In the magazine Tricycle (Winter 2018), in writer Ken Kushner’s article entitled, “Meditations Off The Beaten Path”, Kushner says that throughout his years as a Zen teacher, he’d been struck by how many people experience the same difficulty he once had in finding hara. “Even those who have had extensive experience in other traditions of meditation or have trained in yoga or martial arts struggle with this.” And then Kushner says, “The only people who seem to find hara quickly are singers and wind instrument players — people who are already well practiced in taking long, deep inhalations”.
In the above photo, you can see my several-years-old illustration of breathing with ribcage expansion for singers, the singing technique taught to me by opera performer Maria Todaro. In short, the technique is about — through big inhalation — intentionally expanding the ribcage as far outwards horizontally as possible (the shoulders remain down) and KEEPING the ribcage expanded as one sings, talks, and yes, exhales…the result of this is the automatic relaxation/expansion of the, yes, you guessed it, hara.
(It also results in greater VO2max, endurance, and smoother singing voice…I’ve seen this result with every one of my clients of all ages up past 90 years old in a relatively short time period of 2 months…yes, you’re welcome…)
So, yes, it might be easier to find the hara with someone like this Helenbobelen who’s already found hers, but just remember (from the earlier chapter) that the hara is located about two finger-widths below the belly button…and once you 1) inhale, 2) expand out your ribcage and hold it in that horizontal position (as depicted in the above illustration) 3) sense a certain “drop” or as Ken says, “a pop” of the hara/lower abdomen 4) and then sense a certain cessation of mind chatter and a burst of energy that can flow up through the spine up to the crown.
As Kushner writes in the same Tricycle article, “To say that someone has ‘accomplished or finished’ developing their hara conveys that the person is a mature individual. A corollary statement says that one who has not developed their Hara is not fit to lead.”
To me, someone like “Iceman” Wim Hof has employed his hara development to be able to magically endure extreme cold temperatures…neither of us are Zen Buddhists…but use our deep inhalations and exhalations to our athletic advantage. In fact, I’m not sure if Hof has pinpointed his hara, but I really enjoy the fact that he’s demystifying Eastern spirituality for many young Westerners about so-called “proper guru-prescribed breathing technique”.
One time, while I was teaching a meditation class on Long Island, an Indian woman quizzed me on the “proper way” to breathe while sitting zazen. All I knew at the time was that I could easily trigger a samadhi experience for myself and that I’d never had Zen training and only received spotty meditation training for a period of three years. And even then, not to impress you, but to impress upon you the idea that Destiny plays in our spiritual development, at the beginning of those three years, was I able to experience samadhi…and then later — on my own — be able to understand what the individual components were in the body’s inner sensations that caused the hara to relax/expand.
And as Wim Hof describes his method, it doesn’t really matter if you breathe with your mouth open or closed…at the very least, just breathe and breathe deeply.
One last thing to remember about the hara and the idea of hara development…I’m not too sure that the definition of hara development is it’s continual relaxation expansion. (Jiddu Krishnamurti said something to the effect that then one is “dead” all the time.) I tend to think that hara development is the acute awareness of its relaxation/expansion so that one can still think, plan, experience, and yet still understand that there’s some underlying genius (and often humor) in the unfolding of Life’s events.