Eastern Spiritual traditions describe the abdominal center as the origin of life, containing the vital organs, heavenly essence and all its’ physiological functions. The navel center has been defined as our source of creativity and its capacity to bring forth life. From a Chinese Medicine perspective the root of life has many names; Hara, Dantian, Sea of Qi and Spirit Gate.
Located above the pubic bone and beneath the navel, the Hara holds our essential health; mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. From ancient arts like breath work, yoga, martial arts, belly dancing, meditation and Qi Gong, these guiding exercises integrate the mind with the Hara for inner strength and balance.
The word Hara literally describes the area of the abdomen and its functions of digestion, transformation, absorption and elimination. Parallel to its physiological actions, the Hara has a psychic and spiritual significance. Throughout eastern philosophy spirituality and religion there exists an archaic recognition of these psychic centers in the body where vital energy flows. From the chakras, meridians and the numerous nerve plexuses, these centers within us govern a wellspring of energy potential for inner transformation.
Consciousness is by no means confined to the brain. ~Lama Govinda
The Zen masters urge their students to settle the mind within the Hara. This establishes a focal point of energy, allowing the tension from the upper body to melt downward and soften. Breathing in from the lower Dantian releases strain from the neck and shoulders, signaling the parasympathetic nervous system to let go, relax and lower blood pressure. This meditation removes us from the ego, intellect or the thinking mind.
The famous sculpture, The Thinker created by the French artist Auguste Rodin represents a muscular man in a pensive posture. This depiction of a well sculpted body hunched over portrays the suffering of opinions, views and judgments. He is lost in thought and his torment is evident.
On the contrary the figure of the Buddha seated on his lotus throne portrays an image of serenity, stability and knowing. Calm and radiant, this imagery is the foremost example of Hara expressed through the body.
Zen Buddhism teaches “breathing from the Hara” which translates in modern terms as a mechanism to stimulate or increase vagal tone. Research demonstrates the relationship between vagal tone and its vast relationship with psychiatric and gastrointestinal function, having a direct correlation on perception, anxiety, digestion, heart rate and other crucial homeostasis functions.
Holding attention here allows the student to move from the subjective mind; biased, opinionated, attached. And instead, engage with the objective mind; neutral, unbiased, unattached.
One of the most tangible practices of “putting ones mind in the Hara” was taught to me by a former Qi Gong instructor. With a partner we were instructed to place our feet hips width apart, find our balance, close our eyes, take several deep breaths and allow our partner to spontaneously nudge or push us from behind. Invariably each one of us stepped out of balance or wavered and wobbled to keep our feet firm. Our instructor then told us to drop into our Dantian and place our minds attention there. The results were astounding. We all quickly realized our ability keep our feet on the ground, steady and firm, unwavering and rooted when met with unexpected force.
This approach is a vital component to understanding how to work with the energies of anxiety, stress and general feelings of imbalance. Often we may say things like, “I’m not myself lately or I feel off or my anxiety takes over and…” All these expressions cause our bodies to take flight and mount a sympathetic nervous systems response to incoming stimuli.
But If we can apply practices such as breath work while visualizing the mind in the Hara, we can begin to come back to our center and engage with the other half of the nervous system that allows us to slow down, digest and transform these energies; this is the alchemical result of intention.
The ancients recognized the abdominal center as a source of root disease as well as a revisor for curing disease. Tapping into the energies of the organs and their surrounding nerve plexuses is a step forward into understanding a deeper relationship of the mind and body connection. Take time to connect to your center, drop in and remember what it feels like to have both feet firmly on the ground.
To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. ~Lao Tau
Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, Hasler G. Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:44. Published 2018 Mar 13. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044