Training Hara, Centre of Gravity

Approaching from the vertical central axis

Many similar videos can be found on Youtube, but I just want you to look at this one below introduced in a course I attended – ‘Bone For Life’ founded by Ruthy Alon. Looking at this video, I would like to express some thoughts about Hara and the natural body, which can be approached from awareness of the body’s central axis.

According to internet research, a person carries a load up to 20% of their own body weight in this manner. Moving around with such a load on top of the head without hand-support, we have to rely on the body’s instinctive balance along our vertical central axis.

Here is another extreme example of using the body’s vertical central axis: Mr. Iyengar is posing on the crown of his head. This is from a book titled ‘thus spake B.K.S.Iyegar’ written by Noëlle Perez-christiaens, and the comment says : you must keep the balance by the intelligence of the body (instinct, balance feeling or ability) not by strength. When you keep the balance by strength, it is physical action, when by intelligence of the body, it is relaxation in action.

From Page 46, ISBN 2-902696-07-0

In Okido Yoga, the words ‘Natural Body’, ‘Hara’ and ‘Tanden’ are commonly used. People who attend Okido Yoga classes all over the world may come across unique dynamic movements as shown in the book ‘KYOKA-HO’. However, to me personally, such continuous dynamic movements do not fit very much to cultivating my awareness of the ‘Hara’ location.

So like in this video, I have started using a head cushion for practice of awareness, putting it on top of my head with or without a small extra load, and moving up and down or around the house while I do some simple house work. Then I feel that, when I try to hold such loads at my highest point, my muscles work as those arrows in the image below are converging from all directions toward one point. Also, to keep working in such a state, I must try to relax other parts of my body. ‘The body’s forces converge to the very one point Hara or Tanden and other parts are relaxed.’ Tthat’s the sate of Natural Body.

It is almost impossible to grasp the exact sensation where Hara is, but when I practise this, I feel getting a bit closer to it. Cultivating such an inner feeling is an important training for yoga students.

From Page 21, ‘KYOKA-HO’ by Masahiro Oki, ISBN 978-90-817493-1-2

More essential Hara-training

The Japanese word ‘Hara’ implies more than physical or physiological meaning. It implies a meaning of spiritually developed character through disciplines. So, another type of Hara-strengthening training is to sincerely face our daily life matters, and try to solve them step by step until they are solved, calling forth patience and determination when daunted by pressure, and thus allow our duty mind (or temptation to escape) to gradually shift to love to all people around us, and perhaps even beyond them, to Life itself.

How to make a head cushion

If you want to try improving your awareness of the central axis and Hara, here is how to make a head cushion.

First, make three paper patterns A, B and C as below. As indicated, evenly mark 6 points on A, 2 points on B, and 4 points on C.

Then, please follow the numbered photos below:

1.To make the inner bag, cut out two pieces of A from white cotton cloth. Sew the right sides together with fine stitches, leaving some opening to put the filling later. Sew the edge for reinforcement.

2.At each of the 6 marked points, sew about 2.5 cm as the photo shows so that the flat surface becomes 3-dimensional.

3.Having sewn all 6 points, it will look like this.

4.Turn inside out.

5.Fill this inner bag with 250 grams of linseeds, and sew up the opening with fine stitches.

6.Stitch the centre as the photo shows.

7.This is the completed inner cushion.

8.To make the outer bag, cut out one each of A, B and C from the cloth you choose for the outer bag. Double-fold the straight part of B and sew. Do the same for C. Put A with right side up, and on top, put C with right side down to line up to A, and then B with right side down so that B and C evenly overlap as well as perfectly line up to A. Pin them. Then sew as you made the inner bag without leaving any opening. Sewing about 2 mm outside the marked circle will make a good outer bag to easily install the inner cushion. Do as you did 2-4 for the inner bag. When you have done up to this stage, it will look like 8.

9. This is how it looks from the other side.

10.Turn inside out.

11.Put the inner cushion into the out bag.

12.Completed !! You can wash the outer bag as necessary.

Bearing Points when you practise 20-minute exercises on floor

How effective these exercises are is not measured by appearance; that somebody bends a lot and another looks stiff. Some people are naturally suppler than others. However, in a supple person, suppleness could be only in the partial body, not in the whole. So, let us move away from these words ‘supple’ or ‘stiff’ and respect our own unique reality. I think that, when we practise yoga exercises as bearing principle points with harmonised breath and mindfulness, everybody gets effects in a similar degree.

