While traveling throughout the US and Europe teaching shiatsu for many years, I began to notice the diminishing role of hara in the development of mainstream shiatsu education. I was surprised at the lack of vitality of the hara when watching students work. They were often not working from their own hara, and they were treating without penetrating application. There was also scant emphasis on personal training for hara health. In Zen Shiatsu, a branch of shiatsu created by Shizuto Masunaga, the hara became almost exclusively used for a very light touch diagnosis of other systems of the body.
It seemed like students were not integrating what they did learn about hara treatment. Some were afraid to touch the hara and I often saw little change in receivers’ ki (energy) as a result of hara treatment. Some receivers did not want to have their hara touched at all during treatment. Hara is one of the most important aspects of healing in bodywork. Working with it promotes transformation into a state of well being, centeredness and a perspective that brings things in life into balance. Without a thorough knowledge and training in hara treatment, students were missing out on a powerful opportunity for themselves and their clients.
When I began studying shiatsu with the Japanese teachers, like Shizuto Masunaga, Michio Kushi, and Ohashi, they all emphasized that treatment revolves around the hara. They talked about how life comes from and is a reflection of the hara. Shiatsu training not only included hara technique as a central element, it also strongly focused on the development of the practitioners own hara. The education included dietary awareness, strong physical exercise and philosophy that awakened the multi-dimensional meaning of hara. It was as much a spiritual training as it was a technical vocational training.
Many of the Asian teachers that first presented shiatsu to the west gave very strong and vigorous treatments that were directed by a whole body view with organ, meridian and tsubo considerations in a supportive role. The goal of these treatments was to restore balance and fluidity to the ki flow and to encourage the the body/mind/spirit to discharge toxic qualities of a physical, emotional and vibrational nature. This kind of treatment came to be considered too provocative for the western appetite. Gradually this approach was westernized, modified, and distilled to meet the needs of the clients’ capacity for challenge and change.
Over time the role of hara was diminished, both in treatment application and practitioner education. People began limiting the use of hara to kyo/jitsu diagnosis. Shiatsu education became more conceptual and intellectual. It started to emphasize the development of acupuncture theory instead of developing and evolving the the most important quality of the practice - the manual, physical aspect: touch and pressure. This trend has almost overshadowed what was of utmost importance in early shiatsu and it’s origins: awakening the hara in the practice, in the condition of the practitioner, and in the life flow of the healing arts community.
Hara is a microcosm of the whole environment: our local landscape, the air we breathe, the water we drink. We can also see the hara as a microcosm of the larger physical and spiritual universe. By spiritual I am referring to the world of vibration, not beliefs or religion. In the taoist practice of chi kung, the hara is open to exchange with all the physical and vibrational forces of nature - air, ocean, geographical landscapes, mountains, trees, environmental entities.
Environments themselves have a frequency range and ‘personality.’ Often particularly powerful centers are areas where civilizations develop and grow. Cities, towns and countries flourish where there is a strong flow of ki. It is interesting to walk in a major city and feel the vibrational vortex circulating through all of the buildings, people and activities. Why does a city develop in one place and not another? There are particular characteristics that create access, movement, and resources to feed the creation of that place. There are other areas where civilizations tried to develop, but they withered and stagnated because they lacked the right energetic flow.
When we touch someones hara, we can feel their personal history and their environment coming through, depending on our experience. A person’s whole story is in their hara. Working with it gives us one of the best opportunities to listen to and understand who they are. It can transform the health of their organs, emotions and life system. Treating the hara is one of the most potent tools we have as practitioners to improve a person's condition and assist them in the initiation of changes that will lead to engaging in present time with vibrant awareness and health.