Shiatsu and Osteopathy
The article below was posted on the Wellmother.com site on November 14 2012. Wellmother is a resource for therapists working with pregnancy care using shiatsu and massage, and was set up by Suzanne Yates, author of 'Pregnancy and Childbirth'. I am at heart a student, with a thirst for learning and exploring. My passion is treating women through pregnancy and babies using gentle but effective techniques.
Despite a five year training to become an osteopath I was disappointed that we never studied touch in any level of detail. I went on to train to be a zero balancer, which incorporates a blend of structural and energetic work. I often describe the feeling as ‘coming home’ as time and time again this elegant bodywork takes me somewhere deep in myself. I now incorporate zero balancing principles into my osteopathic work so that sessions are holistic and calming. This is particularly important when treating a pregnant woman or a newborn baby. I am also a birth doula, and have experienced the use of touch as a way of communicating without words during labour.
Years before I became an osteopath I took an evening course in shiatsu at my local hospital. The teachers worked in the NHS with patients suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. I was struck by how profound this method of healing was and really enjoyed the feeling of stillness that it offered. Eastern approaches of Reiki and Indian Head Massage were my background prior to osteopathy and while I loved the experience, I wanted to develop my knowledge rather than just be hands-on. Although osteopathic training helped to develop skilled techniques and knowledge, I always valued the gentle power of touch-based work to heal and comfort that was present in Eastern approaches. The more I developed my niche of pregnancy, birth and babies the more limiting I found it to use solely osteopathic principles, as I felt there was too much focus on anatomy and physiology rather than looking at the whole woman, her needs and emotions.
I undertook a MSc but couldn’t find much about how osteopaths can work during issues such as breech presentations. There seemed to be a lot of fear around treatment during pregnancy- with many osteopaths choosing not to treat at all during the first trimester, and a whole host of techniques to be avoided yet a lack of evidence to justify this. Safety is obviously key, but as a practitioner I think it’s important not to provoke fear as this results in a woman losing trust in the ability of her own body. I have been particularly influenced by the work of renowned osteopaths Averille Morgan, Caroline Stone and Stephen Sandler.
I went along to the launch of Suzanne Yates’ book at the Royal Society of London and was impressed at the diversity of the panel of speakers there- an obstetrician, NCT teacher and yoga teacher. The book has since become a much-used resource for me- in a field where it’s hard to find information that is researched and balanced. I recommend the book to students when I lecture on Pregnancy and Childbirth. Two years ago I attended Suzanne’s course for Midwives and Doulas. The skills I learnt have helped me to create relaxing and supportive treatments for my clients.
I now use shiatsu within my sessions to reduce symptoms such as heartburn or back pain, help prepare for labour, as well as deal with issues such as positioning of the baby or milk production for breastfeeding. I have had a few experiences of treating women with breech presentation. Where previously I would have referred for acupuncture or reflexology, it has been great to include the breech points in a session and get clients working with them at home.
For myself, I find that using shiatsu in my work helps me to maintain my energy, rather than feel drained with work. Working on a futon helps to feel more connected to the client- as there isn’t the barrier of the treatment table. It’s also useful when treating postnatally, as the baby can be lying by the mother. Suzanne’s tips of working on a ball have also been used during labour, and I have taught simple techniques for partners to use if appropriate during labour, such as sacral work.
I think that shiatsu can enhance the osteopathic treatments. It addresses the subtle energies of the body that aren’t always directly addressed in structural osteopathic work. It adds to the therapeutic experience for the client, which activates the parasympathetic response. It is also useful for osteopaths to understand shiatsu and the five element theory in order to develop a language between themselves and other practitioners, which ultimately means better patient care. Osteopathy has a great system of diagnosis, which ensures safety and accuracy. However as a discipline it is relatively young when compared with the thousands of years of those of the East. An integrated approach is the best of both worlds.
Osteopath, Zero Balancer and Doula