The video, during the first several seconds, shows important notes: Breathe through nose, Hamonise breath and movement, Flow at your own pace. I simplified these notes as much as possible in order not to make your mind busy, but these contain ‘Please do not force your body as holding breath’, that is to say, ‘Don’t do ‘push and push’ when you find your body not moving any farther against your expectation’. In this case, not all conditions may be fulfilled to move your body any father. A forcing action does not change a long-established status. Breath holding involves a conscious action and is used for a different purpose in yoga practice.

So, please let the video run by your side and practise at your breathing pace, and sometimes, visit this page to check the bearing points in each exercise, which will refine your practice.

Effects of Online Lessons

So far I have been receiving very good feedbacks, and so I think the attendees have been receiving benefits on physical aspects. Readers, please put your comments as you wish. Here in this post, I describe my own feedback about ‘Effects in mind occurring through Online Lessons’.

Yoga ultimately teaches one becoming one’s own master through finding that one’s own innate divinity is no difference from the divinity of natural law, which is enabling all phenomena of the universe to exists and occur. Oki-sensei put this into his unique expression “The life force is God”. Thus as each individual practising to be his/her own master, we respect and help each other and develop together – This is the ideal human society in Oki-sensei’s teaching.

As running 90-minute online lessons, I am realising this way of yoga lessons can serve very well enhancing our awareness towards the above mentioned.

1. As an English saying “You  can  lead a  horse  to  water, but  you  can’t  make  him  drink” indicates, it is the most basic importance that we must prepare ourselves to attend anything consciously willingly, if we want to produce its best effect. To attend online lessons, you may have to reschedule your daily routine, have to ask other members of your family to cooperate to your ‘Me’ time, have to prepare comfortable environment which helps you focus on your practice, have to prepare yoga kits yourself, not like jumping out of your house into a yoga studio. In a few words, basically you have to organise yourself to get ready for entering a special realm even for just 90 minutes. But, you can guess what will develop if you accumulate such self-discipline.

2. In online lessons, I don’t come around to give individual advice or point out this or that in order for you to adjust positions, speed or general intensity. Instead, you have to observe my demonstration when I show differences of positions at this angle or that, carefully listen to my explanation about inner sense that would occur according to small differences, and finally you have to communicate with your own inner sense. This kind of mental attentiveness is really a good practice to polish our inner sense. I believe it is a very important element to make physical exercises to yogic exercises. Using the body as a portal and developing conscious mind, yoga is a method to integrate the balance of the body, mind and spirit, throughout all levels of our existence. Even while giving for a short lesson each, I hope I am viewing this direction.

Some may feel put off using technology to attend yoga lessons. However, with positive feedbacks from both the attendees and myself, I am very happy to run the online lessons.

An experience of the Autumn Retreat 2019

What I love about Okido Yoga is that classes and retreats are never the same. There is always something new or fresh for me to learn. The Autumn Retreat at the end of October was no exception. I took the train to Rickmansworth (near the Loudwater retreat venue) rather than driving. From where I live, the train takes longer, but I find it preferable to driving; less strain on mind and body, plus time for either thinking or reading. It’s time in which I let go of my daily life and transition to “retreat”. I also like to think the train has less impact on the environment….correct me if I’m wrong! Moreover, a train ride always imparts in me a sense of adventure.  You never know whether you will be on time, who you might meet or what challenges you might come up against along the way.

No more about trains, this is about the retreat, although, for me, the retreat begins as I leave my front door. It was a grey afternoon when I arrived at Loudwater. Our accommodation was comfortable and the room I shared with two others was spacious. Our first evening began with a pasta stew: warming and comforting, lifting the grey of the day from my mind. I always love to hear how others have come to be taking part in the retreat. Then followed sharing a ginger compress. As I find ginger too stimulating in the evening, I opted for a hot chamomile compress which relaxed me wonderfully, leaving me ready for sleep.

Our morning exercises, with stretches and then sounding combined with movement, was followed by a walk in the brisk early morning light, during which the rain just held back.

