them one on top of the other in the area of the tanden. Start moving the hands in an ever expanding spiral in a clockwise direction. Keep your mental focus on your belly area. Begin with a very small movement and continue for 36 rotations until you reach the perimeter of your Hara. When you reach the outermost circle, pause for a moment, take a breath and “unwind” the spiral, moving in a counter-clockwise direction.
As you relax into this exercise you may find your hips swaying, at first ever so slightly and then more so as you progress with the ever widening spirals. This is fine and natural; let it move as it wants.
When you are finished with the last spiral, your hands should be back at the tanden. Relax, breathe and then slowly return your hands to your sides.
Be careful not to over-focus on the Hara. To do so is to bring the energy frequency of the practitioner to a lower level which can actually clock energy flow. While the focus must start at the Hara, it must also be brought out into the entire body. This will take practice. Exercise methods such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, karate and jiu-jitsu are all good ways of creating this awareness.
A strong Hara connects us to the earth and helps to increase self awareness. It helps to align and balance mind and body. It is also reflected in a strong immune system and increased stamina, allowing you to live more joyfully and with less effort. In your practice it will enable you to more fully connect with your clients and perform more effective bodywork.