Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Seven - Thomas Foote


In the first part of this chapter Path Finder asked The Kid where it felt like he inhabited his body. For reasons you probably consider obvious most people imagine they sit somewhere in their own skulls and direct the traffic. To a large extent this sensation of occupying your body from an area behind your eyes is an example of our world view at work. It is also undoubtedly a result of our heavy reliance on vision. In contrast, my dog probably thinks his nose is the obvious seat of his consciousness.

One of the early comments the Roshi made in Aikido was that the Hara is the center of our being. It was the center of consciousness from which all action radiated. This sounds pretty far-fetched, but all he meant was that we could move our sense of self-awareness from behind our eyes down to our center of gravity. This takes practice, but there doesn't seem to be any reason why one body part should be more privileged than another. The criterion should be functional. Aikido convinced me that it was more functional to emphasize the Hara instead of the head.

Sounds good!

But how do you do it?

Let's go back to the Power Glide. I've already said that you have to feel the Hara, rather than simply enjoy the idea. Feel it you must, but I believe that is too weak an interpretation. You need to bring your awareness to rest within your center as though gravity had pulled it there. Assume the Power Glide posture and begin to sway. Concentrate your awareness into the region of your lower abdomen and hips. Visualize the movement over a level plain. Feel the muscles in your hips and abdomen as they synchronize the motion. Feel the tug of gravity against the mass of your body that centers in your abdomen as it pivots over your feet. With your awareness, follow the flow of resistance down through your legs and, finally, feel the even distribution of pressure across the surfaces of your feet where they contact the floor. While you perform this exercise, breathe slowly and deeply from the diaphragm. Imagine that your breath is being drawn to the Hara and expelled from it. It is your Hara that breathes.

Sometimes I also visualize a bright, incandescent light which glows and radiates in the Hara. When I inhale, it glows blue-white, like coals in a fire when you blow on them. When I exhale, it still burns strong but with a warm red-orange.

Hara Power

The Power Glide is a basic exercise. We practiced it at each class and were encouraged to practice on our own time as well. And what will this new-found awareness of you Hara do for you? Well, I remember one student's verbal account of spontaneously experiencing the Hara away from class. This guy was a very down-to-earth working man who had practiced Aikido for several years. One night, when he came to class, he was very excited to share what had happened that afternoon. He was downtown just ambling down the sidewalk when -- WHAM! -- his legs felt as powerful as tree trunks rooted right there in the concrete slabs. Along with this sense of being deeply rooted to the Earth, he felt he could move with incredible strength. He said he felt he could have turned to the marble wall of the bank and he stood by and pushed it over. By this time we had witnessed enough which was out of the ordinary in that old shack of a dojo that I didn't doubt him. In fact, what he said about super strength just seemed natural in that context.

Super strength! Wow! That sounds good, where do I send the money?

It's not that simple. The Hara is much more than a gimmick. It is a product of that other world view which placed an emphasis on self-knowledge. Operating from the Hara combines the mind and body. In the sense that a "whole" represents something beyond the mere summation of its parts, the strength of a fully integrated mind and body represents a higher level of power.

The Power Stride

Let's adapt this technique to walking. Once you have begun to develop an awareness of your own Hara through the Power Glide it is an easy step to carry that awareness into more dynamic activity. We'll start with the Power Stride.

Have you ever watched an infant become a toddler; that is, have you watched someone learn to walk for the first time? It's really an eye-opening experience. It takes a lot of practice and determination to motivate around the house on two feet. In the process of learning to do something that you do now without thinking you probably took a lot of knocks, shed buckets of tears, and needed plenty of encouragement. I know I hadn't paid any attention to walking since those forgotten days when I was two feet tall, until I studied walking as meditation.

What you do is break each step into three phases:
- Lifting
- Swinging
- Placing each foot

All you do is pay attention to what you're doing. Instead of daydreaming about power and glory as you stroll along, think about walking while you walk. As you lift your foot, think "lifting"; as you swing your foot, think "swinging"; as you place your foot, think "placing". To begin this sort of exercise just walk slowly, one step at a time if necessary. In a little while you'll be able to maintain awareness at your regular pace.

