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10 years on

In June, one of my students reminded me that it is 10 years since Sonia Moriceau, my main shiatsu teacher died. I wrote a blog at the time, but now I want to reflect on how important Sonia has been in the development of my work.

On 30th July, it was 10 years of the end of the 49 day Buddhist vigil for her – she died on 11th June 2013, a few months before her 60th birthday.

Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of this time, but have included a few!

My introduction to Shiatsu in 1983

I had never intended to become a shiatsu practitioner, but having a kidney infection at the end of my 4 year degree in Modern Languages at Bristol University in 1983 changed my life. It’s quite apt in a way, since my main contribution to shiatsu has been developing work with the Extraordinary Vessels which circulate our Essence which is stored in our Kidneys. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my career because my third year spent in India, Senegal and Rome changed my perspectives. I had thought I might work in the overseas aid field, or as a foreign correspondent or in international banking but those careers didn’t seem to fit and I was pondering what direction to take.

For some reason I didn’t feel like taking antibiotics and thought I would try herbs instead. Perhaps it was because I had been doing yoga and meditation and become vegetarian. I thought I would try herbs. The herbalist suggested I could also have some acupuncture, but, although it helped me, I didn’t enjoy the needles. Keith Phillips was working as a shiatsu practitioner in the same clinic, and I fell in love with the supportive healing touch of shiatsu. He was running introductory shiatsu evening classes and I loved learning to give, as well as receive, shiatsu. Shiatsu helped me get my energy back and I have not since had any issues with my kidneys.

Meeting Sonia

At the time Keith was very involved with macrobiotic cooking, which I found fascinating and followed quite faithfully for some years. Its main principles still guide my dietary choices. However, I wanted to deepen my knowledge of shiatsu. At the time, Keith was only running introductory classes at his Bristol Shiatsu School. Later he set up a professional training, where eventually I would teach my work with the Extraordinary Vessels. .Someone suggested Sonia, who at the time was running one of the first practitioner training courses in the pioneering Cancer Help Centre in Bristol (which still operates under the new name of the Penny Brohn centre).

Sonia Moriceau at the Orchard, Healing Shiatsu Education Centre
Sonia Moriceau at the Orchard, Healing Shiatsu Education Centre

Sonia opened up a whole new dimension of shiatsu for me. Meditation, rather than macrobiotics, was the foundation of her work. She was a student of John Garrie Roshi and saw shiatsu as a tool for expressing her meditation practice. She also introduced us to some of the teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh and much later, in 2007, I went to Plum Village. The presence and clarity brought about through meditation deepened my understanding of shiatsu and life. I still meditate daily. Sonia called her school, “The Healing Shiatsu Education Centre” and used a Chinese ideogram which symbolises mutual exchange, as her logo. She taught that in order to “give” we need to be open to “receive” and that, in connecting with another we are also receiving. This is the Essence of Chinese medicine. We are all interconnected, both with each other and with the earth. Sonia taught us to tap into that whole.

Buddha at Plum Village

Working with Sonia in nature

She learnt her shiatsu in New York with the Japanese master Ohashi, who is still alive and teaching. She encouraged us to attend his courses when he was teaching in the UK, which I did. Sonia took his training as her basis, but made it her own. She transmitted this development to her students, teaching us Chinese medicine as a living reality. After one year of studying with her in Bristol, Sonia bought a property in Herefordshire, the Orchard. There we were able to live the reality of Chinese medicine. Memories of my years there will always remain with me and have been part of the inspiration for “La Source” my home in rural France. When we were learning about the five elements of Chinese medicine (Fire, Metal, Water, Earth and Wood), we would become them. Over the course of 5 days, we would be divided into element groups and then be with that element in nature. She chose the groups so that there would be a mix of expressions of the element. For the Fire group, for example, there would be people who would have excess Fire and those with lack of Fire. The “excess”  would be the centre of attention, telling stories, connecting with people – the socialites of the group. The “lack” would stay in the background, preferring to be on their own, quiet and more reflective. Each group would be given exercises relevant to their element. For the Fire group, these included meridian stretching movements for the Fire meridians (Heart, Small Intestine, Triple Heater and Heart Protector) along with exercises and meditations that Sonia developed. We would build fires and sit by them sharing stories. We would make a “fire” home. In my first Fire group we got out of control and the fire we built nearly set fire to a building! After that Sonia started giving more specific guidelines as to what we could do within each group.

Fire goddess

After some time in our group, we would go round to visit the other groups homes. It was fascinating to see how all the qualities attributed to the different elements were expressed in the different groups. The gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, were all quite different in each group. The wood group got out of control in their way, by shouting at everyone and giving orders!

After having experienced the elements we would go back and study the theory in the text books. Sonia taught us that the theory always lags behind the practice. Chinese medicine, indeed any approach, is constantly changing as the world around us changes. The theorists need time to write down their experiences while meanwhile the practitioners are creating new understandings. This was profound for me, after my years of academic study in which understanding the theory of others was the most important.

Developing our shiatsu touch

It was the same for the aspects of shiatsu touch. Each element group would give shiatsu based on their feeling of the element. Each quality of touch was different. Of course Sonia taught us techniques to work with each meridian, but then she would encourage us to explore working meridians with different qualities of touch and to feel the different response of each person to different qualities of touch.

