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Hara-finding your center

In 1970, when I took a ceramics class at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I quickly discovered that I could not center clay on the pottery wheel.  After months of attempting to keep my clay creations from leaning to the left or right, I decided to ditch that idea and make pinch pots instead.  Over the next few years I studied tai chi and ten years later my studies took me into the heart of Kenpo Karate and White Crane Kung Fu.  It was those movement systems that taught me about finding one’s center, also called hara or tan tien.

The hara, also called “one point”, is said to be located just below the navel and about an inch inside the body.  It is a protected area and considered by many to be a sacred space.  It is not surprising that this is the womb area, and is immediately below where the umbilical cord connects mother and infant. Another factor that makes this area important is that the psoas, a major walking muscle and the only muscle to connect the lumbar spine to the legs is nearby. The intestines, located in the center, are where 95% of the serotonin is manufactured in our body.  The gut’s own nervous system or mini-brain has more nerve cells than our brain’s central nervous system.  The number of nerve fibers that carry messages from our GI tract to our brain is nine times more than those that travel from the brain to the GI tract.  Therefore, a calm gut or hara means calm mind and body.  (I have noticed when I take immodium to slow down motility, my mind relaxes also.)

As a yoga/movement instructor I emphasize that students become centered through mat work, stretching, conscious breathing and attention inward.  By focusing on the center, yoga practitioners are able to generate heat and healing energy throughout their body, at the same time bringing the person into the here and now, with less focus on worries.  The squat, the Iyengar standing and balance poses, dog pose, seated forward bends, and many others stretch the legs and open the hips to develop strength and flexibility in the lower body which encourages us to extend and open our upper body.  And what is the connector here? Our center – of gravity, balance and equilibrium.

Skilled dancers of all styles also move from their centers. In Contact Improvisation, dancers move with others in a constant flow of losing their balance, falling, catching and supporting, often with movements that mirror those of infants learning to move and to trust.  Many forms of movement originate from our center, and that includes bodywork.

The minds of skilled bodyworkers are focused and free of

distraction so they are able to be totally in the present with their clients.  They may reach this state before beginning a session by consciously inhaling and consciously exhaling, and using energy awareness techniques such as yoga, meditation or focusing on a mandala.  This creates a free flow of healing energy so that the massage recipient experiences more than simply the physical sensations of having muscles rubbed.  They often experience a renewed sense of wholeness.

I am fascinated by the concept of hara and or center because I know what it is like to be not centered physically, a good example being last year when I was moving a large box in a dark garage. I fell backwards and literally flew through the air and landed on my hipbones. Also there were several times I tripped over grapevines in the hill behind my house which resulted in my completing a somersault mid-air.  I also know what it is like to lose my center emotionally/spiritually.  I know what it is like to “fall out of rhythm” as Brooke Medicine Eagle says, and to be helped back into my rhythm with the help of bodywork and movement.

The center is the starting point when I begin creating a mandala and my calligrapher neighbor has shown me the difference between making a line on paper, and making the line from your center.

Centering is a foundation of my Quaker upbringing and of yogic philosophy.  In Quaker worship, we meditate by calming our thoughts, centering and opening to divine communication.

When I was a child, an elegant family friend always impressed me with her graceful manner and movement.  After her husband died, she immersed herself in Zen Tea Ceremony.  When I bumped into her in New York City decades later, she was still striking, graceful and moving from her hara.


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