Reflections on the Wellmother Residential at Holycombe , May 14-19 2014 by Suzanne Yates
I just ran my fourth residential, for people who have already studied with me, at Holycombe in the Cotswolds. We were blessed with wonderful weather: it was sunny every day! And England truly is splendid in the sun. We had the full moon greet us on our first evening and spent our light evenings doing meditation and Qi Gong, reading poems and singing songs by the fire
dancing, walking in the dark in the bluebell wood, eating amazing food, as well as doing lots of shiatsu and massage.
This time, I had a slightly more structured format than on previous Residentials, as I was combining it with part of my teachers’ training programme. I have always seen the Residential as a space for my students to share how they are working, as well as for me to present some deepening of my work. However each has evolved relatively spontaneously from the people who were attending who wanted to present aspects of their work.
I set a specific theme for this one: to connect with the journey from conception to the first year of our life. Beforehand, I encouraged participants to connect with what they “know” about the different stages of their own journey as a baby, as well as with their own journies, if they made them, of being pregnant and giving birth and supporting their baby during the first year. Each day we focused on a theme: conception, life in the womb,birth itself and the movements of the first year from being curled up to standing upright. Unlike the other Residentials, where we had some men attending, this year we were an all women group of 16. I began with us each lighting a candle to set our intention for the week and then, focusing on the energy of the full moon and the universe, we walked up to the stone circle where I led a meditation.
As the days followed we journied through our bodies into how we come into being and a theme emerged of connection and separation. Especially how we are connected when we are in the womb and then how we separate as we move out of the womb during our birth. The more I work with these themes, the more I see how these basic imprints affect us through our whole life. We are profoundly influenced by our own experience as a baby being born, and for women, our experience of how we give birth. Very powerful memories and feelings become imprinted which can be either empowering and growth-ful or disempowering and even traumatising.
I had chosen Holycombe partly because of the wonderful outdoor spaces, hoping that the weather would smile on us!
One of the spaces which attracted me was the stone circle but another was a labyrinth cut into the side of a hill. You can’t make it out easily in this picture but it is just below the tree line.
This was a powerful inspiration for our journey of folding into a centre and then unfolding outwards. This is a journey which we all do from conception to our first year in a physical way: we physically start out our live as a line of cells and then fold into the embryonic and fetal form, enclosed in the amniotic sac. Then during our first year we uncurl from the fetal position to stand upright. This physical journey imprints on how we experience the rest of our lives: folding into or out of experience: like a labyrinth. We all journied physically through the labyrinth, the first evening, meeting others along the way, paths approaching, paths separating, feeling, like with any journey that movement towards the centre and then back out again. I found this a useful image for the residential. We journied from our lives outside into a deep space in the centre of the week, and then gradually journied back out to our lives outside, observing thoughts and feelings that come up.. What is our centre? How do we return? Do we return changed?
Each morning we did some exercises before breakfast. As the weather was so wonderful we were able to do them outside, most days in the stone circle. The first day I connected with the energy of the sun: Yang to the moon’s Yin. Tricia, who has attended all my Residentials, did some of her lovely Qi Gong, I led some exercises and Aline shared some of her Qi Gong.
On our first day, Alexandra presented how to support women during their menstrual cycle who are trying to conceive and we did a lovely exercise of connecting with the energy of each phase of our cycle. I had just presented a menstrual and fertility workshop in Amsterdam the weekend before and we began the morning with everyone sharing their experiences of their menstruation and as some of us were in the menopause, our relationship to the changes in our blood flow.
I shared some videos and slides on the development of the heart and Clare then shared some heart womb yoga exercises which we integrated into our practice.
On the second day, Johanna presented the importance of posture, including pelvic floor and abdominal awareness along with how to work with the Extraordinary Vessels. Aline then presented some of the shiatsu work she does with the birth professionals in the French hospitals, midwives, nurses, assistants. It was lovely to go back to basics and be cats and bears crawling over each other. I then led us through a gentle process of connecting with the energies of being connected and separating. For some people this was specifically about their births, or birthing their children, but not everyone. I have learnt over the years how to do this in a very gentle way, to empower people to draw on their resources and gain support which they may not have had at the time. This is a very powerful touch based exercise. In the supportive space of the Residential, people were able to go deeply and safely.
On the third day, Lucy presented an exercise on how we can support people who might have experienced birth in a traumatic way, as sadly it often is in our culture.
I did some work with different baby movements: beginning with our basic movement from the centre (the navel) into spinal, homologous, homolateral and contralateral which connect with our the animal movements from fish, through amphibian, reptile to mammal to finally standing upright. I related these movements to the main Extraordinary vessels of Conception, Governing, Penetrating and Girdle and then into how that energy starts to move out into the Yin and Yang Qiao and Wei. I am increasingly becoming interested in this second group of the Extraordinary vessels and then how these relate to the 6 great meridians.
On the last morning, Veronique, shared some of the work we did with Karin Kalbantner Wernicke when I organised her to teach in London. We explored the front family of Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach and Spleen and the quality of enveloping, earthy touch. Then we all had some time to process everything we had learnt, either doing shiatsu or massage swaps, talking over case studies or simply sharing our experiences of pregnancy and birth.
A key theme emerged of how we find our resources, how we centre ourselves and how we can support each other so we can all carry on doing the wonderful work we do with clients and each other. At the end, we relit our candles of intention, and lit a second candle which represented our journeying during the Residential.
I am now looking forward to the next Well Mother residential, which will be May 2016 (location still to be decided) as well as my new Residential which I will be teaching with Diego Sanchez in Uruguay next March, “Coming into being” which will cover some of these themes, but which is open to any shiatsu practitioner, male or female!
Two of the other residentials have been in the Cotswold area, which is a beautiful part of England and the weather has generally been lovely. The only one which had terrible weather was the one when I decided to travel to the South of France, to guarantee good weather. It snowed in May!
Hawkwood College June 2006
Farncombe Conference Centre : sadly doesn’t exist any more.com June 2008
Perpignan, May 2010 , L’ombre du fort : sadly this doesn’t exist anymore either!