A core part of developing our touch was learning to connect with our hara, the area around our navel, a pivot point between Yin (earth) and Yang (space). The hara is fundamental to Japanese culture, and this is one of the ways that Japan practitioners developed Chinese medicine. Sonia’s approach involved spending hours learning to move and listen from our hara, focusing on a “backward circle”, an approach based on her mediation training. Although our hara is our physical and emotional centre if we move in a forward circling way with it, leading from our navel, we tend to be more in a  grasping and imposing mode rather than receiving. Sonia would guide us to focus on lower our back to initiate movement. This is the area of our energetic Kidneys which give us support from our past and from our ancestors. It is about receiving first. Being open to what is and then moving towards meeting it. This quality helps develop not only sensitivity in our touch but in our whole way of being. For most of us, even in the 80’s, we tended to move forward, and primarily from our heads. Sonia would encourage us to soften our eyes, and feel them as part of our backward circle. When we were learning theory, we would practice receiving with openness rather than grasping.

Sonia was always pushing us out of our comfort zones. I remember during one course we had to be blindfolded for hours and find our way around through touch. I got completely lost outside at night time in the woods. Fortunately someone realised I wasn’t in the evening session and came to find me. We would also spend days in silence. At first I found this extremely uncomfortable, but after some time it felt completely natural to feel the presence of others, but not interact with them. Some silent times, we had to put away all our watches – it was the days pre-mobile phones – and tune into when we wanted to sleep, eat and wake. If we woke, regardless of it being night or day, we would go through sequences of exercises and meditations either until we wanted to eat or sleep again. It helped me tune into my own inner rhythms.

 In February we would pace barefoot on the gravel to practice presence and letting go. Part of our day was spent in giving back, in a meditative way, to the spaces we were working in – the Zen Do (Shiatsu space), the house where we ate and slept and the land we explored. We would dress in our white shiatsu clothes (Gi’s) and clean the windows or weed the garden with the shiatsu quality of touch and connection. We could spend hours cleaning the leaves of a plant or windows. Some people found it too challenging, but it was exactly what I needed.

Suzanne Yates in her shiatsu Gi 1989
Suzanne in her shiatsu Gi 1989, her years of assisting

Finishing the 4 year Shiatsu Diploma with Sonia and then assisting her

As each year of the training went by, I stayed for another until finally I finished the 4 year Shiatsu Diploma training. During this time I went to China where my sister was teaching English, and attended a few acupuncture workshops with her.

Suzanne Yates in China 1986
Suzanne in China 1986
Suzanne Yates learning acupuncture in China 1986
Suzanne learning some acupuncture in China in 1989

I started working as a shiatsu practitioner in 1988, and did the newly created postgraduate year of study. Then Sonia asked me to assist her on the next 4 year training, which by then had moved to a larger centre in Wales, Taliaris, the home of her mediation teacher John Garrie Roshi. I realised that she was teaching some things slightly differently, and she became more gentle in her approach. I became pregnant while I was assisting, and she told me that I didn’t need to walk on the gravel in the morning if I didn’t want to. I was slightly disappointed and did so anyway!

Suzanne Yates working with pregnant woman sitting on ball with shiatsu touch and massage
Shiatsu massage touch during pregnancy

During my pregnancy I began to experience shiatsu differently and felt I needed to do further trainings to understand more about pregnancy. As I worked more with pregnant women, I felt new energies, which Sonia hadn’t taught me. Her creative approach to Chinese medicine enabled me to follow and understand the new sensations. Practice first, theory later! I eventually realised I was feeling the Extraordinary Vessels. It was because of the explorative nature of her work, that I was able to develop my own approach to shiatsu which includes these powerful Vessels.

Her teachings are alive in me and in my teaching Pavillon here in France I have her photo. It is fascinating that I met Sonia in the UK but she was French! There is some poetic harmony in our French connection. Recently I had a Wellmother teacher meeting and one of my teachers, Nicola Endicott, who also studied with Sonia at the same time as me, was in my Pavillon. It was lovely to share our memories of Sonia and our gratitude for all she taught us.

Wellmother teachers in pavillon at La Source
Wellmother teachers in Pavillon at La Source

I end with her teacher, John Garrie Roshi’s version of the “Loving Kindness Prayer” which she would use in most of the meditations we did. Nicola and I both still connect deeply with it. I share it with you as a connection to Sonia and her loving kindness.

The Loving Kindness Prayer

Peace to all Beings

by John Garrie Roshi

Peace to all beings

May all beings be well and happy
and free from fear

Peace to all beings

Whether near or far
Whether known or unknown
Visible or invisible
Real or imaginary
Born or yet to be born

May all beings be well and happy
And free from fear

Peace to all beings

Within and beyond the imagination
In the world of ideas
In the world of memories
And in the world of dreams

May all beings be well and happy
And free from fear

Peace in all elements
Of earth and air and fire and water
Fulfilled in space


Peace in all universes
From the smallest cells in the body

To the greatest galaxies in space
Peace and light rising

Peace to all beings
Within each being here
To those beings that have been in the past
And to those beings that are yet to be in the future
May all beings
Within each being here
Be well and happy
And free from fear.



  1. Kim Lovelace on 09/08/2023 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing these experiences and memories. I am grateful.

    • Suzanne Yates on 10/08/2023 at 1:31 pm

      Am happy that you enjoyed this article. Did you know Sonia?..

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