Sarah West is an AOBTA®-CP and Licensed Asian Bodywork Therapist. She has immersed herself in the study of the body for the past decade, beginning with herbal medicine then immediately delving into bodywork therapy. After studying and practicing Massage Therapy, she completed her Shiatsu Certification while co-founding and supporting the Shiatsu School of Vermont as Assistant Director and Assistant Instructor. Today her private practice, classes and workshops are informed and inspired by her daily study and practice of Hunyuan style Taiji and Qi Gong and continued studies of advanced Shiatsu technique and Classical Chinese Medicine theory.
“So, what’s wrong with me?” a new client asks at the end of a shiatsu session. This is not the first time the question is posed. In fact, it may be the most frequently asked. It comes with no surprise. Most clinical models identify disease or patterns of disharmony and then remain focused on them throughout the course of treatment. Tracking symptoms is important for the observation of clinical results over time, but it perplexes my clients when I tell them I am not interested in giving attention to what is “wrong” with them – I am interested in amplifying what is alive and well.
Just as laughter is contagious and a smile can
transform another face into a smile, fixating on a worry or fear can also cascade into a recurring loop that continues to build. We add momentum to a force simply by giving it attention.
When I was a child I endured extremely painful migraine headaches. Medication did not touch the pain and only made me feel strangely detached from my body. My mother, who also deals with migraines, decided to get creative and often guided me through a visualization of my body – what today I would call a body scan. She taught me to experiment with my body’s sensations by giving them awareness. I noticed that if I felt into the pain it would increase in strength. And at times I would work with the pain, see its shape and feel its texture, and often encourage it to change shape and begin to transform. But the most powerful experience that immediately and dramatically brought ease into my body happened when I imagined the space outside of the pain and allowed that space to grow and take up more room inside and around my body. Little did I know that experience would inform the foundation of my healing practice to this day.
Classical Chinese Medicine texts refer to principles, or concepts, of Heaven and Earth. Heaven, simply described, is the spark or animating force that breathes life into Earth. Earth is the form or material that contains and absorbs this force. Together, they create every manifestation of life. The movement of Heaven is never-ending, and its constancy is what keeps Earth (or form) ever-changing.
Consider the life of a plant. Given supportive conditions, as a seed it gains enough nourishment from itself to send out a sprout and begin forming roots, which will draw resources from the earth to grow. But how on earth does that plant begin to grow in the first place? What gives it the momentum to stir within and soon burst into growth? Not only does it know to begin, it continues to live on with uncanny intelligence about how to acquire sunlight, grow more leaves and eventually flower, interacting with bees and other pollinators – not to mention worms and mycelia and other living organisms. At some point, it descends into its roots and, if it is a perennial, stores itself in the earth until it is time to grow again come Spring. Of course, science gives names to the functions and processes therein, but how it comes into being – and it does with widespread virility across the globe – is both miraculous and inherently simple when viewed through the lens of the basic foundational principles of life described in the Classics.
The human body moves, regenerates, rises and declines by the same motivating force. Inside that material form, it holds the inherent ability to heal tissue, develop complex nerve pathways, protect its organs with creative rerouting mechanisms, and so many other ingenious processes. While Heaven itself may not be a palpable thing, its influence is observable and in some ways can be experienced through sensation. Every human – and every living creature – has access to this motivating force. We would not be alive without it.
So what happens when we direct our attention to that animating force? With cultivation, it grows and catalyzes greater transformation in the body. The inherent intelligence of the body organism knows exactly what to do. Spontaneous movement and healing occur, as that is its very nature.
The value of approaching therapy from this view is not only in the effectiveness demonstrated by the results, which overwhelmingly show improvement in nearly every case, but through another layer of therapeutic value which resides in the empowerment of the client that rises from the acknowledgement that healing potential is already within. Our work together is simply to amplify it into transformative action.
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