(Italics are the interviewer’s own reflections)
Tracey has always held an ethereal quality for me. Ever dressed in gorgeous flowing creams and whites, a hint of sparkling glitter and perfume that trails in her wake, this tall lady in heels would not perhaps elicit one to guess at first a vocation in barefoot shiatsu.
Yet it is hard for me now to imagine her otherwise for she ever holds this station with a simple poise and ease that translates into the natural beauty of one who is on their path. As one of her students I have been deeply touched by her authenticity and grace in the art and will ever be grateful for the unfolding of events that brought her to shiatsu…Last night, wrapped in a shawl and sitting in view of the fire a world away from Melbourne, I had the privilege of conversing with Tracey who, with more than 20 years of commitment to shiatsu, is a long standing and much loved teacher and practitioner in the Australian shiatsu community.
“I was still nursing when I first heard about shiatsu,” Tracey tells me. Her partner at the time had friends in complimentary therapies who first introduced her to such practices as siddha and oki-do yoga with Takao that had its own shiatsu component. And then, one day, someone mentioned that there was a college in Fitzroy, George St where you could qualify in shiatsu. Disillusioned with nursing Tracey had already began exploring these forms of yoga and, loving the peace and calm she was experiencing within, she found herself opening up to new possibilities. However, there was something deeper unfolding the day that Tracey walked into the shiatsu college in Fitzroy.
“It wasn’t really that I had planned to go to the college; I just happened to be in the area.” Yet, as it so happened the shiatsu course was beginning that night. Perhaps the real moment of serendipity though was when Tracey crossed paths with one of the college Directors, Vivienne Renzella.
“I first knew Vivienne as Vicky,” Tracey tells me and relates how Vivienne had seemed to instantly reflect exactly what Tracey was thinking on that first meeting when she asked with genuine curiosity “what brought you here?” Yet despite the uncertainty in the air as to whether Tracey would stay, the connection made in that moment became the answer to that unspoken question.
“I was unsure whether shiatsu was what I wanted to learn,” Tracey explained. “It was Vivienne’s presence that made me feel that it would be a good idea to stay.” Tracey laughs as she recounts how Vivienne sent her out immediately to buy a tracksuit for the class.
“I had never owned a tracksuit,” Tracey said “and so I looked at what Vivienne was wearing and came back to class with a purple one. “No one else was wearing anything remotely like it.”
I smile as I try and imagine Tracey in a tracksuit – purple to boot. “What change would you say shiatsu has had on your life?” I ask.
“Transformative,” is Tracey’s reply. “It really changed my life.” In retrospect she tells me how pre shiatsu and TCM she felt one dimensional relative to the 3D feel she experiences now. The way she describes her world before shiatsu sounds as if she felt she had less conscious choice over the direction of her life.
“I may just have stayed in nursing, possibly I would have moved out of paediatrics or perhaps made a more extreme change into fashion,” (I see her eyes sparkle in my mind). Yet after all these years in shiatsu Tracey speaks now of ‘informed choices’ and how it gave her answers that she hadn’t found through Western medicine.
“Shiatsu and TCM should be taught in school. It teaches you how you work; how you fit into everything else and develops an awareness of self in relation to the external. It empowers you to experience how everything is related. Before I had questions and no answers. Shiatsu gives us answers. We learn so much in school – what if we learnt of the self at a young age?” There is a pause as we reflect on what such a world would look like…
This then opens the gate into what these insights into self have changed more specifically for Tracey in day to day life…
“Food choices,” is Tracey’s first reply. “I had no idea about diet before shiatsu,” she tells me. Amazing isn’t it? I reflect, as I also have a background in health sciences, albeit with animals, and yet I distinctly feel an echo of the same truth within. Tracey goes on to explain how she gained understanding such that she began to realise she had the choice to make significant changes in her body just through diet.
“Understanding what food does when we eat it empowers us to decide,” she states, further remarking how monitoring tiredness/energy levels and giving time to what we love doing is at the heart of finding the balance we all seek. So nourishment beyond diet now unfolds into our conversation.
“Shiatsu is a very giving profession and it is vital to give back to yourself,” Tracey says and tells me about how she unfolds this practice for herself in her work day. “Between clients at the bathhouse I often get out to a cafe and read the paper over a chai tea. It’s in my nature to fill my days with experience and so I fill the gaps with what nourishes me – it changes the energy to do something for yourself and this replenishes me for when I return to the clinic.” Everyone will have their way of doing this, but we discuss the essential nature of finding a way to give back to yourself in your work day that fills your cup.
“What makes you happy?” Tracey asks her students when she is teaching class. It seems to me to be the way to smudge out the distinct boundary that so many professions have between ‘work’ and ‘living’ so that we are never not ‘living’ our life in our workdays.
“Through such nourishment and otherwise, what health changes have come about for you on the shiatsu path?” I ask.
“I was ignorant of what health was previously,” Tracey tells me. During her nursing years she was personally familiar with ailments including PMT, UTI and headaches “but because I could function, I considered myself healthy,” she laughs. “I thought it was all natural.” It is a statement that rings true for my earlier years also and I assume the same applies for many others. How many of us have considered minor expressions of imbalance in the body and the lack of vitality as just a natural part of what it means to be ‘healthy’? I think in the world today many of us have experienced equating ‘common’ with ‘natural’… Health is now something Tracey views not only on the physical but also the spiritual and emotional levels.
“I have experienced phenomenal changes,” she summarises.
