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.
Carola Beresford-Cooke MRSS(T)
Carola has been practising Shiatsu since 1978, with a detour into acupuncture in order to learn more about Shiatsu. She was present at the founding of the UK Shiatsu Society in 1981 and in 1986 she co-founded the Shiatsu College. She has studied with many of the masters of Shiatsu and her principal teacher was Pauline Sasaki. She is the author of the textbook 'Shiatsu Theory and Practice' and of the DVD series 'The Meridians of Shiatsu'. Carola continues to practise Shiatsu and offer tutorials and supervision in West Wales. She can be contacted via www.shiatsu-wales.co.uk
Why did you choose to learn about Shiatsu what brought you to the practice?
I always wanted to learn Shiatsu. I grew up in the Far East (Singapore, a melting pot of Asian cultures) and although Shiatsu was not mentioned by name I knew about acupuncture and that there was ‘a massage variant’. I also witnessed, at Taipusam, the festival where men in trance parade with skewers through their flesh, that there is more to the experience of the body than the materialistic approach of Western medicine (which I had a lot of - my father was a doctor). When I began to study beauty therapy (yes I know! but it is often the first form of therapy that many women encounter) it was the seventies, alternative therapies were hip and I already had a book called ‘Shiatzu’ and another one called ‘Tsubo Point Therapy’ and had been practising from those. So in April 1978 when my local health food store had a flyer up advertising Ohashi's workshop at the East West Centre in London I was well ready! I sat next to Michael Rose at the beginning of that weekend. And I never stopped from that day.
What does Shiatsu mean to you now, what purpose does it serve for you as an individual?
I've been through many stages with Shiatsu. I know how powerful it can be and I have also experienced that it can sometimes not do very much. I have come to recognise that how effective my Shiatsu is depends on the degree to which I can give myself to a treatment. I see my own Shiatsu now as a support to people at that crucial point in an illness or condition where they are ready to deal with it themselves but don't have the strength. Like all complementary therapies, Shiatsu is an engagement with the receiver's own self-healing ability, and as such – ironically – it is truly a placebo. I wish there were more research into placebo instead of the sense that it is somehow a cheat and a fantasy!
I have never thought of myself as more than a competent and experienced practitioner, not a ‘great healer’ - my strengths are in communication with others through writing and teaching. I recognise that the study of Shiatsu touches very deep needs in many people, as it does indeed in me - to have faith that the non-material is real, to find the best in ourselves and others, to communicate through touch without dissembling. It carries huge value for our humanity in its practice. And I still find it a stepping-stone, through that experience of the best in myself, to the philosophies of Asia, the truth and logic of the science of Ki and the peace of the experience of oneness. I need to do Shiatsu, for my own health and wellbeing.
What is your philosophical approach to your practice - as a teacher and as a therapist? (i.e. what do you see as the purpose of your 'healing' practice in the life of the individual - why do it?)
I think I've answered most of this question above! My attitude has definitely changed. When I began Shiatsu, I really thought it might cure anything and everything! I had such belief! So of course it worked really well for people, even though my technique wasn't great. Then after some years and a lot of study I got into thinking in more of a symptomatic way – press this point or plug away at the kyo meridian and you will ‘fix’ people, but that approach often didn't fix them. And that led to a huge experience of doubt in myself (never in Shiatsu). Which was a good thing, I had to re-frame the way I thought about it.
And I had a great experience too with a God-given receiver. In the depths of my despair he came like an unlikely angel, an old man droning on and on about his complaints and what he had tried to cure them with. And I interrupted after about 10 minutes and said “I have to tell you at this point that I am not really in the business of making people better”. And his face lit up and he said “Well that's great, because I really don't want to see anyone!” And from there we worked together on what moves or holds put him most in touch with his own self-healing. It was the beginning of a change for me. I still can't remember what was ‘wrong’ with him, but our sessions were great.
Who or what, has been the biggest influence on your path as a practitioner and why?
