It has been many moons now since I began living more deeply in connection with nature. Reflecting back, there has been an incremental shift in my perspective on life that feels so inherently natural that it is hard to imagine how it could ever have been otherwise. And slowly, this conscious return back to the roots of my own nature, is informing how I practise shiatsu.
Four years ago I was living in a small studio cottage by the Yarra River in the outer reaches of Melbourne, having already made one of several transitions to live in closer contact with nature. And then I got married and we moved totally off-grid. The sun is now generating all of our electricity needs, we have a drop toilet, catch our own water, cook mostly by fire and grow more of our food as each year goes by. Chopping wood and carrying water is no longer just a Zen proverb. My husband grew up on a farm in close contact with the land, but having lived most of my early life in suburban homes and travelling about, I have become acutely aware of just how much I have reclaimed in these last years of living on the land and watching the seasons pass.
This reconnection infiltrates slowly, unconsciously in many ways, and yet undeniably. Despite growing up with what I was told would be a lifelong health issue, I have only now experienced reprieve for the first time and felt a level of vitality that I never encountered in my twenties and early thirties. There have been many steps along the path to reclaiming this wellbeing, but reconnecting to the natural world has been the foundation. Over the years, as I have immersed myself deeply in the observation of nature, I have come to realise that what I was really observing was myself. There was a return of the echo because I was not separate from what I was watching: nature was reflecting me back to myself and the watcher and the watched were not the different things they appeared to be.
I have long understood this unity at the intellectual level, but deepening our knowing at the experiential level is a new dimension of knowledge entirely. From this place I have come to understand that the fundamental malaise that underlies so much suffering and symptomatic presentation that we see in clinic, is rooted in our disconnection with nature. In modern life where we live largely inside and are seemingly removed from the influences of the natural world, many ofus have lost a sense of our natural rhythm and are largely unconscious of how the cycles of nature influence us. It would seem that with each passing generation, more and more of us are being birthed into this pandemic of disconnection. We may be aware of an underlying discord in our lives; a knowing in our bones that something is not as it should be; but it is as if we are asleep: unable to see what is wrong because we are saturated in the ‘normality’ of it. We have lost touch with our original nature and yet we will never be able to thrive separate from the natural world, because cut off from it, we are cut off from ourselves.
So, without taking drastic measures and necessarily moving off-grid, how can we move towards creating the necessary experiential knowledge, consciously embodying it, and reclaiming this inherent connection? It begins with attentiveness. Chi follows Yi, and so we can begin to shift inner disharmonies by refocussing our attention. Mark Twain said, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’.1 So we need to cultivate curiosity and try something new—something outside the scope of our current safety zone. Even the simplest practice will be of benefit and should not be underestimated. In my own experience, which has been reinforced by other women, simply paying attention to which phase the moon is in on a weekly basis has a profound effect on the rhythm of the menstrual cycle. Likewise, I have noticed a definite shift from observing the birth of baby yin at noon. Even when it is not always possible to work in a way that follows the natural flow of greater yang in the morning to greater yin in the afternoon, simply paying attention to this transition is powerful. Because our chi follows our Yi, this opens up the potential , however small , to create shifts in our daily routine in ways that honour this universal pattern of energy flow. And as we begin to consciously realign forgotten parts of ourselves again with nature, our energy is supported from reserves far greater than our own. Jost Sauer talks about ‘riding’ this energy in his book, The Perfect Day Plan, in which he explores the potent support we receive from attuning our daily rhythm to that of the Horary clock.
In consideration of how we can apply such knowledge in our approach to clients in the shiatsu session, I would like to refer to Leon Hammer’s metaphor below:
“Like fruit on the vine there is a point of maturity when it is time for the fruit to fall, before which it is too green, and after which it is overripe.”2
It is a case of tuning into the natural flow of things: i.e. using the right amount of pressure at the right time; moving at the perfect moment; holding still at another, etc. Such tuning in has an element of effortless to it because it is beyond any personal desire of our own as to how the treatment ‘should’ be unfolding. How can we achieve this? To be able to know with ever deepening precision what is required when, in order to best assist our clients? Such a level of knowledge is beyond the scope of the rational mind alone and requires embodied knowledge that is cultivated from paying attention to our connection with the natural world.
For example, if we have consciously fostered a relationship to the seasons and embodied an awareness of the energy that pertains to the point of maturity to which the metaphor refers (also the energy at full moon, full noon et al.), we know, through our own experience, that the chi and blood are at the periphery of the body in this expanded energetic. At such times, impurities come to the surface and are much easier to expel. How this would unfold is unique to each session, but with this embodied knowing an appropriate technique such as percussion may spontaneously arise in the treatment in response to the surfacing of pathogenic factors.
Likewise, if we have paid attention to the Horary clock and have experienced ‘riding’ the energetic changes through the meridians ourselves, it may arise in the treatment that holding the relevant horary point is a potent way of connecting our client to the natural circadian rhythm. Or if we are treating a woman in her menstruating years and we have fostered our own connection to the phases of the moon we may feel ourselves bringing attention to that relationship within the course of the treatment—whether through points, words, more expansive or contracting techniques ad infinitum! The choice unfolds naturally from bringing your attention to the moment and allowing an embodied, intuitive response to arise.
There are endless opportunities to practise bringing the rhythms and cycles of the natural world into shiatsu: we just have to give it our attention. By paying attention to how natural rhythms uniquely manifest in each treatment we instil a mindfulness in the session that extends out to our client. We naturally begin to find the right approach at the right time because we are connecting in with a body of knowledge far greater than a single isolated perspective. Most importantly though, beyond considerations of how we can make overt changes in the way we currently offer shiatsu , is the knowledge that the deepest aspects of healing in a treatment will come from the simple presence that a practitioner walking on this path (or the client!) will bring to the shiatsu treatment. By bringing practices into our daily life that assist us to consciously embody our connection with nature, it will naturally begin to infiltrate our shiatsu practice. How could it be any other way? When we touch our clients with this presence, we are assisting them to reawaken, remember and reclaim their inherent connection to all of life, which is realising the deepest healing potential that shiatsu offers.
Russ and Annica will be offering a new workshop on the 27th & 28th of August at the ASC entitled: Shiatsu through the Seasons. Over two days, participants will explore primary rhythms in nature and engage in shiatsu exercises designed to promote conscious awareness of these cycles within their own bodies. This workshop will begin at the level of breath and scale up to the life cycle of a human being, touching on primary rhythms in between that include: a journey around the circadian Horary clock and the menstrual cycle in relation to the lunar phases. Then, from a place of personal experience and embodiment, participants will be supported to explore ways in which they can guide their clients in the shiatsu session to reawaken, remember, and reclaim aspects of themselves that have been lost through disconnection with their inherent nature.
1There is some controversy as to the true author of this quote, but Mark Twain is most commonly attributed.
2 Hammer, L. (2010). Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies. Seattle: Eastland Press , p.242.