“What were the changes you experienced on a social level? With your family and friends when you made the change from nursing to shiatsu?” is my next question.
“Certainly my family were nervous when I left nursing and left my ‘secure’ job. They have always been loving and supportive, but I knew they didn’t get it. At the end of the day they would prefer me to be in a stable job.” When Tracey reflected on changes in her friendship circles she realised that she never really had a strong nursing-based friendship group – her friendship circle rather formed as an extension of the shiatsu experience itself.It is another experience I can easily relate to as I am sure many other practitioners could likewise do. My personal experience wasn’t such that previous friendships suddenly disappeared, but rather over the years I noticed that more of the friendships from my university days had fallen away and those that I had made on my path as a shiatsu practitioner had strengthened. Perhaps it is testimony to the depth of connection we make through this practice; how we touch and are touched by people.
“Returning to the shiatsu experience with clients for a moment,” I say, “what would you describe as one of your most difficult experiences and one of your greatest success stories?”
There is quiet on the line for a while before she tells me about a client who she recently felt a strong aversion to and experienced as ‘toxic’ – despite attempting to leave these feelings aside and work with this client who kept returning for further appointments.
“I tried to work with the client 3 or 4 times before I was able to build up my decision, which was to wind up treatments.”We discuss the importance of this experience that many practitioners will come across during their time in shiatsu and how the unspoken expectation to have compassion for all beings often prompts us to work through it. Tracey tells me how she felt over-responsible for people when she first started and would attempt to ‘over-give’.
“You can say no,” she states. “You need to trust your intuition and also practice compassion for yourself.” It is a poignant reminder for all of us I feel that we have the right to stop the treatment session at any time if we need to and certainly to say ‘no’ when we feel it is the most compassionate thing to do in the situation – and that might mean the most compassionate thing for oneself. I know personally that I have experienced at times ease with someone else’s ‘difficult’ client and that a client I have been triggered by doesn’t at all trigger another practitioner. We don’t necessarily need to know why or in most cases discuss this trigger that we personally experience with the client, but rather simply refer the client on by perhaps suggesting another practitioner that may be able to better assist them. Have you experienced enough trust in yourself to confidently and compassionately make such a call?
Next we look at success stories and before we even begin Tracey is quick to put the word ‘success’ in inverted commas. A discussion ensues then on the trap many of us fall into of equating this primarily with symptom relief despite knowing this is not the true definition of success. It certainly is a hard one when the client themselves has often been motivated to come by symptoms and is often judging the sessions on their specific relief while additionally it is of course wonderful as a practitioner to see symptoms resolve. However, a deeper ‘success’ lies below this and Tracey says,
“Its getting someone to see themselves as they are and not as what they should be. It’s when you see their armouring begin to fall away or the changes in that person’s life that reflect a developing self-awareness and self-love.” She then goes on to speak of a specific client who was a heavy smoker, armoured and depressed in a job that lacked morality and meaning in their life. Tracey recounted the changes that she began to see over their clinical time together: the client began remembering that they once loved to meditate, there was an awakening vitality as the smoking fell away and as the client’s health began to improve and, as if by consequence, the client found they could no longer work in their current employment.
“Yet (the client) came to get shiatsu because (their) body was sore,” Tracey reflects and we discuss how as a body-worker there is a transmission of awareness as the practitioner assists the client to begin to feel within themselves and how it really works when people keep coming back.
“And then there is the simple permission to just lie down for an hour. The gift to just lie down.” Tracey reiterates. It is a powerful point in this day and age where ‘hyper-living’ has earned itself the label of a new disease. A poignant reminder of how successful it truly is to simply, as Tracey states, bare witness to “people changing their lives; watching the ripple effect in their life.”
“What areas of your practice would you be interested in revisiting or upskilling in?” I ask Tracey who immediately expresses her interest in Iona Teeguarden’s work. She also notes the workshops Russ & I run with a focus on intuition and the ‘being’, ‘feeling’ aspects of shiatsu as fundamentally important.
“No head-stuff,” she laughs while acknowledging the importance of gaining all that structure first. “The post-graduate workshops are a great opportunity for this too.” So I imagine my next question of luminaries in shiatsu for Tracey will be met with a practitioner who is well adept at this art. And so it is, paradoxically without a qualification in shiatsu, and yet with the internal aspects of what this art represents finely honed,
“Vivienne,” Tracey states before I can get the next word out after ‘luminary’. “To have her there, her support through the areas of personal difficulty… she allowed me to be who I was… to shine as I am. I don’t exactly know who at first decided I would be a good teacher but Vivienne certainly helped me see my potential and get me to step up to that, in Vivienne style, with no fuss. I wouldn’t be where I am in my life without her.”
Lastly Tracey reflects for a moment on the college as it is today and what the current directors Maree and Jenny have created in Evans St, Brunswick. Her respect for all they have sacrificed to keep carrying the vision of the college forward has never wavered she tells me. The last person Tracey wishes to bring to the fore is Robb Venn who she describes as “a dedicated, old-school practitioner” with whom she found exceptional compatibility and shared a clinic for many years at a time when “there was a lot of learning on the job and I felt so brand new and raw”. He was someone Tracey describes as “a rock for me – I couldn’t have asked for a better support”, telling me he was one of the people who played a pivotal part in whether or not she “stuck shiatsu out”. And what luck for us she did! I reflect. As we wind up our journey together for now I can’t help but silently offer gratitude in the true spirit of the ripple effect, for all those who contributed to the unfolding of Tracey’s path in shiatsu.