Carola interviewed by Ulli Schmidt

1 ) Dear Carola , you’re grown up in Asia ( was it Shanghai ?? ). How have these early years influenced you in terms of your career choice?

Very much indeed. Not in Shanghai, no, in the ’50’s there were very few Europeans in Mao’s China. I grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, where my father was working in preventative medicine for the Army in the Far East. We also spent some time living in Bali. So I feel very at home with Asian culture, it is part of my earliest memories. And of course acupuncture and Chinese medicine was more familiar to me than possibly to other children of my age. I remember seeing, in the Singaporean festival of Taipusam, men walking in procession with big hooks through their tongues or in the flesh of their backs, seeming not to feel pain. So I already knew that “materialist” Western science did not have all the answers. Many other factors influenced my choice of career, but I always knew that Shiatsu was for me.

2 ) How was your way from acupuncture to Shiatsu? Is there something that was complete by supplementing with Shiatsu (or has previously been lacking without Shiatsu?)

No, I studied Shiatsu first! (see above). I always wanted to do Shiatsu and to tell you the truth I am not a big fan of needles, although I can see the great effect they have. The problem was that in the late ’70’s nobody knew much about Shiatsu theory, there was Macrobiotic theory but not much else. No books, no schools. Ohashi was a great teacher of the routines and the “Shiatsu dance”, but he didn’t teach much theory. I am someone who likes to know the intellectual structure. So at a certain point I wrote to my friend Michael Rose, who was studying with Masunaga at the Iokai in Tokyo and said “I’m stuck, how can I move on with the theory?” And he wrote back “You should really come and study with this guy, he is amazing; but failing that, why not study acupuncture?” Well, at that time I really couldn’t take a year out in Japan, so I went to the only acupuncture school in the UK that taught part-time courses. It was the Five Element school of J.R. Worsley, which had a huge influence in the West. Really I found it rather poorly taught, but it did teach me how to observe people closely and empathise with them. Then I learned more theory with the people who had newly returned from studying acupuncture in China, notably Giovanni Maciocia, who is now the big Guru of acupuncture. But I only wanted to know more in order to practise Shiatsu! I do offer acupuncture, and it is good to do if I am tired, but Shiatsu is the best.

3 ) Can you tell who was your teacher(s) with the greatest ” echo ” in your work? (and why?)

Without question, Pauline Sasaki. Before she arrived in Europe to teach, we were all working without a concrete experience of Ki. We felt it but we didn’t know what it felt like to feel it! We couldn’t recognise it or let it guide us. Pauline showed us what Shiatsu is all about, how we were working directly with a person’s Ki by means of our own Ki, how the “treatment protocol” was subsidiary to that experience. It was very confusing at first for a “theory junkie” like me, and I have struggled to reconcile this approach with my love of the philosophy of Asian medicine. But the more I have expanded my perceptions and my study, the easier it is to recognise that the contact with the receiver is the fundamental, essential basis of Shiatsu practice, and that theory is an ornament, a support, a resource.

Since working with my colleagues Nicola Pooley, Clifford Andrews and Paul Lundberg, I have learned so much from them. Nicola and Cliff also worked very closely with Pauline for many years, developing her teachings in very different ways, and they have both influenced me a great deal. Ohashi, my first teacher, was also a great inspiration, just watching him move and observing how Shiatsu is given from the whole body, not just the hands.

4) You wrote – in the 3rd Edition – one of the most wonderful shiatsu books: “Shiatsu in theory and practice”. In addition to the wealth of concrete information I admire over and over again  your talent for poetry and language. To which “source” you connected yourself in writing?

Why, thank you Ulli! I love language. I love words. Words are a form of Ki, and choosing exactly the right words to bring an image to life is a challenge, especially when writing about Shiatsu. I am actually aware of how I can over-use words like “rich” or “experience”, so I am not so very good. I don’t think I have any one particular “source”. I have always read every book I can get my hands on, but these days when I pick up a book in an airport or station, I have to check out not only the content (not too scary, preferably uplifting, hopefully some romance!) but the writing. If I can’t admire the writing, I know I won’t like the book. Writing well is a form of integrity, somehow. I have been very mindful of the words of Ernest Hemingway – “You have to murder your little darlings”. In other words, those phrases you love and are proud to have crafted must go! don’t indulge yourself with them. So in that way, writing is like teaching; it is not about the person who delivers the content, it IS the content.

5) As regards the extraordinary vessels: what is your opinion, the biggest gain (largest knowledge) in working with them?

I love them because they are the closest thing to the Source. They reach back to the origin of all of us. They are totipotent, like stem cells; they can supply all our needs, not a few specific needs but all our needs. They are incredibly powerful.

6) Some of the vessels are not clearly identified line – I think that’s a big challenge…

I think it’s a big advantage! It allows us to expand beyond the narrow concern of “is it this side of the muscle or that side?” and so we can relax. The more we relax, the more we feel. I think it is very interesting the diversity of the ways in which the Extraordinary Vessels pathways are described and drawn. It implies that each of them is a feeling that we can recognise when we connect with it, rather than a particular anatomical location.

7) You once said to me, “live is for living and not for teaching”. You yourself are still a Shiatsu teacher …? It is never ending…?

Shiatsu is the most important inspiration in my life. I think about it a lot of the time. Teaching it is a challenge, for sure, but it gets me to make my thoughts more concrete, rather than drifting mystically away. Teaching the life and living the teaching, that is what I hope to attain.

8) And recently you said: whatever the question is, Shiatsu is the answer. I find this sentence brings Shiatsu in a large and adequate context, namely that shiatsu is more than a technique of body work. What do you think after more than thirty years experience with Shiatsu, is the biggest gain for the people?

That is hard to say. To be honest, Shiatsu is not for everyone and it is not a cure-all. But I personally love it, and I speak for myself. Nothing else other than good Shiatsu gives me a pleasurable and relaxing experience that also makes me feel different, more alive, fresher, free of aches and pains, more balanced……. It also gives me a profound reassurance about my inner life, so that I feel deeply at home in my existence, no longer alienated and adrift. And I know that many other people feel the same way. But not everyone.

The other thing to mention is that the practice of Shiatsu is so beneficial, and here it really is different and special. I am sure that practising reflexology or cranio-sacral therapy can not be so all-absorbing. We have to keep our whole body fit, educated, powerful and exquisitely sensitive, we have to train our minds and hearts to focus and be present yet relaxed, we have to turn our view of life around 180 degrees to encompass the Taoist philosophy of existence. It truly is for the practitioner the supreme form of bodywork!

9) And, finally, what is your personal vision – your dream – for the next years?

When we get to a certain age we start to realise that the dreams may just be dreams, we can’t be sure we will have the energy or time to complete projects. I am working on a couple of projects at the moment that may stretch on for years, one of them is a dream of mine, but sometimes I wonder whether to give them up and just travel. One of my dreams is to spend more time with my partner, travelling. Maybe we will achieve it, but if not, that’s ok.

I have been so lucky to have such a varied and eventful life, to have encountered Shiatsu, and now to live peacefully here in Wales. Being here with my dog and cat and chickens and garden, with the sea close by, on a sunny day, that is my dream come true.

Dear Carola, many thanks for the interview!

Thank you, Ulli, it was a pleasure!