´The Chinese Medical vocabulary contained metaphors from nature like Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, Heat, Wind and Cold * . This cosmological description of human process confirmed what I knew intuitively to be so – that what moves the world outside moves within me – that subject and object are two aspects of one phenomenal world.´ Between Heaven and Earth, A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfeld, (Efrem Korngold).

Shiatsu practitioners diagnose and treat clients using the Five Phases or 5 Elements. Each of them connect to death and related subjects (grief, mourning, bereavement) with different associations, illuminating and directing us to ways in which we can be with people. Some practitioners are skilled in identifying a client’s core element, are able to say that in essence this is an Earth (or Fire or.. ) person. They know the archetypes and after taking a Case History and employing other forms of Oriental Diagnosis can identify the pattern of personality and habits.

Alternatively, it is possible that clients are passing through, or stuck in one Phase at a time. The Metal Phase is a classic example when working with people who are experiencing loss. With attention it will be clear that the other elements are also present, and that there are periods when the client jumps back and forth between each of the Five Phases, but focusing on one or two Elements in a session can be a lovely, simple way of working. Meeting the client like this can be a powerful acknowledgement of just where she is at that moment.
Using the cycle of the Five Elements, we know that there will be phases of transformation after the death of a loved one:

  1. Earth – focus on the self and basic needs to get through, on being with family if there is one, at home, acceptance
  2. Metal – family and friends go back to their lives and the client is left alone with grief, sadness, melancholy, uncontrollable weeping
  3. Water – leading to a fear for the self and others around, ‘What if they or I die too?’
  4. Wood – uneven anger coming in bursts – that they were taken, that you have been left, that no-one else understands, that I didn’t tell them I love them enough
  5. Fire – night terrors, panic attacks, prompting a time for self-protection and the gathering in of living, loved ones, of celebration of the deceased, followed by the returning of gradual joy.

Together, the client and Shiatsu practitioner can find ways to soothe and slowly recover even in the midst of loss.

This is taken from Tamsin’s book Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice, a guide to holistic bodywork in palliative care. You can find out more about it here.

Title photo – the depth of winter and drawing in to oneself.