I'm going to shamelessly duck that one about the ‘biggest’. Pauline Sasaki was a huge influence, because she visibly treated people by responding to her experience of their Ki and working with it directly. But Ohashi paved the way by his teaching on the importance of posture and relaxation, without which you can't feel Ki so well. My colleagues at the Shiatsu College taught me so much too, Paul Lundberg's measured and philosophical approach, Cliff's enthusiasm and logic, Nicola's relaxed and lateral-thinking way of teaching and her inspiring communication of the Light Body. Michael Rose was a huge influence as well, in the dry patch between Ohashi and Pauline. After he spent his year with Masunaga in Japan there were a bunch of us who met every Tuesday at his flat in London and worked on our Shiatsu. Elaine Liechti, Bill Palmer and Harriet Devlin, who had the idea of starting the Shiatsu Society. Michael Rose's unique style was an inspiration. And Masunaga himself has been an enormous influence, I have imbibed his ideas like drinking from the spring of life! I can't separate any of these teachers from my path or choose between them.
What significant lesson/s did one of your teachers teach you?
I would have to go back to Pauline here. We were many of us floundering when she came along. We were working to rote, doing what we had been told, moving in a ‘special way’, going rhythmically down the meridians without really knowing what we were doing. Pauline engaged with Ki, she was fascinated by Ki, it was completely real to her, not a legend, so there was no ritual about her shiatsu, she just got in there, made contact with the Ki in the meridians and dealt with it as she found it. And by example, and by her clever way of teaching, she showed us how to do that too. So now I know that if I use a technique it should only be because it will have a specific effect on the receiver's Ki, that contacting and responding to the receiver's Ki is the fundamental requirement when I give Shiatsu.
With the insight you have now what, if anything, do you wish you had known at the beginning of you journey?
I wish I had known to spare myself more! I have always thrown myself into my Shiatsu study and practice with such enthusiasm that now in my old age my thumbs are shot and my energy is quite low. I should probably not have burned the candle at both ends either, I have always partied with considerable enthusiasm too.
What benefits or hindrances, if any, have you encountered as a female practitioner or noticed when teaching / working with women?
I much prefer giving Shiatsu to women. I personally find that men don't have such an easy relationship with their bodies on the whole, they tend to think of them in a sexual way or they see them as machines to be fixed. Not all men, but most of the ones I have treated. In teaching, it is quite different, they are studying Shiatsu and are as aware of their bodies as women.
What advice might you give to student practitioners training now?
Practice, practice, practice. Just do it. Do Shiatsu every day, every opportunity, just throw down someone on the floor in your lunch hour and do five minutes of Shiatsu. There is no substitute for what your hands can learn and what your hands can teach you.
What is the next step or stage for you? What are you working on developing professionally or personally?
There are so many areas I would like to extend into, and so little time. I am co-writing a book about meridian massage, Shiatsu with oil, and have filmed an accompanying DVD which needs editing. I've got a new website in development which has got space for a blog, and this could be great fun for me, to jot down a few words or paragraphs each day about Shiatsu, Qi Gong, Asian medical philosophy, all the things that interest me. If I had more time and energy, I would like to set up a publishing house just for Shiatsu books and encourage people to write more about their Shiatsu experience, anything from a full book to a leaflet – anything to get Shiatsu on the map, literary-wise. I think it is a crying shame that Shiatsu is so little honoured in the wider world. And I am getting into herbs a lot at the moment, I've made a couple of tinctures, dried some of the herbs from my garden, I've made a great elderflower vinegar with a lovely scent.... I think herbs and food-style are a perfect complement to Shiatsu, nourishing the appropriate tissues, ‘fleshing out’ the Ki-work.
Any other reflections?
Well, Nicole, as you have phrased these questions, done these interviews, got the blog to embed them in, you and all the other bright Shiatsu sparks who are publicising Shiatsu via digital media, I want to say Well Done, and thank you for the interview.