The Asian Healing Scene on the East Coast in the 1970s and 1980s: a Personal Recollection
Thursday, February 13, 2020
By Cindy Banker, M.A., AOBTA®-CI, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA® Director of Education, AOBTA® Peer Review Committee Chair
In this year of reflection, we’re reaching out to those that were engaged in the formation of the AOBTA®, asking them to share personal recollections of the time. Nothing formal, simply what was happening at the time, from the view of the particular individual. First up is Cindy Banker!
Reflecting on the earliest history of the AOBTA®, I think back to what it was like in Boston in the critical two decades of the 1970s and 1980s. There was so much going in the field of alternative medicine during those years! The New England School of Acupuncture had been around since the 1970s, and there were acupuncturists practicing with patients first seeing an MD for referral. I had lived in a yoga ashram for eleven months as part of my own journey toward better health, and when I moved out in 1975 I was interested in learning more. I heard about both the acupuncture school and Shiatsu as options for learning how to use special points on the body for healing. Shiatsu was being taught at centers which focused on macrobiotics and I started there because that was the most easily accessible.
By the 1980s the macrobiotic community was booming and had consolidated for some real longevity. The East West Foundation where I had first studied in the 1970s had matured into the Kushi Institute. The Institute was now located on Station Street in Brookline and macrobiotic businesses were the predominant presence all over Brookline Village. There was a macrobiotic store with books and lots of paraphernalia. The East West Journal was also located there. Bill Gleason had returned from Japan and was running a very active Aikido dojo in the downstairs of the Kushi Institute’s building. You could practice Aikido in the basement and then attend “Order of the Universe” lectures or study Shiatsu and cooking in the classrooms upstairs. In reality these two things tended to attract two different kinds of people. There was a restaurant called Open Sesame around the corner and another macrobiotic restaurant in nearby Jamaica Plain. There were macrobiotic study houses all over the surrounding neighborhood. Major conferences were being held out in western Massachusetts every summer and the promise of macrobiotic healing was attracting people from all over the world.
Shiatsu and Dao-In were an integral part of what you could do in order to stay healthy. In the study houses we all practiced doing Shiatsu and ginger compresses. The community also embraced yoga and martial arts, meditation, and a somewhat regimented idea about what was natural in terms of lifestyle.
The original macrobiotic teachers, Michio and Aveline Kushi, were well known authors that owned a virtual empire that had originated from teaching classes in a church in downtown Boston. They had opened a small health food store, Erewhon, which became an enterprise that included manufacturing, warehousing and distribution with sales of seventeen million dollars per year. Bread and Circus was another seriously large health food store that looked like a real supermarket. With these stores and others, we sat perched on the top of the belief that macrobiotics was a really good alternative to the western medical thinking of the time. Looking back on it, I still believe that was the truth. We seemed early, if not first in line, to be the ones explaining that what you eat really matters.
I say “we” because I felt completely immersed in that community. By the end of the 1970s, I had studied all of the courses for Shiatsu at the East West Foundation. My primary teachers were Ken Burns and, then, Shizuko Yamamoto. Michio Kushi taught the theory of everything which at the time was referred to as the “Order of the Universe.” It included the primary acupuncture theory we used in our hands-on Shiatsu classes and self-administered Do-In. I had made a professionally produced video tape called the Do-In Video and it was popular in the network in which I lived. Michio used to call me the “Jane Fonda of Macrobiotics.” By the very early 1980s, I lived in a macrobiotic study house, all my friends were macrobiotic, and for a couple of years I worked as an assistant to the President of Erewhon.
Shizuko Yamamoto was the most physically powerful woman I had ever seen, and her Shiatsu classes were considered the master’s level of what was available at the time. She used to come up from New York in order to teach. Barefoot Shiatsu was the first specific name being used for her work. Later, with Michio’s permission, she decided to formally name it Macrobiotic Shiatsu. I didn’t even know at that time, but Dennis Wilmont had already completed acupuncture school and had his own Shiatsu school somewhere else in the building downtown - the same building where I studied through the East West Foundation.
I only learned that when, in the mid 1980s, I met Barbara Blanchard, who had graduated from that program. In 1983 it didn’t seem that unusual to meet someone else who also did Shiatsu and had learned it a totally different way. I was very familiar with The New England School of Acupuncture and it made sense that this was a natural and alternative evolution! Barbara and I decided to do a search and we quickly found another Shiatsu person from a yet another point of origin. Kiko Miyazaki Zutrau was practicing and teaching Zen Shiatsu in the Boston area and Kiko knew a lot of other people from her school in New York.
To be continued in the next issue of Pulse. Please share your stories! Send them to Brian Skow, AOBTA® Communications Consultant (email@example.com), and Wayne Mylin, AOBTA® Managing Director (firstname.lastname@example.org).