After breakfast, more stretches, movement and asanas. Then Tomoko’s partner exercises introduced a sense of fun with challenges of mutual trust in our partner. We rang the changes, swapping partners until we’d all worked with each other.

Meals during the retreat are always carefully thought out by the rotating yoga/cooks, and the nurturing qualities of each dish were much appreciated, especially the desserts! Our lunch was no exception and afterwards I sat, feeling content to be part of this group with its array of personalities, all enjoying being together.

Following lunch there was a little time for reflection before sharing a ginger compress. As this was earlier in the day, I enjoyed the full benefit of the ginger; relaxing and also, for me, stimulating. A period of silence followed, an aspect of the retreat that I find very important. This led brilliantly into Junko’s session of asanas (some challenging, many straightforward) and shared silent meditation.

A mystery event followed supper. We sat for a while in contemplation/meditation before taking a large piece of art paper and re-creating our feeling of the weekend. Everyone worked quietly with focus, although silence had not been requested. Autumn leaves of all colours spiralled around in the wind outside; these came into my picture, carpeting a glimpsed forest floor on which sat “figures” in meditation. I also wrote a poem:

Glide, shuffle, lurch; Fragile, overworked ; Long to slouch; Breathe deep, feeling liverish; Hot, nauseous; Pain in back niggles; Chamomile soothes; Bowels don’t move; Limbs do; body does; Brilliant new vibrant exercises; Bring to walking; In sunshine imagined; River swift, leaves fall; Wind, rain, autumn; Peace

It was change of the clocks weekend, so we achieved a “lie-in”, getting up at 6am (7am in old time) for early exercises and then out for a walk in the crisp, frosty morning. Our early rise allowed us time to walk further and soak up the bright, sharp day; bliss. Even the horses in the nearby field stopped their grass-munching to face the pale sun as it lifted slowly over the hill.

The sun graced us all day, lighting up the dining room and the grounds leading down to the river beyond. By the time the morning was over I felt stretched and open; relaxed, yet alert; ready, yet calm. We had time before lunch to wander and meditate a little in the grounds in which a magnificent old ash tree assumes command, the river on the boundary full and rushing over itself. Ah, here is Loudwater!

We lunched well. Our final class focused on breathing exercises, and Michael skillfully introduced the group to new yet ancient techniques to clear the head and focus the mind and body.  Ready, finally to face the outside world, beyond Loudwater.

Change your perspectives

I have picked up some more words from Oki-sensei’s Japanese lecture given on 1978.9.29, as follow:

I think that all methods to lead us to saving, enlightening, restoring health or making wishes true are concluded only as one way. It is that we search, devise and make efforts to practise a way of living to make our innate life force happy. For example, our life force is happy when the body is flexible, the breathing is deep and when we take suitable nutrition, but it is not happy when we have poor elimination.

The other day when I gave a seminar to many business people, one of the questions I was asked was how one could earn good money in business. You can’t know how because you see a situation only from your point of view. Say, if you as a customer stand in front of your shop, is it a shop you would like to enter, or a shop you want to pay your money to? Think like this in different perspectives.

This means: you must have capacity to listen. If you want to make your life force happy, you must listen to its voice. Otherwise, you cannot enhance your natural recovery power even if you want to do so. Your life force is constantly appealing to you about what it needs. Please try to listen to those requests.

Also, always make a ‘yes’ response. A ‘yes’ response means that you respond to anything with a thankful mind.

Also, interpret and treat everything as a divine blessing given from the universe. Cultivate your mind so that it instantly works in this way, for example, even in a simple action of drinking a glass of water.

Also, when you deal in a particular situation, if you imagine as if you are a divine being, you will treat the situation in a better way.

These are from yoga training in Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi, Bakthi, Prasad and Buddhi.

To create a peaceful world, each person must be in a peaceful condition

My last post was about  Oki-sensei’s description of what the natural body, natural mind-heart and natural life-style are for human beings and that yoga is a system of ‘philosophy and practical methods’ that teaches this to us.

