Shiatsu and Death: testimonials from practitioners

5 May, 2020
Reading Time: 18 minutes

In addition to the article on Shiatsu and death, and for the first time on this blog, here are the words of Shiatsu practitioners testifying about death in a therapeutic relationship. These are their words, words that portray the deep empathy and all the humanity found in the art of Shiatsu.

Since last fall, I have been receiving a lady with a cancer that is developing slowly but already at a quite advanced stage, with surgery and little prospect of recovery. When we first met, she asked me if “I could help her live longer.” The question was frank, just like what her situation entailed. I was obviously a little destabilized; what could I answer …? 

As a Shiatsu practitioner, we learn to cultivate our centre, to remain calm, relaxed and in the genuineness of all that life entails. In the Eastern thought from which our practice originated, death and illness are naturally part of the movement of life. This is a strange conception for the Western mind, which has the habit of being interested in health only when disease imposes it, and of pushing the question of death far into the unconscious. People who come to us for consultation are often ready to open up to a broader conception of existence, health, illness and death.

So, I answered this lady “yes and no”, explaining that if on the one hand my work could help her body to function better and manage this ordeal, on the other hand Shiatsu – because it involves the connection to oneself, the body, the mind, the emotions and the big questions that scrutinize existence – could in a way also install the conditions for a serene departure. We are sometimes so tense with the prospect of dying that our emotions and thoughts keep us in a painful struggle in the face of this inevitable event. By releasing tensions, we help the body and function better and the mind to calm down, but we also allow the person to turn more freely to what they are going through. This sometimes results in an understanding and an easing up that makes it impossible for us to really say in this situation if Shiatsu will prolong existence. We do not have the power to control the flow of life, but we can reveal it and always uphold it in its natural movement. This is the essence of our practice that considers that it is no more appropriate to “miss one’s life” than to “miss one’s death”…

This person continues to come to sessions, and if I cannot say precisely the part that Shiatsu holds in her present situation, it seems clear to me that it contributes – alongside medical protocols – to relieve her body as much as to invite her mind to a deeper and serene vision of all that life implies. The density and authenticity imposed by this situation have also taught me a lot, which brings us back to a fundamental point of Shiatsu: the relationship and its quality!

Nicolas Poloczek – Shiatsu practitioner and teacher – Belgium

Ateliers corps-esprit-souffle –

Early in 2009, I had an experience that made me evolve towards a different vision of body and mind. I had been practicing shiatsu for almost 3 years, when I went through a period when I lost three people who were close to me. There was a friend, then my grandfather and my cousin. In 6 months of time, I was confronted with the death of relatives. The loss of these people has changed my view of the constitution of the human being, a physical body, but also a mind, energy etc …

During my first years of shiatsu practice, I was very diligent. I learned acupuncture points, how to make a diagnosis using Chinese pulse, facial complexion, tongue. But the departure of my friend brought me to a new perception: the presence of the being that some will prefer to call soul.

In January 2009, my friend, feeling tired, asked me to do shiatsu urgently. I received her with pleasure, sharing my passion and being able to bring her a moment of comfort and resource. The only possibility was on a Sunday afternoon. Arriving on the day, she was very happy to be able to take some time to take care of herself. She had been feeling very tired for a few days. She was very optimistic, courageous, always positive, and willing to help and do things. She had two children, and with her husband, they were doing major restoration work on their house. She told me that sometimes in the evening after putting the children to bed, around 11pm, she was with her husband on the roof to lay tiles for the extension of her house. Work during the day, children to take care of, daily household chores, shopping, and work. She never stopped.

The session began and indeed, when I took her pulse, her energy was beating quite quickly, with a void of energy behind. But there was a rather peculiar area, the area of the heart at the Shu points, which was not possible to touch or even apply a little pressure. She was in a lot of pain, so I didn’t insist. I tried to harmonize her energies so that her body could recharge. With less than 3 years of practice, I was not experienced enough to detect the urgency of her state of health. At that moment, I practiced the best shiatsu I could with heart and gentleness. The session over, she was delighted, she felt better, rested, and wanted to review her rhythm of life.

Monday: the next day, working in the same company, we met in the lunchroom of our workplace, and we quickly greeted each other and agreed to meet in the week to eat together and chat as friends, as we had been doing for several years.

Tuesday: in the morning, I learnt from a colleague that my friend died in the night, of a heart problem… Marie (first name changed to remain anonymous) was 29 years old. It was the cold shower; I didn’t want to believe in her departure.  I thought back to the last times we had seen each other, yesterday and the day before. It was not possible! But I had to accept it.

On Wednesday: I was feeling very bad. I asked for help from a psychic friend. I felt oppressed, overwhelmed by sadness, and I had trouble standing. This friend made me understand that Mary was with me. His soul could not “ascend to another plane” because of the suddenness of her death. “Her spirit does not understand that her physical body has just died, so Mary came to you, because of your bond and sensitivity.”  I had to tell her what had happened to free her from our world.

“Mary, you died Monday night in your bed, your heart stopped beating.”

