*originally published on The Five Lights Center blog on August 28, 2020
How to use our Shiatsu skills when working with death and loss
"Shiatsu cares for the whole: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It is especially suited to work with death and loss. Our skills are so broad that we can touch and teach, listen and speak; we provide a bridge spanning both banks (what are known as life and death) and, more importantly, the space between. What we have now, this amalgamation of Eastern and Western medicine, philosophy and sensibility, is indeed unique. The intelligence with which we sit with another, our ability to transcend earth and remain grounded, fly with spirit, and at the same time know our centre, is immensely special and valuable. Let us look again at what we do, that we may inspire and expire in peace." excerpt from Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice, Copyright Tamsin Grainger.
End of life care (EOL) ranges from the final years of someone’s life, to their last months, days and hours. The aim is to ask the client what they want and to support their friends and family too. The hope is that they can live as well as possible until they die with dignity.
Palliative care (PC) is a subset of End-of-life care (UK) and aims to relieve pain. It includes treating symptoms and side effects, but not addressing the cause. Palliative care aims for the patient to have the death he wants, to remain conscious and pain-free, and to be able to live fully until he dies. In the US, when treatment ends and there is nothing more that the doctors can do to keep the patient alive, that is when PC begins.
Life threatening illness is a disease or illness which makes it likely that you may die as a result of it, rather than ‘of old age’. It may be terminal or may not. It may have stages, be relapsing or remitting, or go away as a result of treatment.
Grief is a complex response to death or other loss which often involves multiple emotions, a range of behaviour, and can last for a short time or stay with you for ever, albeit in variable forms.
Bereavement is a period of intense grief after the death of someone or something
Death - medically it’s the cessation of breathing and functioning of key organs. Holistically, we pay attention to the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of ourselves and so we would add that we are unable to feel, think and connect with anything once we have died. In TCM it is the returning to the great flow of Qi (in as much as when we are born we emerge from that flow and when we die we re-enter it) or, in particular, our Po (the White Spirit, the Corporeal Soul, Yin), goes down to the earth and the Hun (the Cloud or Ethereal Soul, Yang) to the ‘heavens’ or ‘Tian’ which is a Chinese concept typically encompassing a wide range of things including the world and how it is, nature and our ancestors (Macciocia).
Practical Exercise – a guided meditation:
Sit still. Settle.
How is your Ki today? Describe it to yourself as if you are the practitioner observing a client, from outside - hot / cold, in/out, quiet/loud, up/down, forwards/backwards etc
Remember a time when you were happier – how was your Ki?
A time when you were sad – how was your Ki?
Come back to neutral
Now call to mind someone you know who was either dying or grieving, preferably a client you have given Shiatsu to, but if not, a family member or friend – let them pop up in your mind, at a distance. How was their Ki? If you don’t think of anyone, imagine someone, make them up and ask yourself the same question – how was their Ki?
Most people are afraid of death and they want, and are promised, a ‘good death’. But these things cause fear:
· the thought of pain
· the anticipation of indignity
· not knowing what will happen to us and our loved ones after we die
Our ability to sense and connect with Ki is most valuable – we can identify its quality with respect to all the levels. We can also support others to feel their own Ki, and that’s even more important because it gives them the ability to know how they are, what they need, and how to get it. We have ways to ‘listen’ – through their and our body responses and the juxtaposition of words and body. If we can acknowledge and stay open to what they are feeling and need, then we can support their ‘good death’. These are not things that most primary healthcare professionals have been taught to do and so this means we have a vital part to play in end-of-life and palliative care.
If we believe that our Ki existed before we were born and will continue to do so after we die, that we are but one form of Ki and that all Ki is sensate, then we need have no fear. If we can fully acknowledge that then when we are with people who do not, our presence will reassure them.
To do that we must spend time with our own beliefs, examine our own feelings about death and keep up with our daily griefs and losses, reflecting and processing as we get older. We must acknowledge the reality that we may die any time, and face what that means to us. That way, our Ki will flow well and when we are with others, they will sense that and it will help them.