In this post, I summarised two lectures from an English booklet ‘Last Lectures by Masahiro Oki’. The lectures are one given in Finland on 28 June 1985 (pages 5-10) and another given in Belgium on 15 July 1985 (pages 33-37). Oki-sensei draws our attention from lofty ideals (as per the last post) to very practical indications which we can apply in our daily life.  He says the following:

Attendees of the lectures suggested many subjects such as love, religion, peace, health, and yoga. He decided to speak how to create peace, because in ‘peace’ all aspects of human beings are included. After the Second World War, he decided to become a peacemaker and joined many so-called peacemakers’ groups. However, he found that there were many paper- or mouth-peacemakers but they were not necessarily peaceful themselves. Then he realised that, if we want to create a peaceful world, each person must be in a peaceful condition, where we need three elements: peaceful body, peaceful mind-heart and peaceful life-style. He concretely indicates as follows:

How to create Peaceful Body

  • Keep your muscles flexible.
  • Keep your spine stretched.
  • Keep your breath deep.
  • Keep your blood clean.

Yoga Asana and Pranayama teach these.

How to create Peaceful Mind-heart

Obtain a balanced state in emotions, desires and intellect.

  • Emotions and desires come spontaneously, not by thinking. When some thought or feeling comes, don’t deny it. But, think ‘what is the opposite thought or feeling to this one?’  If you think well, you will find there are so many ways of interpretations. Then bring in the opposite thought or feeling to the one which originally occurred to you. Through this practice, your mind will come to feel alright whether this way or that way.   Unbalanced thoughts or feelings come because your ability of adaptation is weak.
  • To keep your intellect peaceful, you must distinguish what you understand from what you don’t understand.

How to create Peaceful Life-style

Peaceful Lifestyle means the life-style where we help each other and develop together. This is love. There are two causes for human quarrels: egoism and attachment. How to practise this kind of life-style is as follows:

  • You do not need to deny about possessing things, but utilise them as public things, or for both yourself and others.
  • Whatever you do, keep its benefits for yourself and others at 50% each. Keep your own joy and other’s joy at 50% each.

Oki-sensei showed us both lofty ideals and practical indications. I think that having these both is one of the beautiful features of Okido Yoga. 

What yoga teaches

Here is what I picked up from Oki-sensei’s lectures ‘What is yoga?’ (1978.7.28 & 1978.9.29).

Meaning of the word ‘yoga’ 

The word ‘yoga’ means ‘to unite’ or ‘to yoke’ and refers to uniting the Plus Force and Minus Force. The universe functions as plus and minus forces perpetually change, move towards balance and reach stability. This is the law of nature, which is what enables us to live. In order to be saved from suffering (such as illness, distress, unhappiness, calamities, pollution, wars etc.), we have no choice but to follow the law of nature. This means that we are to understand and practise what the natural body for human beings is, what the natural mind-heart* for human beings is and what the natural life-style for human beings is, which together make up the human natural state.

The human natural state is as follows: 

>  Natural Body for human beings: The hara power is enhanced. The hara power is the ability to enhance and strengthen the natural recovery power which we are inherently given.

>  Natural Mind-Heart for human beings: The busshō, the divine nature of human mind-heart, is enhanced. It is the ability to thank everything, interpret everything as joyful and divine, and make friends with everything. Only human beings are inherently given this ability to develop to such a state.

>  Natural Life-style for human beings: We cannot live alone. Human life is social life, where we live in each other’s cooperation, as well as tied down to each other. We have the ability to enhance our adaptability so that we may still feel free in a limited life. Co-existence and co-happiness are integral to the natural life-style for human beings.

Yoga is a system of ‘philosophy and practical methods’ which concretely teaches how our body, mind-heart and life-style are to be, in order to live in the human natural state as described above.

To start this blog

To start this blog, I listened to a couple of Oki-sensei’s lectures given in old days. The scale of his teaching is vast and profound. Despite how long I have been engaged in Okido yoga, it still makes me feel that I cannot concisely sum up what Oki-sensei taught – i.e. what Okido yoga is. It may be naturally so because yoga is not meant to be learned from listening to or reading words, as he himself said repeatedly. However, just as it is necessary to sometimes check the technical content of exercises in order to improve our physical training, I feel that, if I try to describe at my current level what Okido yoga is, this process will improve my understanding of Okido Yoga. 

So, here I am going to share what I grasp currently, while listening to or reading Oki sensei’s words. Your comments will be welcome so that we can learn together.