Bring in the new year - Learn Shiatsu's Introduction to shiatsu contains very important pointers that will help you learn the art of Shiatsu effectively; it also presents some important 'do's and don'ts' to consider when giving a Shiatsu treatment.

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Therefore it is strongly recommended that you read it carefully before proceeding to Part One.


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Hara and breathing

As described in the Introduction, one of the most helpful habits to cultivate when doing a treatment is to focus attention and breathing in the lower abdomen, or hara. The hara contains the Tan Den, one of the seven major energy centres or chakras in the body, which have been used for thousands of years throughout the world in healing and spiritual practices.

You can think of the Tan Den as being located a couple of inches below the navel, in the middle of the body, a little forward of the spine. It forms the body's centre of gravity; focusing attention in this spot is widely used throughout the Orient in all kinds of activity where Ki is employed, such as in all martial arts, as well as in archery, the tea ceremony and even in flower arranging! Cultivating the ability to work with your attention here will greatly enhance your own calmness, concentration and 'centeredness'. It will also help you to provide just what your partner's energy field needs, unthinkingly and instinctively, even if you are not able to detect this intentionally just yet. You will be consciously using your own Ki, and not just your physical strength and weight. If you develop this ability as second nature, it will also help bring these positive qualities to other activities in your life besides Shiatsu, including all kinds of physical activity or any interactions with other people, with powerful and far-reaching results.

This cultivation of hara focus can be done as a very simple exercise in its own right, as well as during Shiatsu practice. Just sit in a comfortable upright posture - the kneeling position (below), known as seiza, is ideal, but you can use any of the other sitting positions, which are shown at the beginning of lesson 1. Placing a cushion on top of your feet in the kneeling position can make sitting up straight more comfortable.

Allow all the different parts of your body to become completely relaxed. Focus attention in the hara, and feel yourself breathing into the Tan Den, deeply but in an unforced manner, and with a natural rhythm. Feel the abdomen swelling as you breathe in, and flattening as you breathe out. Placing your hands on your belly just below the navel will help this awareness. If you notice your attention wandering from the breath, just bring it gently back to this practice. If you are not used to abdominal breathing, continue for a couple of minutes.

The energy channels 

The position known as seiza, or the kneeling position, is perfect for breathing into the hara.
To develop this exercise, you can try to feel the air, and Ki with it, flowing down into the hara as you breathe in. Hold the breath and concentrate on the energy there for a few seconds. Then let the breath out slowly, with your attention still on the Ki held in the hara.

As you breathe in again, sense that more energy is being drawn down, and continue in this way with a sense of energy building up and gathering in the Tan Den, for a few more minutes. The whole exercise can be done for about five minutes daily, preferably when you are not too tired. It is also particularly useful in preparing yourself for giving a treatment, helping you to let go in your mind of everything else. Soon you will find that you can also cultivate hara awareness while doing all kinds of other activities, especially during simple, rhythmic actions such as walking, but you can even make use of it at such mundane moments as waiting in a queue.

It should be added that the Tan Den is just one of the chakras or energy centres found in the body that can be used as a focus in this way; some practitioners use the heart centre in a similar way. This is located in the middle of the upper chest area, again centrally between front and back of the body. The qualities and areas of life affected by this chakra include the emotions, compassion and relationships to other people. After getting used to working with and focusing in the hara you may wish to practise drawing energy into the heart centre in the same way, especially to cultivate working with altruistic intent or emotional healing. As an exercise for yourself, breathing into this area will also help you contact your own emotions, and can help heal difficult or painful relationships.

Alternatively, there is the brow chakra, or Third Eye, which is located behind the midpoint of the eyebrows. Focusing here, either as an exercise in itself or during treatment, will help develop potential for insight, intuition and psychic awareness.

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