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by Julie Williams, Midwife Tutor, University of the West of England

(from Well Mother Newsletter February 2000)

“Shiatsu For Midwives”, the leaflet said. I thought this sounded intriguing, although I hadn’t much idea what Shiatsu was about, except that it is considered one of the “alternative therapies”. I was looking for something different, however and this sounded like a good opportunity to expand my midwifery skills and learn something new at the same time. Moreover, as part of a midwifery teaching team who were hoping to run a module on complementary therapies in midwifery for student midwives, this would enable me to share my new found knowledge with others.

With a mixture of anticipation and a little trepidation, I duly presented myself on the appointed day at the Relaxation Centre in Clifton, Bristol and was immediately asked to remove my shoes and invited to sit on the floor. This was obviously not going to be an ordinary course!

The first two days passed very quickly, but at the end of them, I certainly felt as though I was beginning to develop a fair understanding of the philosophy underpinning shiatsu practice. I also felt as though I had acquired some basic skills in shiatsu through practising on my colleagues. This was all due to the patient and clear way in which Suzanne took us through the very basics of theory and practice. In order to accept the theory, however, it is necessary to have an open mind and to understand that the concepts are very different to those underpinning allopathic medicine. It is not particularly helpful to try to make comparisons between the eastern and western philosophies, but to accept them as having equal worth, something which can be quite difficult to do if one has a background in western beliefs about medicine and the body, as I have. Nevertheless, by the end of day two, we were using the terms kyo and jitsu to describe what we were feeling on each other as though we had been born to it.

© Jules Selmes

Just as important were the exercises and positions that Suzanne taught us to optimise fetal positioning antenatally. I don’t doubt that we have all encouraged women to use some of these positions before we came to the course, but what I gained from this aspect was a deeper understanding of how effective they can be in altering fetal positioning. For me, this aspect also brought together the new concept of shiatsu whilst drawing upon my existing midwifery knowledge. It enabled me to see how shiatsu might be used in conjunction with positioning to provide a holistic approach to midwifery care.

Trying to do the makkho exercises to stretch the meridians was quite salutary for me when I discovered that I found most of them very hard and quite uncomfortable to do! For someone who prides herself on keeping fit, it was a bit of a shock to find I was really quite stiff and inflexible! Needless to say, despite good intentions, I haven’t kept them up, although I do feel the benefit of them when I do. This course has made me realise the importance of listening to and tuning into one’s own body as well as those of one’s clients. Without an awareness of both, it is impossible to provide effective shiatsu treatment. Perhaps this awareness should also be a fundamental aspect of midwifery practice.

Shiatsu exercises

By the last two days, the theory and practice were beginning to fall into place, and as a group, I think that we were starting to feel that we could actually take these new found skills and practise them with some confidence upon our clients. Until that is, Suzanne arranged for some pregnant women to come and submit themselves to our ministrations on the last day of the course. Without exception, we were all incredibly nervous about this, and I for one, felt as though I was about to sit a major examination. One of the other course members dryly commented that at least I’d know how my students felt in the future!

Suzanne had arranged for these poor unfortunate women to spend an hour and a half with us; what were we going to do with them for all that time? Well, once we got over our initial nerves and apprehension, time flew and before we knew it, we had finished, and the women were actually thanking us for such a lovely, relaxing time! It felt wonderful to have been able to do this for them and it also showed me, at least, that I had learnt something of real value on this course that I would be able to pass on to student midwives.

In summing up this course, I think that I have already highlighted it’s strengths. As for weaknesses, the only comment I can make is that it simply isn’t long enough; Shiatsu is so fascinating, but also so very different to Western medicine, that I would love to do more of it. Perhaps I might find out about doing a longer course in the future, so that I can develop a more complete understanding of using Shiatsu in a wider context. In conclusion, I would recommend this course to any colleague wishing to incorporate something new but also very useful into her practice. Thank you, Suzanne!

Julie Williams, Midwife Tutor University of the West of England

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