Posted by: Integra Massage | June 11, 2011

Hara Massage

Hara Massage


Hara Massage is therapeutic massage which focuses on the abdomen, pelvis and their internal organs.  This article describes the nature, history and purpose of hara massage and gives information about the hara massage training programme run by Nick Hudis at Integra Massage.  The article will be of primary interest to massage therapists, bodyworkers, Shiatsu practitioners and acupuncturists seeking to learn advanced skills.  It will also be of interest to people looking for effective treatment for a range of health issues.

What is the Hara?

Hara is a Japanese word meaning “belly”. But its cultural connotations go far beyond a mere anatomical location.  Hara is our centre.  To have “hara” or to act with “hara” has the implication of strength, purpose, groundedness and presence.  All oriental arts from martial arts to calligraphy, from the tea ceremony to flower arranging lay great emphasis of being in the “hara”.

In Japanese medicine hara is central to health.  Most schools of healing in Japan believe that the hara is a mirror of a person’s overal constitution and state of health.  The hara influences every aspect of a person’s being.  The hara is our centre of gravity and its muscular walls are literally pivotal to good posture and strong graceful movement. The motility of the hara is critical to healthy diaphramatic breathing, The major blood including the Aorta and Vena Cava pass through the hara, The hara is obviously the seat of the digestive, reproductive and sexual organs.  At an emotional level, the hara is the location where much of our deepest emotional armouring is found.

Energetically, the hara is the site of the lower dan tien, the storage point of yuan qi and jing which in Taoist thought are the root energies of our being and the power cell of our entire system.  In Tantra, the lower three Chakras are all within the hara.

The History of Hara Massage

Hara massage has probably been practiced by most traditional cultures since ancient times.

In the East ,Japanese Ampuku  (literally: palapting the stomach) evolved into a sophisticated healing art originating with Shinsai Ota in the 17th Century. Ota treated  all diseases through the hara regardless of where they manifest in the body and focused on sensing and treating five hara signs: fullness, emptiness, pulsing, tension and lumps.  Ampuku is still practiced in Japan although skilled teachers and therapists are hard to find.

Chi Nei tsang  (internal organ chi massage) is a Taoist approach to hara massage introduced to the West by Master Mantak Chia. Chi Nei Tsang emphasises sensing and treating qi or energy imbalances in the hara, particularly the elimination of negative “winds”.  Karsai Nei Tsang is closely related to Chi Nei Tsang and focuses on clearing stagnant blood from the genital area.

Another style of hara massage is Mayan abdominal massage, which originates from  traditional South American Indian healing and  has been popularised by Rosita Arvigo.  Mayan abdominal massage is best known for helping with issues of the reproductive system, particularly malposition of the uterus.

The West has its own traditions of hara work.  John Harvey Kellogg MD included comprehensive and sophisticated treatments for the internal organs in his book The Art of Massage, published in 1895.  Sadly much of this knowledge was lost as massage fell from favour during the pharmacutical drug revolution of the twentieth century.

More recently Wurn Technique practiced at the Clear Passage Clinic in America has produced encouraging research evidence for the manual release of abdominal and pelvic adhesions in the treatment of a wide range of reproductive and urogenital problems.

The Osteopathic tradition also works with the hara.  Jean Pierre Barral’s Visceral Manipulation uses light touch and principles from cranial osteopathy to work directly with the internal organs.

Application of Hara Massage

Hara massage may be used therapeutically at three levels:

1) As part of a general restorative massage approach to maintain health and well being.  Hara massage techniques can be included in full body relaxation and therapeutic massage to deepen and expand the scope of the treatment.

2) As a specific treatment protocol for a wide range of health issues that relate to the abdomen and pelvis. Hara massage is  indicated in conditions described in oriental medicine as excess, that is involving, congestion, accumulation and adhesion.  It is also indicated for deficient conditions characterised by poor micro circulation, weakness prolapse and atrophy. Hara massage has been used with apparent good results in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Respiratory: asthma, paradoxical breathing, chronic bronchitis
  • Digestive: IBS, constipation, inflamatory bowel disorder, sluggish hepatic and bilary function, gastroptosis, gastritis. Indigestion, poor assimilation.
  • Gynaecological: period pain, irregular periods, endometriosis, vulva pain, blocked fallopian tubes, prolapsed or retroflexed uterus, infertility without known cause, female sexual dysfunction, post partum problems.
  • Urogenital: chronic prostatitis, male sexual dysfunction, irritable bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis, prolapsed bladder, mild to moderate incontinence.
  • General: pelvic, perineal and genital pain.  Back pain related to psoas imbalances, post surgical and other scarring and adhesions.

3) As a deep, holistic energy treatment.  Treatments known in oriental medicine as root treatments focus on the patient’s  constitution and underlying energy imbalances.  Working at core of a person’s being, hara massage is a powerful root treatment which can unblock the flow of energy, particularly at an emotional level.

Hara massage has few absolute contraindications and can be adapted by a skilled practitioner to the specific needs and limitations of each client.

Hara Massage within Integrated Tissue Release

Hara massage is a cornerstone of Integrated Tissue Release (ITR) a recently evolved bodywork system developed by Nick Hudis after 20 years of experience or oriental and western bodywork.  ITR has been described as bringing together the power of Tuina, the presence of Zen Shiatsu and the flow of Lomi Lomi with the precision of neuro-muscular technique and fascial release and the sensitivity of cranial work.

