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Harada Roshi

About Tanden

What is tanden?

When we are doing zazen, it is very important for us to use our tanden. And we learn how to use our tanden from doing zazen. For example when we are sitting for a long time, if we aren’t sitting in our tanden then our ki goes very high, and if we were for example coming to the end of sesshin where it is very hard because we are pushing against limits, then we would just get scattered in every direction if we aren’t centred in our tanden.

So by doing the practice over a long period of time – like during a sesshin - we learn how –by the many hours of sitting- to keep that focus in our tanden. And from knowing how to do it in a sesshin when we return to our daily life we understand how useful it is –even necessary- to be centred in our tanden to be able to keep the quality of  awareness and attentiveness and focus in our daily life that we find we can use the tanden for in our sitting in the zendo. So because we then find the need for it after having used it for our zazen that feeds us again with wanting to keep our focus on it and we know how necessary and useful it is that helps us keep our focus fastened on the tanden when we need it.


Is tanden the navel-centre?

Yes, it is in the area of the navel, and it is not exactly only a physical place, it is a place which is a centre of energy, and it is something which when we use it, when we put our focus there, we have a  revitalization of our physical body as well as our mind. For people who are doing yoga, or people who are doing tai chi or chikung or various martial arts, this is a part of the body. People in all those different paths know and are familiar with working with their body in that way. But it’s not only a physical place, it is also a place where we feel  our state of mind revitalized as well as our physical energy.

As far as a place which is physical, to find this place, it is in the area between our backbone and our ribs, we take that area and make a triangle. In the centre of that triangle and lower down we can find a place which is the centre point and right where that area is is where the tanden would be located.

The location of where this tanden is physically...It helps us if we, coming from the parts of the physical body that are affecting it and first we have the part of the body where we have our ribs supported by our abdominal muscles – and then that's the front part of our body. The back part of our body - the muscles of the lower back - and that is connected by a connective tissue which goes under our groin and connects these two  abdominal muscles and our back muscles - and this is the central area from where our tanden is being supported.

Then we go on to the importance of lungs. The lungs are extremely important because in our body which has 60 billion cells it is our lungs’ job to support their supply of oxygen. Our whole body depends upon the circulation of our  blood which has a lot of oxygen going to all of the cells and having all the CO2 taken out of the cells.  And this is accomplished because of the lungs expanding and contracting with its great amount of surface area. This activity of the lungs, cannot be done, the lungs themselves do not move.  What activates the motion that is possible for the lungs is the rising and the falling of the diaphragm which is a lateral muscle underneath the lungs. And what helps, what enables that lateral muscle diaphragm to move in a way that the lungs can be contracted and expanded is the circle of abdominal and lower back muscles that are connected. So because the diaphragm and abdominal and lower back muscles are all in a team play supporting the lungs, these are very important to the ability to breathe, which makes it possible for the circulation throughout our whole body of blood which is rich with oxygen and then taking out the waste material of the CO2.

Because of this being strong and it  is really a huge amount of  breathing that is done from these lungs all of our smallest capillaries are being given  a rich supply of oxygen-filled blood, even to the hardest and most difficult place to reach, the arachnoid *[spider-like and web-like] layer on the top of the brain, all the way up to those very fine capillaries.  This activity of the lungs can bring oxygenation to all part of our body bringing revitalization.  So the place where this is most centrally being worked through is from our tanden, but behind the area of our navel which is the part of the energy system which activates all of these oxygen and CO2 processes that are being worked through our blood-circulation.

For everybody here who are specialist in working with this tanden breath, that the question which was also wanting to be answered was 'how do we keep this going in our everyday life even after cushion.'  So for that reason he is explaining a little further about how the tanden works.  At the beginning we use an abdominal muscular breath. Even if we aren’t using a particular kind of  attempted deepening breath,  we should be able to exhale for at least 8 seconds. That is bottom line. Anybody who is not able to exhale for at least 8 seconds is probably a little bit high in their khi and not able to do work of the best quality because they are not settled in their breathing. But we can even exhale out for 1 whole minute when we work with our exhalation in our zazen breathing – to get the exhalation as long as possible, the way we - at the beginning - work with it is to use our abdominal muscles and work with that exhalation becoming as long as it possibly can. We don’t have to count the seconds for the inhalation because just as far as the exhalation is exhaled the inhalation will naturally come in.

After we have become well-acquainted with how our abdominal muscles affect our breathing then very naturally we will find that our tanden is being activated by the abdominal muscle breathing and the tanden begins to work of its own, and we find a large amount of energy building up in our abdominal area. This is happening because those muscles are bringing that tanden breath into being.

When that becomes familiar and well-supported, we no longer have to give as much intention to the muscles being worked to do the tanden breath because the tanden itself, of its own, is working second nature and the breathing continues to be deeply held in the tanden area and the same amount of activity energy and deep energy is felt from the tanden itself being ongoingly breathing without...you couldn't even see; you can't even notice a person's muscles are being part of the breath in their abdomen when a person's tanden is what is breathing of itself……And because of this, we are more able to keep a large amount of energy going for our daily life for our concentration for things that we are doing, for the active and less active parts of our life.  However, if we try to go straight into the tanden breathing without doing the abdominal breathing then its very easy for us to feel a need to put too much pressure and attention into the breath to try to get a tanden breath going. That’s why we have to make use of these abdominal muscles very carefully and work with that.  Otherwise we will push tension into our diaphragm and also try hard by pushing and find a lot of problematic attention in our lung area. That’s why it is important to first use our abdominal muscles and then find the tanden breathing through that.

People who do any kind of martial arts know this very well - also for kyudo - working with the Japanese bow and arrow - because it is with this tanden energy that martial arts are done. With the energy of the tanden we can keep our concentration so steady that an opponent can’t see where our lapses are. And this is a very important thing when you are doing martial arts.   So both for zazen, and daily life and martial arts to become well-familiarized and use commonly this tanden breathing is very useful.

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