Welcome to our next interview in a series with female leaders, teachers and practitioners in the holistic therapeutic fields. These are women whose teaching has inspired me and I have been keen to learn more about their personal philosophy, experiences and the influences on their professional practice. I hope you enjoy hearing their story too. Let us know your thoughts, Nicole.
Nicola is one of the founders of the Shiatsu College. Currently she is passionate about teaching people who want to teach Shiatsu and Qigong - ways to make that really effective.
She is also an artist and makes work about the energy of Shiatsu and Qigong. She loves to make ‘energy portraits’, which are often a watercolour of a person’s energy on an etching of the central channels. Since completing an MA in art she has worked on this theme in her studio and is also returning to her old love of botanical work. www.artofshiatsu.wordpress.com
Why did you choose to learn about Shiatsu and energy work? What brought you to the practice?
I’m one of those people who originally thought Shiatsu was a martial art! I stumbled into my first Shiatsu class with an American friend in Tokyo, where we made a date to go to the class while drinking in a sushi bar. I soon learnt it wasn’t a martial art and we were taught Shiatsu by one of Masunaga’s students. That was in the late 1970s and I’ve done Shiatsu ever since. My friend, Kathy, gave up after a couple of weeks but we stayed friends and continued to drink in the sushi bar!
What does Shiatsu / energy work mean to you now, what purpose does it serve you as an individual?
Around the start of this millennium I got severe burnout. I had been working way too hard – as a single mum with a hefty mortgage to pay. My healing from that burnout started with learning a new style of Qigong with Dominic Hill, who got me to enjoy the Qi of the practice and use it for my own healing. Also around that time I started to work with Pauline Sasaki on her new approach to Shiatsu. In Europe they call it multi-dimensional Shiatsu, Pauline herself called it Quantum Shiatsu but I was always uncomfortable with that name (as it really wasn’t connected to quantum physics) so I prefer to call it the Lightbody work.
The new Qigong and Pauline’s late work came together for me, as they both used the same energetic anatomy and I started to see this more and more clearly. My work really changed then, or rather it was still the same but it was as if I had been given the latest ‘updates’. I could ‘see’ the Qi and I learnt to access the Qi of Heaven and Earth that is continuously flowing through the central channels! I could see it wasn’t me doing the work - I was just a catalyst. That gave me a chance to recover my own health and is the approach that still underpins my work.
What is your philosophical approach to your practice - as a teacher and as a therapist? (i.e. what do you see the purpose of your 'healing' practice in the life of the individual - why do it?)
I believe the healer’s role is to empower the client or student - it is to be a catalyst and enable them to connect to the Qi of the universe!
To paraphrase the Tao Te Ching:
In the beginning is the Tao - the everything and the nothing
From the Tao comes the two - the Yin and the Yang
From the two come the three - the friction that creates the ten thousand things - or even all life.
This is the Chong Chi – the line that is between the Yin and the Yang
Who or what, has been the biggest influence on your path as a practitioner and why?
I think I’ve already mentioned them - firstly, and secondly, Pauline Sasaki. When I got back to Britain from Japan in the early 80s all the Shiatsu folk in Britain were studying with Pauline, so I did too! I was studying with Carola Beresford-Cooke as well, and she transformed what I had learned in Tokyo by bringing in the start of my studies of Chinese medicine and the Five Elements. In Tokyo I had just learned Shiatsu as a ‘kata’ or form - we did the treatments by rote - but Carola brought meaning and names to the meridians.
Pauline then taught us all Kyo/Jitsu diagnosis and the theory to go with that. From there, with Carola’s theory and Pauline’s energetics I practised for 15 years. Then in the early 2000s Pauline again transformed my Shiatsu. I happened to be in the right place (Gabriella Poli’s kitchen in Rome) at the right time, and was invited to join a small international study group working with Pauline who was then teaching her new work.
Around that time I had also started Qigong with Dominic Hill. His practice was more free form and aimed at whatever we needed in that moment. He described me as going from having done 20 years of practice, putting the Qi straight into a deposit account, to opening a current account and learning to spend some Qi on myself and my own healing. Before I would only withdraw from my deposit account for my clients!
But it all goes back to that fateful decision in the Tokyo sushi bar, “Hell - yeah! I’ll come to Shiatsu class!”
What significant lesson/s did one of your teachers teach you?
The most important lesson is that healing doesn’t occur because of anything I do. I learned that I am a catalyst and a witness and that it’s up to the client and their interaction with the Qi as to what happens next. I think I really ‘got’ that when I started to trust the ‘Non Physical Beings’ (NPBs) - which is what Pauline called energetic entities. I did a workshop with her in Connecticut on NPBs and learnt how to trust my interaction with the ‘angels’ who would often come and direct my work.
With the insight you have now what, if anything, do you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey?
Not to take it too seriously - then I probably wouldn’t have got burn out. To welcome connections with other modalities - I think that’s what the Lightbody work brings to Shiatsu. That is a chance to use all the Lightbody work out there - Chakras and Tan Dien, Qi fields and meridian functions, the spiritual level and Shen work, Sacred Geometry, DNA recovery and anything else that works!
As a teacher, if I were starting now, I would definitely teach the Central Channels before any of the other meridians. The central channels give us our connection to the Cosmic Qi, the Qi of Heaven and Earth, and this fundamentally underlies all healing - letting the client connect to the abundance of cosmic Qi.
What benefits or hindrances, if any, have you encountered as a female practitioner or noticed when teaching and working?
This question can make me quite angry, as the Shiatsu and Qigong worlds are a reflection of the whole world. As such they are just as sexist and in some ways can be quite complacent about that. Men often teach classes of predominantly women students and they can end up being viewed as kind of magical gods. Some of them actually abuse their position of trust as teachers.
Over the years I’ve seen this at all levels - from the gross sexual abuse of students, to the breaking of hearts, to merely wasting students’ time while they hold the stage and talk about themselves. As a woman it has been hard to intervene as there is often a sense of entitlement to these ‘perks’ and I’ve been accused of being draconian, an ‘old woman’, a spoilsport or even boring, when I have raised these issues. Men often get paid more than women – perhaps because they ask for more, perhaps linked to that sense of entitlement. The old way of a master anointing the next teacher (usually a man) with a tap on the shoulder doesn’t help.
Thankfully some men are helping to change this model. This year a man put on an international webinar with men talking about the gender issues raised after the European Shiatsu Congress in Vienna - as they say, awareness is the first step to change.
The greatest benefit for me as a woman has been being able to run women’s courses. Some of my most Qi-filled and tender-hearted courses have been for women - so both hindrances and benefits!
What advice might you give to student practitioners training now?
I would suggest becoming a healer with a broad brush. I believe Shiatsu offers a great model to connect with someone’s energetic anatomy, but I don’t think it offers the way, just a way to connect. I think many of the people coming through now do this naturally as they study different modalities and find their own way to work with energy.
What is the next step or stage for you? What are you working on developing professionally, or personally?
For the last few years I’ve been involved in the ‘Sophia Wisdom Project’. This is a creative enquiry into the nature of Sophia - in some translations of the bible she is the wife of God and in some the Holy Spirit. For me she is the re-awakening of the Divine Feminine in the world.
I’ve held rituals for the quarter days, the solstices and the equinoxes for thirty years or more. This is another way of contacting the energy of the universe and helping people become congruent with it - just like doing a treatment.
Another area I am moving towards is being a celebrant. I’ve officiated at three weddings and two funerals and done a few exorcisms. It seems to be a good cross between teaching and doing a treatment for a group.
Any other reflections?
No - thank you for asking such good questions and it’s been interesting to answer them