Rest, Breath and Presence in Biodynamic Shiatsu

Recently I’ve been contemplating the principles and evolution of biodynamic shiatsu sessions, what happens and where they lead to. One aspect is rest and relaxation and today I was reading a chapter titled Rest in David Whyte’s Consolations (a beautiful collection of poetic musings on everyday words and experiences):

The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving that forms the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning.

David Whyte, Consolations

I almost always begin a session by asking my client to bring their awareness to the breath. I’m not so concerned with any breathing exercises initially, what’s important is simply to sense the breath as it is, to bring its rhythm and flow in to our sense of self, to begin to become present and embodied in the moment.

When we give and take in an easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested.

To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.


As the session begins, through attuning to the breath and to the various rhythms of the client’s body (cardiovascular, breathing, fascial flows and windings, the tides of the craniosacral system etc.) both client and practitioner begin to move into and with the various states of being that are present and embodied in the client’s system.

As a practitioner, different techniques and skills, rhythms of interaction and flow arise to the fore as the present embodiment reveals itself to physical contact and palpatory literacy. The bodymind expresses itself in its own language and by listening closely, and interpreting through their own embodied understanding, the practitioner becomes a kind of midwife in the process of unfoldment of the client. Embodied patterns of tension, stress, and holding release making way for new experiences of relaxation, rest, inner peace, potency, spaciousness, and aliveness.

In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s un-coerced and un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and the take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.


The above quote is perhaps one of the most succinct and beautiful descriptions of the experience of biodynamic movement in the session. Each of these stages can be experienced alone during a particular phase of the session or together with the others as a coherent state or totality. They can be experienced together in one session or across a series of sessions as the individual process evolves in eddies, ebbs, and flows according to what is most deeply needed in that moment.

When I am working in the longer term with clients what I often find is that the most valued benefit the person receives from regular biodynamic shiatsu sessions is the ability to move into and with these stages of rest, to be open to receive their gifts in their daily lives between sessions. Often a client will remark that the session “continued for weeks” after the hour had ended due to this.

A deep experience of rest is the template of perfection in the human imagination, a perspective from which we are able to perceive the outer specific forms of our work and our relationships whilst being nourished by the shared foundational gift of the breath itself. From this perspective we can be rested while putting together an elaborate meal for an arriving crowd, whilst climbing the highest mountain or sitting at home surrounded by the chaos of a loving family. Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way. In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too.


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