the hara

This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog…

Tonight I got another treatment from Takagi-san. He spoke a little while he was working on me. He knows some English, although he never let on before. It turns out he has a public license in shiatsu, which is what I’ve gotten from him.

My knees were swelled up after today’s practice, so he wasn’t able to work on him adequately to get me into seiza, but I still felt much better after he had done his range of motion work, stretching, and massage. When he started on my legs today, he grabbed around my Achilles tendon and said, “Whoa!! Katai!!”–stiff! No doubt. My Achilles was starting to feel irritated today doing shumatsu dosa.

As a normally gassy person, I have always been nervous and self-conscious about having people working around my lower body since I almost always have gas moving around and waiting to be expelled. Anyhow, as Takagi-san was manipulating my feet, I could actually feel the tension coming from my abdomen and fighting him as he tried to work on me. It was very subtle but it was there. I had quite a strong feeling that most of the tension in my body in daily life comes from my abdomen.

Interestingly, my very first drink of liquor some years ago, I remember very vividly since I had an acute warming sensation that I could feel very clearly start in my stomach after I swallowed the liquor and spread outwards. I have never had this feeling again, but I have heard other people mention it. It was an amazingly relaxing feeling. Now, after drinking, I often notice that my bowels seem to be better regulated as long as I stay away from beer and mixers. Obviously, alcohol has an effect on the brain as well, but I wonder if it isn’t the case that much of the pleasure I get from drinking has to do with taking away tension and unpleasant sensations from my abdomen.

As I was laying on the mat, I was reflecting that from a physiological perspective, the body is basically some mechanical extremities stuck onto a core of vital organs, and in this core it is the abdomen that is most malleable. We tend to think of the body as a unit because the muscles stuck onto the outside are integrated–pectorals work with triceps to lift the bench press, etc. But that is not what the body looks like under the muscular layer.

Under the muscles, the limbs are just sticks. ‘Life” happens in the torso, not in the limbs, and the torso is a big cavity that is divided into two major sections by the diaphragm. Above the diaphragm is an area that is essentially static. Yes, it’s true that as you breath, the ribs expand and contract, but this is pretty minor change. Basically the lungs and heart are in a box. Below the diaphragm is a soft flexible area filled mostly by intestines. Since life happens in the torso, and the thorax is static, the abdomen, or hara, is where life can change. This is where life can be manipulated, so it is where life begins. It should come as no surprise that tension or relaxation or movement all originate in the abdomen since this is really the only place it can originate.

As I lay on the mat getting massaged, and now sitting in Villa Bianca, my limbs are essentially dead weight. It is only the abdomen that is dynamic. It seems the opposite is true because the limbs can perform work when required but that is an illusion. They are just hunks of meat, while the abdomen is changing all the time.

The brain may produce thoughts and control, but it is the hara that sets the condition of the body. The key is to make the hara obey the intentions of the brain. I realized this whilst feeling the tension in my body going directly into Takagi-san’s hands.

Now for sleep.