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How does Shiatsu and bodywork change us? What are meridians? How do they work? More and more I feel that many of the connections that the Chinese made in developing the meridian map of the body, relate to our cellular memory from embryological development and even before that! What is starting to become clearer to me, from my own direct experience, is that the meridians and the points carry both physical and emotional patterning of how we developed in the womb. Even orthodox science these days underlies the importance of our early life unfolding, not just in a deterministic genetic way,  but in the way our womb environment imprints experiences on our developing body; epigenetics. What our mother ate, how she felt, about her pregnancy and her life all have an effect.  The ancients always emphasised the importance of “womb education”.

Let’s take the example of the heart. The Heart is always considered extremely important in Chinese medicine: it expresses our Shen, our soul, our spirit, our personal life path. Embryologically the heart begins its development above the brain and only around day 24 starts to fold in beneath and gradually move down to where finally ends up.  Another important organ for the Chinese, the Kidneys, which are about our connection to our ancestors (physically and emotionally) and our capacity to reproduce, undergo a  similar process. They start lower down than where they eventually end up and are cellularly linked with the reproductive system. Important points to work the Kidneys are found in the lumbar region, lower than the physical kidneys.

How did the Chinese know this when they did not understand embryological development in the way that we now do? I believe, that being more connected to the natural rhythms of the earth, they were more tuned into energy in the body. We could possibly explain this as them operating more than we do today from their right brain; from their more intuitive side. They saw things in our body that now only some physics and intuitives do.

I have recently become inspired by the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen ( who explores anatomy from an experiential point of view. Originally a dancer, she began understanding the body through experiencing of it. She has come up with some fascinating insights. Being with her on a course, I found that as she connected with different aspects of our early life, from the egg being fertilised by the sperm, to the fertilised egg spiralling into the womb, my body started to remember and re-experience these feelings. I did some further study with one of her students, Linda Hartley, ( on early infant movement and infant reflexes. Our infant reflexes begin with our early infant movement in the womb. Once again my body started to remember. Bonnie and Linda talk about “embodiment” and understanding the whole emotional as well as physical processes of how we inhabit our body. These are processes which do not complete with the completion of our physical form, but which continue through our whole life.

Another interesting link with Shiatsu, and eastern traditions, is the importance of the midline. In embryological development, again unsurprisingly, we now “know” scientifically that early development comes from an unfolding from the midline; the primitive streak, the neural plates. Early on the future body is essentially a thin line in between the future yolk sac and amniotic sac. From a shiatsu perspective, this early energy of the midline changes is represented by the Governing vessel and Conception vessel:  meridians passing through the midline. In other systems, the midline is fundamental: the chakras, the cranial sacral rhythms.

This year I have been studying with Cherionna ( who is a cranial sacral therapist (and massage therapist) who has also studied Bonnie’s work as well as working with Emilie Conrad ( who developed continuum work. I asked her to combine all the aspects of these developmental patterns which I want to keep studying: beginning with movements and development in the womb, continuing with the movements during birth and ending with all the movements we do during our first year of life. The result: a workshop series “Fluid development” which will take place in Bristol, UK , selfishly where I live, from January next year.

I am looking forward to deepening my understanding of my early movements and applying this to my shiatsu and massage work. Please join me. I think it will be of interest to all who work physically and energetically with bodies.



  1. Blythe M. Davis on 25/12/2012 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you for your insights!

  2. Amalur Zen Shiatsu on 13/12/2012 at 6:48 pm

    Nice article, beautiful work, and good “food for thought”! Thanks for sharing!

    Some time ago I read the book “Muscles and Meridians” by Phillip Beach, and found it really interesting. Although it focuses more on muscles and movement from an anatomical / physiological point of view, rather than from energetic one, the connection of meridians with the development of animal life that is developed there is awesome.
    Really worth reading! 🙂

    • suzanneyates on 16/12/2012 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for that feedback. Actually I read the book by Philip Beech in the summer after it was recommended to my by my students in Wellington, New Zealand where Philip ( a British osteopath and acupuncturist now lives). I have a plan for a future blog to write a review of the book which I also found interesting. So keep the discussion going. Thanks

  3. Ruth Briggs on 23/11/2012 at 5:54 pm

    what an interesting blog! I found this realy insightful! I was really struck by your mentioning Linda Hartley and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, because reading Linda Hartley’s book ‘wisdom of the body moving’ an introduction to body mind centreing really changed my view and altered my direction in bodywork! fascinating stuff great work!

  4. suzanneyates on 10/11/2012 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you Matthew. Actually I am familiar with Jeffrey’s work and also a fan. I mention him in my book Pregnancy and birth. His insights have helped me develop my work with the Extraordinary vessels. In fact am currently working on a series for this Blog on the Dai Mai, Girdle Vessel. I love his image for that one too: the spare room, where we put all our rubbish!! what we can’t process.

