This is for the Shiatsu practitioners who came to my workshop in Amsterdam, or wanted to if Corona had not got in the way. For those who are working with clients who are grieving.

Grief and mourning are considered as ‘natural’, legitimate processes through which loss becomes graspable

Teresa Dillon in Liquid Loss: learning to mourn our companion species and landscapes

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and later added a possible sixth – meaning. I have included emotions which my clients sometimes experience.

Denial

I can’t believe it. It hasn’t happened. It isn’t true. It can’t be. No!

There has been a blow to the heart, scattering the Shen. We can work the Small Intestine meridian to connect with the function of protection and promote the sorting out process. What is useful about the thing that has taken place? The aim is to help with the shock. A sensitive touch can call the Heart spirit back, seeking to anchor it in the chest, and ground it in the Hara.

The ‘no’ attitude results in arresting forward motion. A fluid, flowing touch on the Bladder channel helps with that. You can also silently say ‘yes’ to your client as you work – it provides impetus to the Kidneys.

Avoidance

I will focus on what was, relive the way it was, instead of facing up to what is. It’s better to live in the past.

Looking back to happier times (perhaps with rose tinted glasses, that is, imagining things were better than they really were) can also be associated with the Bladder meridian, so working deeply into the back, the back of the head and posterior of the legs might be useful in calling the client into the present.

Even though we practitioners always aim to be present, in this situation we can actively say to ourselves, as we are with the client, ‘I am here, now, in the moment’. We can focus on the place where our body meets the floor or futon, and we can notice the cool air at our nostrils as we inhale, and the warmer air as we exhale. These methods can reassemble us.

Despair

I can’t bear it. It is impossible for me to face it. I am wrung out.

We can nurture with the Spleen meridian and with a fleshy, comforting touch. We can rock them gently. This reminds them they are not alone.

We can sit behind, with warm palms on their back (in sitting or in side position) and follow their breath in and out, letting ourselves move with it. This reminds them they are alive.

Anger

It’s your fault – how could you die and leave me? It’s mine – I didn’t say ‘I love you’ enough. It’s hers – she doesn’t understand what I am going through. It’s the hospital – they didn’t do enough.

The Liver and Gallbladder meridians can be useful for acknowledging these vehement, wilder feelings in a safe situation. We encourage the client to express her feelings in a controlled way if she is not free to scream and shout about what has happened which could be cathartic as long as it is not scary. Moving the Qi with stretches and rotations is recommended, so it doesn’t get stuck in this state.

Perhaps the Large Intestine can be palmed in the arm if anger has been expressed already and it is hard for the client to stop. Use quite a lot of body weight with the client’s palm down towards the floor in supine. Hold onto the wrist and forfinger and lean back into your own Hara to stretch the channel. Do this with care and awareness as always. Remember to exhale as you lean, to encourage them to do so too, and imagine a clearing wind blowing through.

Bargaining

If I am good, will You change the outcome? I will die instead, so that she will live. I have an idea to sort this out, I will stop this behaviour to make it OK.

Some of this is negotiation, the skill of the Liver, so working that channel may help the client to realise this is what he is doing. Part of bargaining is about busying the mind with solutions, to avoid seeing what has really happened, and what are the long-term implications. Then we can mirror that with active Shiatsu until the Qi has dispersed and it transforms into the next phase.

Betrayal

I believed you and you let me down. I trusted that you would be there for me and now you have gone.

Treat the Heart meridian to soothe the broken heart. Listen to the Qi, the tears and any words, to encourage calm, to bring the scattered Shen back to the core. Use a quiet touch to allow him to feel, like a balm.

Fear

What if he dies as well? What if I die now too? I am scared to go on without her.

Working deeply with the Kidney meridian can be used to realise this freezing feeling. Thumbing and palming the Bladder meridians will gently motivate the forwards motion, to go on with life. Saying, silently, ‘yes’ as you work will back up the human need for impetus to keep on living.

Acceptance

I know I cannot bring her back. I realise I will die too, sometime, that we all will.

Touching the Spleen channel will acknowledge that he has come back into himself, support his understanding that the loss has occurred. Hara ampuku will assist him in his decision to keep on living, despite, and with the grief. Regular and firm foot Shiatsu will help him stay grounded in his resolve.

Meaning

I can make sense of what has happened. I understand that it was fate / God’s way / the way of the universe.

To help your client feel connected to this new-found, or re-discovered meaning, touch into Heart 1 (Highest Spring / Ji Quan) and the Heart meridian. You could ask the client to direct you in what they are needing right now, so as to recognise their power over themselves, that they know what is right at this time.

You can find out more about Tamsin’s new book which has sections on grief Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice, a guide to holistic bodywork in palliative care here

Cover photo: taken in Max Euweplein, Amsterdam