Shiatsu is based on a traditional Chinese approach to life – it’s rather philosophical and definitely holistic. In that approach, life and death are a cycle where death is automatically followed by new life. Although not religious, it has a strong, spiritual aspect to it and much of it comes from Taoism (say daow-is-mmm), which in turn emanates from the common sense of nature.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that when we are alive we contribute to the smooth running of the planet by breathing, eating and excreting. (Obviously we are not doing brilliantly at the moment – must try harder!) Similarly, when we die, on a basic physical level, we are either cremated and dispersed into the air; or buried, merging with the earth which will be enriched by us. Round we go again, but in a slightly changed form for we have learned a lot in that life!

More than that, our underlying theory (see The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, for example) speaks eloquently of the Spirit, dividing it into different aspects with poetic names such as the Po, Shen and Hun. Each of these are related to both our physicality and ‘the bigger picture’ at the same time. Like I said, truly holistic!

The Po is the breath which keeps the body alive, exchanging with the community around us and reaching to all the corners of ourselves. Shen is our human consciousness, which is what allows us to empathise (apart from anything else). Hun is the eternal and everlasting part (call it the memories people have of us after we die, call it our cellular contribution to the next generation), that which lasts after we have died and links up with our ancestors. (And there are others.) What all this gives us is a most particular attitude to death, and that is incredibly useful to those who choose to receive Shiatsu and are feeling lost, overwhelmed or just plain confused about what it all means.

We Shiatsu practitioners understand the spirit in its complexity. We take it seriously – we are taught, learn and practice a deep understanding of it – and this means that we acknowledge it when we touch as part of our professional bodywork. As we lay our hands on, we tune in with the physical body because it frequently needs relief, yes, but we facilitate much more than that.

Our contact is like listening to a quartet singing – the individual notes of the whole person we are with sound singly, and at the same time they all play together in a symphonious blend. When that happens, the receiver knows, they know innately that we are turning up the volume on that sound and so the whole of them comes to their attention. For the dying and bereaved, this is unique and necessary.