In Japan the concept of Hara is much larger than the simple idea of abdomen and belly. Hara refers to the lower back and abdomen. The Japanese consider that the vital spirit resides in the Hara, more specifically at a point a hair's breath below the navel, known as the "Tan-Den".
The Hara describes the quality of a persons energy - one may have a "good hara" or a "bad hara". All movements and power in Japanese Martial Arts originate from the Hara.
The Oriental thought and medicine health is the first principle without which disease itself may not be defined. Disease is an out-of-balance state and an aberration of the harmony of life.
Health is the normal and natural functioning of the body and the goal of ideal treatment. To help to restore harmonious function is to bring about the state where healing may optimally occur.
Jackson Morisawa the Kyudo instructor at Chozen-ji in Hawaii writes:
Hara is the seat of Life, the centre of intrinsic energy. It is also referred to as a state of mind in the development of one's character. One who controls the hara is not likely to loose his balance or composure. Who has hara does not consume himself or spend himself completely. He learns to anchor himself in the hara, and can shake off disturbances of the body and mind and alternately release himself from the ego and return to the deeper power of the "original being", the will is silent, the heart is quiet; and one accomplishes his work naturally without effort.
In Budo, physical strength alone cannot contain the vigorous procedures of training. Setting the hara, to center oneself by concentrating on the vital spiritual energy, ki, alleviates one’s difficulty in maintaining vigorous discipline
The faculties of hara are also used in other Japanese arts where to put a flower, when to make the final brush stroke in calligraphy. Using the hara encompasses within the idea of seeking perfection, or even enlightenment, through disciplined practice. There is no competition element, for this is an inner, spiritual way.
Developing the use of hara can be accomplished through many different media, meditation, exercise, martial arts, and of course Shiatsu.
The hara is a very sensitive and personal area which most of us are not used to having touched. The hara should be soft, relaxed above the navel, and full and firm below it.
Sedentary Living, poor eating and drinking, lack of attention to breathing and posture contribute to universally weak conditions in the lower hara, which at the same time mental/emotional strain may lead to diaphragm tension and a tight upper hara.
The energy that maintains our vital Life force flows through twelve meridians, they are a crisscross network of interconnected path ways which link organs, skin, flesh, muscle and bones in a unified body.
Each of the meridians is classified as Yin or Yang depending on which Yin or Yang organ it is connected with. The flow of energy throughout the meridinal system follows a specific sequence. Meridians have a protecting role in stopping harmful energies entering (viruses etc.).
Hara diagnosis is performed by touch diagnosis of the abdominal area. Pulse diagnosis is a natural method that originated in China, whereas Hara diagnosis was developed in Japan. In Shiatsu the practitioner is required to have a sound understanding of his patients mind and spirit. He diagnoses the kuyo-jitsu pattern in a pair of meridians opposed to acupuncture when the diagnosis is based on one meridian only.
In a hara diagnosis of the meridians in that area the practitioner finds points that are Kyo and points that are Jitsu. Kyo points have usually a penetrating stiffness are very sensitive to abrupt manipulation. When Kyo points are attacked the patients body will contract in order to defend itself. Jitsu points are very easy to find because they are obviously distorted areas.
With tonification we can strengthen the kyo points and dissipate stagnation or stiffness in the joints Sedation is obtained with an anti-clockwise pressure to a Tsubo point.
Toudou, the master of oriental medicine once said that the hara always comes first. Applied to Shiatsu one can diagnose the total body condition and treat it with tonification and sedation.
To train the hara one will strengthen the whole body. All body movement originate from here. The strength or weakness of this area is the mirror of the body's health.
Following is an exercise to power your hara:
Concentrate on conception Vessel 6 (three-finger's width below your navel) while breathing deeply in to the lower abdomen, let your diaphragm come out as you inhale. Feel the breath being expanded into the depths of the belly. Exhale, drawing the belly in, letting the energy circulate through to body. The exercise will strength the general condition of the body.