To begin with, I noticed that I had only one foot off the ground at a time and that one foot's "place" corresponded to the other foot's "lift". Now add the Hara. Following the same induction process which you learned for the Power Glide, maintain your awareness in your center as you walk. Sense the pull of gravity, the resistance, which travels through your legs. Again notice the surface of each foot as it is mapped out by pressure. You are connected to the Earth and its power is flowing through you.

Power Running

Naturally, running comes next. Imagine that you are floating down the road with more grace and energy than you have ever had before. That's what it's like when your running originates from your center. The Power Run differs from the Power Stride in terms of where you focus your attention. Instead of following the placement of each foot, you follow your breath.

Essentially we are combining the breath mediation - Pranayama, learned earlier - with the Hara. This is easier than it might sound. Rhythmic breathing tends to naturally dominate my awareness as I run. It's a matter of necessity! Instead of ignoring the obvious, associate with the process. This was also discussed earlier. If you can't get out of it . . . get into it.

Now you're pounding down the road and following your breath. You are dragging the air in deeply to your diaphragm and expelling it just as completely. You are breathing from your Hara. Let your awareness center in your lower abdomen. Remember that you do this by feeling your Hara and not by thinking about it. Feel your hips as your legs swing. Imagine all the body's movement pivoting on your center; the motion of the arms, the twisting trunk, the swinging legs. Visualize the Hara floating over the road on a smooth, horizontal plain. When I practice the Power Run I immediately feel refreshed, my energy surges and my stride is less jarring.

You need to practice the Hara before applying it to weight lifting. The beauty of these meta-exercises is that they can be worked into your daily schedule if you can't add a special training session in your day. You can practice Hara awareness getting out of a chair, walking down the hall, climbing stairs or simply while waiting in line.

Before integrating the Hara with weight lifting let me point out a couple of things which ought to be pretty straightforward. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Lifting in the 5th Dimension isn't supposed to be a short cut, it is an alternative. I think that a lifter who has a functional command of his Hara will be a more effective lifter.

The Power Clean

Go back to the earlier article and re-read the description of the Clean. Now you should recognize the Hara. Remember when the old man told me I had to get my hips in closer to the bar? That's the Hara. I dynamic lifts like the Clean, which involves the movement of the entire body, the Hara is particularly obvious. In the Clean you counter pose your body mass against that of the iron. Using the Hara in the Clean is more a process of tuning the mind and body to the same channel so that the signal to lift travels efficiently and powerfully in a single direction.

Lifting in this manner, you are calm, alert and poised. Your mind does not wander out the window to what else you might rather be doing. Your posture and form are good because you are moving from the hips. If you've ever seen guys Clean from the shoulders first you know what I mean. They make two movements out of it instead of a single burst. Lifting from the Hara means your feet are firmly planted and you won't wobble. As important as it is that your body remains stable, it is equally important that your mind doesn't wobble. This is what we are just beginning to understand in the West.

Lifting from the Hara isn't something you will appreciate by seeing it. You will understand . . . when you do it! This of course means that you must first discover it. Consequently, the primary purpose at this point is to become aware of your Center.

Entering the 5th Dimension - Step #2

I. The Power Glide

(1) Slow your breathing (Pranayama). Inhale and exhale deeply from the Hara.
(2) Let your awareness sink into the pelvis as if drawn by gravity; feel your weight settle.
(3) Follow the flow on through your legs, which are supporting your center.
(4) Be aware of the surface where your feet and the Earth connect.
(5) Now glide, while maintaining the Hara on an even plain.

II. The Power Stride
(1) Enter calm state by following the breath (Pranayama).
(2) Let awareness sink into the Hara.
(3) Begin to walk slowly.
(4) Dissect each step into three phases:
a. Lifting
b. Swinging
c. Placing
(5) Follow each phase (associate) with your mind, quietly naming them as they occur.

III. The Power Run
(1) As you run bring your awareness to the Hara.
(2) Breathe rhythmically and slowly.
(3) Draw each breath to the Hara and expel it from the Hara.

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