  5. Hannah Mackay on 08/11/2012 at 11:46 am

    This sounds fascinating Suzanne. I have a new (adult) client at the moment, who was in hospital without her parents for the whole of her first year of life. I’m sitting with lots of interesting questions about how her lack of movement during that time has affected her sense of her body and (perhaps) created an extremely tight muscular system. Having treated an extremely lively 6-month old baby yesterday, the contrast is even more pronounced in my mind today.

  6. Matthew Sweigart on 07/11/2012 at 7:29 pm

    Beautiful work Suzanne. You are definitely drawing together many threads of connection and contributing to the fabric of insight! In this study, I would encourage you to also explore the work of Jeffrey Yuen on Extraordinary Vessels and Divergent Channels. These vessels of source qi track the movement and organization of ancestral essence into embodiment. He is a definitive source for this information bringing forth the deeper teachings of Classical Chinese Medicine. You can attain transcripts of his work through the New England School of Acupuncture bookstore. I have been inspired by his eloquent rendering of the ancient wisdom into modern times. I wrote this blog based on this inspiration: The Vessels of First Ancestry, Chong, Ren and Du

    Publicado por Matthew Sweigart el febrero 5, 2009 a las 10:29pm
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    At the center of our body being there is a vessel. If runs from somewhere deep in the Earth to somewhere high in the heavens. In our physical form it seems to begin at the point below the uterus. It is known in Chinese Medicine as the Chong Mai, or Central Vessel. It rises from the point below the uterus right up through the center of the torso, neck and head, to the crown. It holds the blue print for your life, and the curriculum of life lessons that were laid out for your soul’s journey and purpose in this life time. Here the energy of mother and father joined and laid down the bones of you, and the deep and unique container that would be your body for this life time.

    From the Chong Mai, also known as the Sea of Yin and Yang, there spring forth two more original vessels, the Ren Mai, the Sea of Yin and the Du Mai, the Sea of Yang. The Ren and Du both begin their journey through the body at the self same point “below the uterus”, and make their way to the perinuem and from there they split. The Ren Mai travels up the midline of the front of the body, from the perineum to the bottom teeth in the lower jaw. The Du Mai travels up the midline of the back body up the spine, through the neck over the top of the head down the forehead and nose to end in the top teeth. When the mouth is closed and the tip of the tongue is placed on the top pallette, the Ren and Du channels are joined creating the “small heavenly circle”, or what has come to be known as the “micro-cosmic orbit.”

    The Ren Mai as the Sea of Yin and a vessel of first ancestry is seen to contain all the raw materials of your life. The Du Mai Sea of Yang, takes all those raw materials and forms them together into who you are. The Ren is the Vessel of Bonding, the Du is the Vessel of Independence. The Ren creates the Du and the Du creates the Ren, so the quality of our independence is built upon the quality of our bonding and vice versa. Yin creates Yang and Yang creates Yin. They are ultimately one born of the same inchoate eternal life force, and they differentiate so that we may perceive and dance the dance of the light aad the dark.

    IN the human form, the universal Qi (chee), derived from Mother and Father and distilled into the blue print of the Chong Mia, gathers up the raw materials in the Ren Mai, then rises up the spine along the Du Mai and is disseminated up the “ladder of life,” with each of the organ systems receiving various proportionate amounts of Qi energy depending on the lessons to be learned in the life that is being formed. The lessons to be learned and the tasks to be performed run the gamut of passion, drive, discernment, boundaries, waste management, vitality, protection, appetite, nurturance, responsibility, envisioning, loving, orderliness, emotional expression and respiration. For each person made, the amount of Qi energy given to each functional area varies, and so a myriad of people with various capacities are found throughout the world.

    Take time to contemplate your life lessons, and the various capacities you have been given to meet them. Meditate on a pure energy traveling up and down your body from the root to the crown. Touch the tip of your tongue to your top palette, and run that energy out to the surface of your body at the perineum, and run it up the spine over the top of the head and down the midline back to the perineum, and repeat, over and over and over. As you do so contemplate the quality of bonding and independence in your life, and bring it all back into the flow of the unique beauty of who you are and what you have come here to do.

    Blessings on the journey!

    • suzanneyates on 16/12/2012 at 11:22 am

      Dear Matthew. I did post a reply but put it in the wrong place. So just in case you didn’t get it here is my comment. I just did a lovely 4 day workshop in Paris on the Extra-ordinary vessels and did two days on Qiao and Wei mai. Also like Jeffrey’s perspective on those. Wei: cloth of time and space and Qiao ability to be present in current moment!

      Earlier comment: Thank you Matthew. Actually I am familiar with Jeffrey’s work and also a fan. I mention him in my book Pregnancy and birth. His insights have helped me develop my work with the Extraordinary vessels. In fact am currently working on a series for this Blog on the Dai Mai, Girdle Vessel. I love his image for that one too: the spare room, where we put all our rubbish!! what we can’t process.

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