These are all ways to appreciate and
flow with the Lifeforce rather than struggle against it. Another
way to say this is that Ki,
energy, is the key, and Hara
in its wide interpretation as ‘the vital centre of
man’ described by Graf Dürckheim is the unifying point where
concentrated and developed. They are
major parameters of my life and I’m constantly studying the way
and what they add up to.
or ‘Tanden’ is the
centre of your
vital energy. It can be considered to be
your whole abdomen or it can be taken as a point slightly below the
in the centre of your body, somewhat equivalent to the Manipura Chakra. When movement is generated from your centre
you can express yourself with dynamic power while remaining completely
relaxed. By keeping attention at that
point your posture remains stable and solid, your mind and body become
so that you are calmly responsive to the stresses of life.
With this stability the lungs can open,
heart can more easily and generously extend to other people. Flexibility and power come through
and trust instead of becoming tense in your shoulders, stiff and
flustered as Ki
rushes to your head in a moment of stress and you try to control the
your limited personal strength.
Indian yoga has many exercises to open
and strengthen the lower body through the legs, hips and core muscles,
you think Master Oki was a tough task-master there are plenty of highly
demanding teachers in the Indian tradition and what the West has made
it. Try a class with Ana Forrest for
instance! Once you have stood in Warrior
2 pose for 5 minutes and followed that with her core exercises you will
your lower body’s capacity very well.
considered the further
dimensions of Indian yoga to be gymnastics and unnecessary for the
tasks of Karma Yoga, serving
other people, working for the happiness of all. Nor are they
necessary beyond the point where
your body is relaxed and open enough to sit peacefully for Dhyana (Zen)
In Okido Yoga the Kyoka-Ho discipline may also seems
wild and gymnastic at times, but the purpose is to translate the power
into joyful action. Pulling, pushing and lifting for instance are
everyday actions, but how often do people do these things from their
arms and shoulders only? Unless
the posture of the whole body is
aligned and the pelvis in particular is engaged at the correct angle,
is limited and the risk of injury great, leading to pain, suffering and
eventual death! No joyful action there.
A second purpose of Kyoka-Ho is to
develop the confidence that you can stay calm and centred when faced
challenge. This might be a physical or
practical challenge, in which case you give your best while also being
assess what is possible and what is foolhardy. The
challenge could also be emotional or
mental, in which case the
capacity to stay ‘in your Hara’
means that you won’t be overwhelmed by panic,
anger, confusion or any of the other myriad waves of turbulence.
Similar lessons come from Aikido.
The context is different but it is not
we are really training to face multiple attackers even if that’s
in the black belt gradings. Sensei
Williams (in English we put the ‘Mr’, or whatever, before
the surname, not
after as in Japanese, so this is how we refer to him), who is head of
Federation in England, describes Aikido as ‘exercises for
coordination of mind
and body’. Obviously, being attacked
several people at once is the simulation of a high stress situation,
whatever happens the real test is to stay calm and centred, not
the swirling energies. In Aikido the
person executing the techniques never attacks. He
or she blends with the other energy
and diverts it, neutralizes
it. One instruction is to you ‘put
yourself in your partner’s place’. And
if something goes wrong you follow the Ki in such a way as to stay
and safe. As soon as you become stiff
and muscular you become vulnerable to injury, pain, suffering and . . .
From the very
beginning of training one
has the experience that just to focus your attention in your Hara brings a
stability that is absent if your mind is wandering. The same is
true if you adopt a good, light
posture, relaxed, not tense, or slouching.
Seemingly so simple, yet our habit is to counter physical and even
emotional difficulties with hardness (as long as we don’t just
want to grasp and control. This is the
way to exhaust your personal energy quickly.
The alternative is to ‘extend your mind’, another Aikido
which means to see yourself as a manifestation of the Lifeforce of the
way, for instance, your
arm becomes unbend-
able though you make
no effort yourself.
It’s easy to demonstrate. Keeping some small percentage of
attention in your Hara, many
things become effortless which previously
In different ways, Aikido and Okido
teach how to stay relaxed and open and how to appreciate, adapt and
the energies of the universal Lifeforce so that it flows in and through
Zen teaches how to stay
peaceful amidst the turbulence of the inner world.
It also teaches how foolish it is to try
control people and circumstances rather than looking deeply and
no one and nothing is separate from everything else, that we are all
the same reality together in our different ways.
After all this, the place and practice
of shiatsu is easy to understand. It
takes its place in Okido Yoga as an expression of Karma Yoga, service to others
and the desire to relieve pain, suffering, and avoid the further
long as possible. The practice starts
from the heart and the Ki
follows, embracing your partner. If you
extend your mind to your partner’s
whole body, and with it your Ki,
your practice is deep, gentle and effective,
whereas if you work only from your hands and imagine only the surface
body, the feeling will be hard and superficial. Once
again your energy and your movement
come from your Hara. If not it will become hard work and
exhausting as well as ineffectual. Zen
shiatsu is a practice of responding through your own stillness and deep
listening to the area of your partner that needs most support.
The continued study of these strands
(and a few others), the weaving of them and the sharing of the result
my life’s practice. Why? So that everyone, including myself, may be
happy and free!
Michael’s first intense experience of
Okido yoga was in 1989 and he has been a constant devotee since then.
organizes ‘Health and Yoga Holidays’ in Turkeywith his
partnet, Pervin, has a black
belt in Ki Aikido, and is a shiatsu practitioner and
teacher in London.
email and website
Book ‘Hara: The Vital
Center of Man’
by Karlfried Graf Dürckheim (1898-1988).
Originally published in Germany in 1956.