In my ongoing exploration of alternative healing modalities, I had my first shiatsu treatment last Friday. I was sincerely looking forward to it, but I must admit that I did not deliberately seek it out; the session was a birthday gift to me--last year. I kept putting off calling to schedule all last spring and summer, only to find out once I did call that the practitioner was in Hawai'i for special instruction. So that added a few more months to the wait. And then for a while I was determined to yield the opportunity to my younger daughter, given her chronic health problems. I hoped that this treatment would be the long-awaited key.

As it happened, I wound up keeping the appointment myself, after a lot of hemming and hawing about it. The whole experience was more interesting and probably more productive than I expected. For those of you who are not familiar with shiatsu, let me explain a bit about the process I had. I make no claims whatsoever about its representativeness.

The shiatsu studio I visited is a lovely, airy place, about six floors off the ground, in a high-ceilinged corner room in an older office building with wonderful big windows to the north and west. The walls were white, and the thin futon on which I laid myself down was also white, though there were several lush green potted plants on low shelves around the perimeter of the room. The whole ambiance was peaceful and calm. I don't recall any scents, nor was there music.

The shiatsu practitioner is someone who has been in business in the area for decades, and in the way this often happens, once I came across her name I discovered many other people who swore by her technique. In our one phone conversation, she was friendly but direct, just as she was in person. She is a middle-aged white woman, probably nearing sixty, thin, with bright blue eyes and an air of controlled energy.

She didn't waste much time with preliminaries. I quickly reviewed what a cluster-fk my life has been for the past six weeks or so, and she listened without comment. I remained fully clothed during the session, which is of course different than it would have been for a traditional massage. She started me out lying face-down on the mat, with support for my head and breasts. It was comfortable. Then she began moving me around, particularly my legs, applying pressure to muscles that seemed to inhibit movement, and often leaning on pressure points in my feet. With my face down, I had no way to see, but at times I had the impression that she was leaning on me with her elbows, or with her knees, or with her back and hips.

I would guess that two-thirds of the session was spent with me in the prone position. When she helped me reposition myself on my back, she immediately covered my eyes with a soft weighted cloth. She did similar things to my body in this position, mentioning only once the importance of my relaxing into her movement. (That happened immediately after I felt that I was doing such a good job in that regard! ;)

The whole session lasted about 90 minutes, though I would not have figured it to be that long without the clock. At the end, I felt a little bit of discomfort in my lower back, but I felt much less "worked over" than I do following a conventional massage. Certainly the tension that I habitually carry in my shoulders, neck, and upper chest seemed to be lessened, and I think that effect has lingered. Since then, I find when I check out my shoulders to see whether I have hiked them up to my ears, as I often do, they're not so high after all. Merely the fact that I'm more mindful than usual is a good sign, as far as I can tell.

But this is the important take-away for me from the session. I asked her what my body was telling her, since I don't have such a great track record of knowing for myself. She sighed and said (perhaps not in this order) that I needed to sleep, rest, walk and take baths in epsom salts, for the restorative and calming effect it would have. Then she said, "You need to let go of some of this caretaking. Just be another one of the flowers blooming in the garden."

Now, perhaps this is a case of being able to suss out what I wanted to hear. Perhaps. But it's such a great image, isn't it? I immediately thought of a scatter of daffodils, all a little heliotropic, all nodding a bit in a fresh spring breeze. That in itself was comforting, even if I can't entirely relinquish all that I would like, or that would be more conducive to my own good health. Still, that gentle admonishment has stuck with me too, along with my relatively relaxed body. Maybe it's worth returning for the next bon mot alone. ;)

This entire experience gives rise to the set of questions I'd like to raise this evening. Where do you get your moral and emotional support? Can you look to your health care practitioners, traditional or otherwise, to give you this kind of advice? If not to them, then to whom? Does it matter to you either way?

As always, this is also an open thread. Please feel free to share whatever you like. I'm glad to have you here, just us flowers. :)

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.

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