ITR hara massage  integrates principles from oriental tradition and western practice. Its aim is to find and release areas of kori:  areas of tight, congested, immobile  or painful tissue within the hara.  In ITR philosophy these lesions are the result of the body becoming locked into a defensive adaptive response to trauma or stress at a structural, physiological or emotional level.  ITR seeks to release these areas of kori and guide the body towards a healing adaptive response.

ITR hara massage works with  releases at three levels:

Myofascial – through the direct release of adhesions and beneficial thixotropic change in the facial matrix.

Circulatory-physiological – through the enhancement of micro circulation and the stimulation of hormonal and metabolic processes.

Neuro-muscular – through the stimulation of points that mediate autonomic and higher neurological function.
These three levels correspond broadly with the Three Treasures of Oriental Medicine: Jing (physical substance) Qi: (life force) and Shen (conciousness).

Studying ITR Hara Massage

Nick Hudis teaches hara massage within the ITR apprenticeship programme and also as a stand alone certificate course for practicing therapists and acupuncturists.

The hara massage course is usually run over six days divided into three sections:

Section 1 (covering general hara techniques and principles and release of the breathing mechanism)
Preparatory warming and relaxation of the hara
Release of the abdominal wall
Diaphragm release
Chest release and activation of the breathing mechanism.

Section 2 (covering releases for the digestive organs)
Release of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine
Liver and gall bladder release
Organ lifting techniques

Section 3 (covering releases for the urogenital organs and circulatory system)
Releases for the uterus and ovaries
Releases for the bladder
Releases for the aorta, vena cava, illiac ateries and other vessels

There is also a fourth level covering genital and pelvic floor releases which may be taught on request.

Within these set patterns, practitioners learn the fundamental principle of ITR, the unity of diagnosis and treatment, discovering how to sense the presence of blocked, congested or immobilised tissue and apply appropriate pressure, angle, rhythm and mode of touch to initiate a release.

ITR hara massage techniques employ combinations of pressure, stretch, mobilisation and stroking in which typically the two hands work together to generate infinitely variable shades of touch.  As the practitioner’s skill develops, treatment flows in interwoven cycles of sensing, release and integration which respond spontaneously and intuitively to the “in the moment” state of the tissues.

ITR hara massage recognises that blockages felt physically within the tissues will often have a component of emotional holding or body armouring.  The treatment does not work only with the physical tissues, but guides the receiver’s awareness into parts of their body they have become cut off from. Sensing this dimension and dealing sensitively with emotional release, particularly where it relates to sexual trauma, is an important aspect of the practitioner’s learning.

ITR hara massage encourages practitioners to develop heightened palpatory skill, to be fully present in what they are doing and to work from a place where intuition and rational analysis are balanced.

From a practical point of view, ITR offers a practitioner a skill set that allows them to treat a wide variety of structural, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, urogenital, emotional and pychosexual issues.

Bodyworkers are often nervous working with the hara, because this area of the body is seldom covered in the depth it deserves on massage training programmes.  ITR hara massage opens the door to working powerfully and with full confidence with this vital aspect of their client’s.

Oriental medicine practitioners and  acupuncturists find that ITR hara massage as an oriental healing discipline, integrates naturally with their skill and knowledge base while allowing them to extend the scope of their work.

Case Study

M is a 33 year old woman of of quite heavy build.  Her symptoms started two years ago following a very long and difficult child birth. The main symptoms are: intense episodes of lumbar pain and lower abdominal pain worse at period time, frequent urination and a feeling of irritation in her bladder, genital numbness and loss of sexual sensation. She has previously had conventional treatment including physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and sports massage with little improvement in her condition.

Assessment of her posture showed some lumbar lordosis with her chest drooped and shoulders rounded forward.  Palpation revealed considerable tightness but little pressure pain or tenderness in her lower back, buttocks and legs.  However a number of deeply sensitive points were found in her lower abdomen and groin. There were also areas of numbness. Her bladder was easily palpable even when empty and deeper pelvic examination revealed a number of hardened masses (previous ultrasound had ruled out fibroids etc).

My working hypothesis was that the protracted childbirth had resulted in considerable trauma to the pelvic tissues and organs, including displacement of the bladder.

The agreed treatment plan combined hara massage with an ITR technique called Body Wave.  ITR bodywave somewhat resembles Hawaiian Lomi Lomi in the use of long, smooth, continuous full body strokes.  Body Wave offers a deep but gentle and integrative approach to fascial release which combines well with hara massage.

The hara massage focused on contacting and releasing the sensitive points and hardened masses in the lower pelvis.  Specific techniques were also used to lift the bladder. Additionally I taught M some self massage techniques and a traditional Taoist exercise called the Jade Egg to strengthen her pelvic floor.

Treatment continued at roughly 2-4 week intervals over twelve months.  The urinary symptoms improved considerably during the first month.  The lumbar and pelvic pain was much slower to respond and had a number of set backs, but after about six months was in M’s estimation 75 percent improved.  Changes in M’s genital sensitivity were gradual but towards the end of the course of treatment she happily reported that she  numbness had gone and she was able to enjoy intimacy again.

The hara work brought up a lot of strong emotions surrounding her appearance, femininity and problems in her marriage.  Time was always set aside in the sessions for listening and talking through these issues.  M said that sessions helped her considerably with her body confidence.

After about twelve months, the focus shifted towards a pre-conception programme and she shortly afterwards became pregnant.  She received pregnancy massage throughout her pregnancy and gave birth without difficulty or recurrence of her previous issues. Time and resources have prevented her from returning for treatment but she has kept in touch and I understand she is happy and fulfilled and free from pain.

For more information about Integra Massage and dates and venues for hara massage training please get in touch via our website.


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