In Search of Hara – Part 3

Part III: Hara from a Physical Perspective (Cont.)

In my last blog post, I described hara from a purely physical point of view.  My original intent was to follow that with a post focusing on hara from a psychological perspective and, in so doing, go from what hara is to why one would want to develop his or her hara in the first place.  However, due to comments and questions from readers and others, I have decided to extend the discussion of the physical dimensions of hara.

I was particularly motivated by a question from reader who pointed out that I used the same photograph to illustrate the HaraMetertm dial for both the inhalation and exhalation in hara breathing.  He questioned whether the needle should remain in the exact position throughout the respiration cycle.  The answer is, no, it does not have to remain exactly the same.   To illustrate this, I would like to introduce the idea of the “set” in hara breathing.

If you purposefully contract the muscles of your lower abdomen (“suck in your gut”), you will find you lose most, if not all, expansion in that area (you’ll have flattened your stomach).  If you were wearing the HaraMetertm, the dial would be very low.

Flattened Lower Abdomen
Flattened Lower Abdomen

If you then take a deep inhalation so that your lower abdomen expands fully, the dial should increase. At the end of your inhalation, bear down very slightly with your lower abdominal muscles; this bearing is what we refer to as “setting” you hara.  When you set, the needle should rise slightly or stay at the roughly the same point that it was at the end of your exhalation.  We can call that spot of the dial your “set point.”  From then on, the needle should hover roughly at that point, whether you are inhaling or exhaling.  It is OK if it dips or raises somewhat.  In fact, in martial arts the expansion of the hara will often increase beyond the set point during movements requiring power.  But, the needle should not dip substantially below the set point.  If it does, that should be a cue to reset your hara.

The End of the Inhalation and the Set Point
The End of the Inhalation and the Set Point

Because hara breathing is a dynamic process, still photographs are not the best way to illustrate it.  For that reason, Alex Greene and I shot a video that better illustrates this dynamism.  But, before we get to it, I would like to address a few other questions that were raised in response to the last post.

The first is whether there are values on the HaraMetertm that indicates optimal hara.  The answer is no.  The dial shows the pressure in millimeters of mercury (MmHg).  Unlike blood pressure, for which there are healthy and unhealthy measurements, there is no correspondence between specific numbers on the dial and the quality of hara breathing (although, generally speaking, the higher the better—as long as you are not straining).

The HaraMetertm simply measures the amount of pressure exerted on the meter’s belt.  While we primarily want to measure the pressure on the belt from the expansion of the lower abdomen, there are other factors that affect this pressure (and, hence the position on the dial).  These include how tightly one ties the belt and how much one inflates the bladder.  As a result, the salient measurements are the differential between an intentionally flat lower abdomen (as I described above) and the end of the inhalation (generally speaking, the more range, the better) and whether the needle hovers roughly around the set point in subsequent inhalations and exhalations.  And, there is no optimal absolute value on the meter for the set point.

Yet another question is “Where can I buy a HaraMetertm?”  We plan on having them available for sale within a few months.  So, please check back.

And now: the video.  The next post will be on hara from a psychological perspective.   And keep the comments coming.

– Ken Kushner