of the Heart and Hara
By Paul Linden, PhD
all know what the heart
is—the body center of loving kindness. However, hara
may be an unfamiliar term. Hara
is a Japanese word. It refers to the area deep in the belly which is the
body center of stability and power. Cultivating the hara
is important in the martial arts, and stability is also important in
defining heart and hara as abstract concepts doesn’t get across their real meaning.
To truly understand heart and hara
requires physical experience.
try an experiment. It will be easiest to do this with a partner, but you
can do it as a thought experiment without a partner—just visualize
each of the elements in the experiment, and feel how your body responds
to each element.
facing your partner. It happens that your partner was out in her garden
last night, picking slugs off lettuce plants, and she saved all the
slugs. Your partner will rub a handful of slugs in your face. What do
you do when your partner does that? What do you do in your face? What
happens to your breathing? Does your posture change? Do you stay relaxed
and alert? Do you tense up and pull away? Or do you do something else?
imaginary slugs, coupled with the real physical intrusion of the touch,
almost always, makes people very squeamish and uncomfortable. Most
people pull away, grimace, tense up, and restrict their breathing.
a minute away from your partner. Tense your belly. Suck it in and
tighten it up. Now let it plop loose. Alternate tightening and loosening
your belly a few times. The hara
is the area that you experience when you let your belly out. It is a bit
below the belly button and deep in the core of the body. Try walking
around with your belly plopped loose. How does that affect your
movement? Most people feel freer and more grounded, more in touch with
their inner strength. (By the way, if you experienced something
different, that isn’t wrong, just different. Whatever you experienced
would be useful as a starting point for awareness work.)
your eyes and think of something that makes your heart smile. Everyone
has something or someone—perhaps a friend, a lover, a child, a flower,
a work of art—something, that when they think of it, makes their heart
smile. Spend a few
thinking about whatever it is that makes your heart smile. What happens
in your body? How is your chest affected? What happens to your
breathing? What sensations do you feel flowing through you? Most people
experience a softening and warmth in their chest, a freeing up in their
entire body, and a sense of expansiveness. The heart
is the area of your chest in which the sensation of love is focused.
have your partner rub the slugs into your face again. Consciously and
deliberately relax your hara.
And at the same time, consciously and deliberately focus on your heart
smiling. How does that affect the way you respond to the slugs? Most
people experience that opening the heart and the hara vastly reduces the
discomfort of the exercise. Many people even find that an intrusion
which was very uncomfortable at first becomes quite trivial when they
maintain their power and love.
the wisdom operating here: in reality, the intrusion was actually
trivial, and the tense pulling away was an overreaction. If having slugs
rubbed in your face were the worst thing you would ever experience in
your whole life, you would be very fortunate. By opening your heart and
hara, you became more able to see the problem for what it was. This
exercise comes from my new e-book Embodied
Peacemaking: Body Awareness, Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution.
If we were working together, for the next step, I would have you explore
practical ways of responding to and resolving this problem.
Balancing and integrating power and love is a key
issue in the growth of every individual and for the human race as a
whole. Power without love is brutal and destructive; and love without
power is weak and ineffective. Power and love are somatic as well as
psychological and spiritual elements, and working with the body offers a
practical, concrete way of working toward a unified state of power and
love. Living from this unified state, you will be more in tune with
yourself, other people, and the world around you, and this will improve
every area of your life.
LINDEN, Ph.D., is a body/movement awareness educator, a martial artist,
and anauthor. He is co-director of the Columbus Center for Movement