I felt her presence and an easing of my emotions. I felt that she was talking to me and telling me things that she hadn’t had time to express. Before leaving, she wanted to visit her family, and especially her two little boys to say goodbye.

On the day of the funeral, Thursday, I was at the back of the church, there were so many people, that people were forced to stay outside. There was a lot of sadness, all these people more or less close were there to say goodbye to her. I felt Mary close to me and then at one point she joined her loved ones in the heart of the church.

It was the first time that I experienced this passage to the other world with this implication, this stage that we earthlings call death. But I also felt like I had been in training. Mary had introduced me to death, and I was taking a fresh look at life.

Two months later, it was my paternal grandfather who departed, but I was ready internally, emotionally. He had been bedridden for several months and unconscious for several weeks. When he left, I felt deliverance. But before, he wanted to be present to listen to the “goodbyes” of the whole family who came to see him a few days before his death. I felt that he wanted to see each of us one last time. His family was very important to him. On the day of the burial his soul had already gone on another plane, while his physical body followed the traditional protocol, the church with the ceremony and then the burial.

These experiences awakened me to feel the sacred, divine presence of each one. Now by putting my hand on the receiver (person receiving shiatsu), I feel if this presence is there 100% or half-tone. I follow this feeling throughout my shiatsu to restore harmony: put presence back at the centre, lighten emotions and realign the different bodies.

Two years later, in 2011, my wife felt bad after hanging out laundry. Breathless, very tired all of a sudden, she lay down on the sofa. She was 6 months pregnant with our second child. I went to her to see what I could do with shiatsu, and after taking the Chinese pulse, I felt sensations quite close to those that I had experienced 2 years earlier, so I told her to consult quickly in the emergency room. Sure enough, it was very serious, she had a massive bilateral pulmonary embolism. After a few days, my wife and daughter were discharged from the hospital and returned home in good health. After this episode, I thanked Mary, who had allowed me to react quickly by taking my wife to the hospital.

Lazare Pouchard – Shiatsu practitioner and teacher – France

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One session, one Life…

When the pressure of the hands stops, the movement of the Ki continues… it is said. This is true of an individual session, to me it also seems true of a life considered as a whole.

Because what do we do? We accompany our receivers from session to session. Some come only once, others come back and then disappear, others reappear after several years, and others come all their lives. It’s always the same intensity, and it’s always the same phenomenon: shiatsu accompanies their Life. Up to the threshold of their final resting place.

I have experienced a few deaths so far among my recipients. Some knew they were irretrievably condemned. They came to shiatsu to try something, to have a little respite, to feel the energy vibrating in them, to find the strength to do something more, one last time, like receiving their family for Christmas… What seems trivial to us was wonderful to them. And, when at the end of the session, they told me they felt good, I knew that it was all temporary, but that still, the body had again found the energy to work miracles. And that the “I am good” took on a very special meaning before the “I am no more” that was already announced.

The family sometimes takes the trouble to find out who was this gentleman to whom he or she liked to go. And sometimes not. I never know if they’re going to show up for the next appointment. If this goodbye is not a farewell. After a few weeks or months of silence, the outcome becomes clear. Basically, every time a customer leaves us, maybe they leave us for good. Maybe our paths are separating. Just as wisdom advises us to live each day as if it were the last, should we give each shiatsu as if it were the last? Not, I believe, in this perspective of fleeting temporality of the injunction to the future imperative “Memento mori”, but in the presence of what is in the here and now. There is only one shiatsu: that of the moment, and the moment, perhaps, will return, but differently.

Other recipients are simply (very) old. I find it wonderful that they entrust their body, sometimes stiff as the planks of their future home, with certain positions impossible, chaotic movements, to the hands of someone who, comparatively, is only a young novice. They have this curiosity, this desire to try something so different to their education and their culture of origin. They are wary of care institutions from which too many of their friends have never come out again. Shiatsu takes the time, offers them total attention, in benevolence. And so, they don’t care where it comes from, whether it’s Chinese or Japanese, but they like the feeling that makes them say, at the end of the session, “I feel good”.

Whatever the age, regularity pays, they relax, gain flexibility. “Love has no age,” sings Léo Ferré. Neither does shiatsu. In old age, it is good to raise the vibratory capacity of the receiver. The Qi goes away, decreases. The Kidney battery is slowly running out. The defences fall. Among the privileges of old age, there is this astonishing loss of modesty and especially this desire to joke, and then the memories that go back to a bygone era. Touch allows this liberation and breaks the solitude, the confinement, releases the brakes, makes the smiles rise … Can’t wait until next time.

And then one day, we learn that there will be no next time. Well into their eighties, they’ve gone stealthily and quickly. I make it a point of honour to accompany them to their final resting place. Because the ritual allows the passage. Presence is important. And it is here that the Catholic liturgy (finally) joins shiatsu, when the priest invites to touch the coffin in tribute. So, yes, for one who touched this now inaccessible body, touching the coffin, thanking, and telling him «Now, go” seems to me an appropriate rite of accompaniment. I go to the threshold, and the last pressure is like a nudge, a push in the back, a pat on the shoulder, a release of the anchor of Kidney 1… The accompaniment goes through the Wood element of the coffin which does not symbolize the end, precisely, but the beginning of something else. Regardless of beliefs, energy disperses and recycles in countless ways. My end is my beginning and my beginning my end. Impermanence.

