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The Hara, the Source of Life and the Navel, the Gate of the Spirit

By Dr. Skya Abbate, MA Sociology, MA Pastoral Studies, MA Bioethics and Health Policy, DOM (NM), Dipl Ac, Dipl CH, Executive Director

Located in the center of the abdomen, referred to as the hara, reside the organs that give us life. In their center we find the navel, the Chinese acupuncture point CV 8 Shen Que, Spirit Gate, that refers to the place where we received that life from our mother by way of the umbilical cord. As such, these areas are the focal point of energy in our body from which life is given, sustained, and taken away.

The hara is not just an anatomical location but as the Dan Tian or center of the energy of our body we gain our core physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health, for in many ways we are as healthy and as calm, centered and peaceful as the hara. Most nations with enduring physical cultures have recognized this longstanding and as a result cross-cultural truth. From yogic and Qi Gong exercises of breathing, to belly dancing, meditation, martial arts, aerobics and more, these practices have recognized the importance of infusing the center of the energy of life, the abdomen and the organs, with the breath of life to regulate the energy and blood of the entire body.

In Oriental medicine the role of the Dan Tian was recognized by the ancients who wrote of its importance in the classics. As noted writer Bob Flaws points out, "...the root of allergic diseases is mostly qi vacuity, while evil winds are the branch. In clinical practice it is the vacuity of the three viscera of the Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys which is mostly seen. The ancients commonly chose the navel and the points around the navel to treat Lung/Spleen insufficiency diseases. The navel communicates with the five viscera and the six bowels and joins the channels and vessels of the entire body. Therefore, it is said in the Yi Zong Jin Jian (The Golden Mirror of Ancestral Medicine) that acupoint the Shen Que (CV 8) is able to treat “the hundreds of diseases." Shen Que is capable of regulating the channels and vessels, qi and blood of the entire body. By stimulating Shen Que, one can course and free the flow of qi and blood, regulate the internal viscera, and strengthen organic function. In terms of modern medical theory, stimulating Shen Que can regulate the nervous, hormonal and immune systems thus improving organ function and returning it to normal."*


The Nanjing views the navel region as the center of heaven, ruled by Earth, and by virtue of Five Element correspondences, its pertaining organs the Spleen and the Stomach. Based on this association, practitioners of classical Chinese medicine have used the navel as a means of treating the Spleen, the Lungs because Spleen is the figurative mother of Lungs, and the Kidney because Earth figuratively controls Water. Practitioners continue to treat the navel with various modalities for addressing disharmonies of these three major organs which are the three major organs involved with the qi of the body.

While the diagnostic significance of the navel has it historical roots in the Nanjing, this part of the anatomy also has useful clinical applicability for illnesses in the modern world. As we can see the area around the navel is a powerful storehouse of energy that can treat virtually any illness, not just allergic disorders but the root of an illness, including the following:

  • all deficiency illness
  • energetic illness
  • inflammatory diseases
  • illness characterized by stagnation
  • mental emotional illness
  • diagnosed physical disorders including musculoskeletal disorders

Japanese Acupuncturist Mubunsai in the 1600s agreed by attesting to the fact that examining and treating the abdomen is sufficient to cure nine out of ten diseases. Yoshimaso Todo, founder of modern day Japanese acupuncture, concurred by affirming that the abdomen is the source of life and therefore the myriad diseases have their root there.

Early in Oriental medical training, the student learns that the umbilicus or navel, which corresponds to the acupoint CV 8, is regarded as a “forbidden point” for needling. They then discover that the application of moxibustion to this area of the abdomen is permissible for specific conditions, such as loose stools or increasing the will to live. However they rarely see it used clinically, and they may not use it often, if at all, when they become practitioners. Nevertheless, in Oriental medicine there are important uses of the navel as a microsystem with its own diagnostic parameters and treatment strategies that extend well beyond the conditions for treatment in Oriental medicine including the diseases cited above or highlighted in this brief artcle.

There are many ways in which to treat this area with Oriental medical modalities such as needles, moxibustion, and hand palpation. An excellent tonification treatment for patients with Lung, Spleen, and Kidney disharmonies or for patients exhibiting many criteria described above involves treatment of eight points around the navel. This treatment strategy is called the the Eight Extra Channel Needling - The Navel or Jing Treatment. The eight acupuncture points are located at a distance equivalent to the KI 16 radius from the navel. The Kidney 16 (Huangshu) area is .5 cun around the entire navel. Dr. Manaka, renowned Japanese acupuncturist, says that Kidney 16 is the Front Mu point of the Kidney.

This acupuncture treatment employs eight needles that are inserted to a depth of approximately .5 of a cun, sometimes up to 1.0 cun, on a 45 degree to an oblique angle towards the center of the umbilicus. No daqi arrival is sought nor should any manipulation of the needle be done. Needles are retained for ten to twenty minutes. The more deficient the patient is, the shorter the retention time. This is a very powerful treatment due to energetics of this area. Patients are characteristically guarded in this area so it is advisable to use # 1 gauge 30mm needles to avoid discomfort. See the figure above for the positioning of the needles in this Eight Extra Meridian style treatment.

An efficient method of treating the area of the navel is to cup or moxa the umbilical area. This treatment in effect has the identical actions of the jing needle treatment without the discrete insertion of eight needles that can be bothersome to some patients. Use a glass or plastic suction cup. Retain cup for approximately ten minutes. Moxa in the form of the tiger thermie warmer, moxa box or belly bowl can also be employed.

Following this short but powerful treatment, the patient should feel calm, grounded, energized on a very deep level, relaxed, and physically, mentally and emotional balanced. Improvement in the major complaint is noticeably achieved at a faster rate than other acupuncture styles since the root qi is accessed. The remediation of the major complaint is typically achieved as well as many other subpathologies the patient presents with. This method should constitute your primary treatment style, meaning it is used as the sole or core basis of treatment. Patients love this style of acupuncture since it is so subtle, supportive, painless, non-invasive, and works! Standard contraindications for acupuncture apply such as with patients who are pregnant, have cancer, are children or very old, patients with an acute abdomen, or if the patient is too weak, hungry, overfed or on mind-altering drugs.

In summary, the classics remind us of a very basic and perhaps understated treatment strategy - when an element or an organ is deficient, tonify the mother. For example, Spleen is the mother of Lungs and the grandmother of Kidney making it a valuable choice for correcting any of the pathologies that could result from such disharmonies of these two latter organs, whether those disharmonies are symptomatic or preclinical, because this strategy addresses the root. Therefore treatment of the navel which corresponds to the Spleen/Earth element represents a very direct, efficient and effective strategy for bothersome, as well as serious, diseases. It seems that the proverbial notion of navel gazing is as old as the Nanjing itself and certainly merits further contemplation.

For further reading on this topic consult The Art of Palpatory Diagnosis in Oriental Medicine. Harcourt Publishers, London, England, 2001 by Skya Abbate. Post A and Cacaliere S. Unwinding the Belly. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA 2003. Yamaoka S. The Art and Way of the Hara. Heian International, Union City, CA, 1976.

*Flaws, B. (trans): Allergic Rhinitis. Blue Poppy Press Research Report # 97. Blue Poppy Press, Inc., Boulder, CO, 1996; 2.