There will be no more touch. But what has been touched by the joy of the practice, the hearts, the Shin, remains, for the duration and not the time. Lafcadio Hearn, in “Kokoro” relates this beautiful story of the nun of the temple of Amida who, having lost her son, performs a rite of evocation of the dead, the “toritsu banashi”. And the son, who speaks for a moment, through the voice of the priest, says to him, “Don’t cry! It is not kindness that mourning for the dead. For their silent road is on the River of Tears: and when the mothers weep, the current increases and the soul cannot cross.”

Basically, this joy of the Shin, expressed when the energy flows harmoniously, is what must inhabit us at the moment of departure. When everyone cries, we offer joy one last time. To help to live well is to help to die well. The longevity that a regular practice of shiatsu promotes is this: to live well to the end. For one evening go to bed and leave peacefully.

Our receivers are our masters. So, when they die, they show us the path we will take one day. And, who knows, they will accompany us in turn when we make the passage…

Stéphane Cuypers – Shiatsu practitioner and teacher – Belgium

Shinmon Shiatsu:

It is difficult to write about an end-of-life accompaniment in shiatsu… When my friend Ivan asked me if I could write a text on this theme, I was in great lack of inspiration. I finally understood why: when you accompany someone at this level, you leave the technical or philosophical field of shiatsu to enter that of the intimate and the heart. The implication to talk about these things is not the same.

Seven years ago, I accompanied a patient who had cancer until his final departure to another world. My first two sessions, quite technical and professional, first gave spectacular results, followed by extreme fatigue in my patient. Someone who is undergoing chemotherapy cannot be treated like a normal patient. I had to change the way I see and act. So, I prepared my third session in a different and much deeper way. So, I was trying to move towards this state of the vacant heart that really allows one to welcome a patient. This session was quite different from the others, and I decided to follow my patient as well as possible which led me to a much softer and I would even say affectionate touch. Technique was replaced by the hands of the heart and the result was conclusive since my patient left much more soothed and relaxed than the previous times.

This touch of the heart brought an opening of speech and my patient began to ask me questions about Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine. As the sessions grew in depth and, my patient knowing himself condemned, gave himself more and more…

My shiatsu gradually turned into a haptonomic touch, very soft and enveloping. I no longer did technique, but I accompanied something that was gradually freed.

The last session was extremely intense and we shared very deep things. This man who was a former officer. But there he had lost all of his military stiffness to return to a state of total transparency. He died a week later.

What this experience brought me is the opening to a shiatsu of the heart, far beyond the technique. There are times when the technique is ineffective and intuition takes its full measure… Shiatsu then takes on a dimension that transports us to an extremely intimate world where the patient/therapist interrelationship is in total trust, as we say in Japanese, I Shin Den Shin, “From heart to heart”. This brings us to the deep respect for humanity in each of us and leads us to feel the true dimension of touch that to me seems infinite.

Jean Smith – Shiatsu practitioner and teacher – France

Institute Shen Dao :

My first real approach to death was more than 15 years ago: Kawada Sensei, my teacher, had advised a lady suffering from an indolent lymphoma (lymph cancer) to come and receive shiatsu sessions at my house. At that time, I didn’t really know what to do other than the basics to strengthen her body. Over the course of the treatments, despite our efforts, her health was declining. During our discussions, I realized the invasion of her past into the imbalance of his present. She told me that, even if the body gave up, she found a calm allowing her to live better, to accept to continue to move forward.

Subsequently, other people asked me to accompany them: a lady who was developing brain cancer and who realized the degradation of her faculties; or that other who had scheduled his euthanasia; or this other, the metastasized body, which wanted to prepare his last days. All these people, at one point, were no longer struggling, they just wanted to find a certain serenity.

It’s a bit like the story of the 6 layers: on the surface, a disease is benign or controllable but the deeper it sinks, more the depth is affected. It seems important to me to have this deep reading because there is a place, a moment, a point of no return. At the moment when Kidney-Heart are affected, it is the essence of Life and the Shen that intervene.

In these situations, I cannot envisage a protocol that is too precise. When we reach this point of no return, when a person becomes aware of his end, a wave of vivid emotions overwhelms them. The mind panics, I can only be a reassuring presence, like a beacon in a storm. And who am I to be more than that?

Every person, every situation is unique. I have to adapt. Some need explanations, why and how the body got to this point; others just want escape, rest and lightness.

My role is then only to be present, totally, without expectations or intentions. In this “here and now”, I adapt to the best, explaining to a restless mind, relaxing a tense body, to allow the Shen to take its place. This expanded presence then opens the field of consciousness of the receiver who thus manages to transform the fire heat that burns him from the inside into a fire light that releases him.

Fabian Bastianelli – Shiatsu practitioner and teacher – Belgium

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Author: Ivan BEL

Translator: Abigail Maneché

Ivan Bel

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