Choosing Our Destiny

Working  with the Ming & Xing

By Bill Palmer

It is part of human nature to want things to be better. We imagine what could be and then we search for a way of manifesting that vision. All living beings seek for solutions to their problems; Roberto Kolter has even documented the intelligence of bacteria and slime moulds in collectively overcoming obstacles to find food[1]. But our species takes this capacity to another level through invention for its own sake. This drive to improve everything and solve imaginary problems is both the source of our amazing success in dominating the planet but could also be the seed of our potential extinction. 

The negative side of this impulse is that we imagine that any discomfort should be fixable.  This gives marketing, religion  and politics a hook with which to catch us and control our behaviour. They highlight imperfections and claim that our lives could  be improved if we bought their products, believed in their dogma or voted for their party.

But the cost to humanity is that we can easily develop an addiction to their quick fixes and become continually dissatisfied. This insatiable state leads to super-consumerism, perpetually acquiring things that we don’t need, if we can afford it, and yearning after those things if we can’t.  In the process we swarm over the planet like locusts, stripping its resources and driving other beings to extinction. As a species, we have a tendency to manifest the state of being that Buddhism calls  the Hungry Ghosts[2].

However, this black picture is not the whole story. We also have an enormous capacity for love, for awareness and compassion. My aim in this article is to explore how the act of doing therapy often contributes and amplifies the Hungry Ghost state and to consider how to change  the form of the therapy so that it supports our capacity for conscious responsibility.

Liberation is different from Cure

Liberation from dissatisfaction is different from fixing its imagined cause. Picture a bag made from a substance that easily tears. Imagine that it is overfilled with water so that the strain tears the membrane and water starts to spurt out. There are two obvious ways to fix this problem. The first, which we might identify with western medicine, is to put a  sticking plaster on the hole – but then the pressure of the water tends to split the skin in another place. The second, which is more related to East Asian medicine, is to strengthen the material from which the bag is made. But, in  the limited context of therapy, one can only identify a local weakness and strengthen that place; this actually creates more stress on other areas so new  holes appear.

The real issue is the pressure of the water, which in my analogy I am equating with the pressure of dissatisfaction. If one could decrease this stress, then the bag, without change, could hold firm without plasters or reinforcement. In modern culture, social pressure tends to drive people  to want to be different from how they are and it is this desire for improvement beyond  the limits of their nature that inflicts damage on the fabric of their being.

Many therapies, including Shiatsu and Chinese Medicine, focus on strengthening the weaknesses in the fabric. This is more sustainable than just patching the holes but, because the practitioner is  the active partner while the client is relatively passive, the form of the therapy still perpetuates the underlying issue: people are still looking to experts to fix their problems. It is true that these therapists do suggest exercises for the client to do at home but these routines are prescriptions rather than explorations. So, although the client is active, they are not in charge of their activity: they are still dependent on the therapist to tell them what to do.

This active-expert, passive-client dynamic is less common in psychotherapy because it depends on the client exploring themselves and gaining understanding through introspection. Physical therapies tend to be more prescriptive simply because the internal workings of the body are less accessible to consciousness. Energy therapies like Shiatsu are even more inaccessible to the client because most therapists don’t teach the client how to sense their own Qi,  but perform a mysterious diagnosis and equally obscure treatment. The client has no choice to be other than passive in this dynamic.

So there are essentially three ways of doing therapy: treating the symptoms (putting sticking plaster on a hole), activating the body’s self-support systems (strengthening the fabric) and, thirdly, helping the client to actively explore themselves using their problems as valuable sources of information rather than trying to get rid of them (reducing the pressure of dissatisfaction). Both East Asian and Western Medicine focus on the first two but, in the modern world, the third option is overlooked and even disregarded.

This is a shame because the third way is particularly appropriate for people with chronic issues. They have often tried an assortment of therapies without success and are looking for a different type of approach that helps them to live harmoniously with their condition rather than trying another way of curing it.  I also think that the third way supports the spiritual development of the human species while the first two paradigms tend to perpetuate the state of dissatisfaction. So how can we work in this third mode?

Life as a Course
I have a fantasy. It doesn’t matter whether it is true or not. It gives a new perspective on life. I dream that, before I was born, I went to the University of Life and looked at the courses on offer. One, in particular, appealed to me and I applied to enrol. The administrator told me that I was qualified to take this course and that they would give me these parents, this body, particular relationships and the problems and diseases that went with them all. This life is my course!

From this viewpoint,  problems are transformed from obstacles into lessons. There is no point in curing or fixing my issues if the process doesn’t fit with the ‘course-plan’ I was given at conception.

This fantasy is an expression of the Taoist system of Internal Alchemy (內丹 – Nei Dan). This system focuses on the development of  Xing (性) and Ming (). The most superficial translation of  these profound concepts is that Xing is our innate nature or character and Ming is our pre-ordained Destiny. In the medieval  Taoist world-view, these are given by  the gods and can only be changed by divine intervention. The old medical texts[3],[4] suggest that working with the Qi will not be effective unless you take both Xing and Ming into account. In this level of meaning, the Xing is like a landscape with valleys and hills. One’s life flows through the valleys;  diseases and problems are seen as blockages to this flow. Working with Qi can clear the ‘debris’ that is blocking a valley but cannot change the basic landscape of the person that pre-disposes their strengths and vulnerabilities. This means that the attempt to alter certain basic Qi patterns is doomed to failure, so a diagnosis of the person’s Qi may not lead to an effective treatment.

A deeper meaning to the words interprets Xing as the direction to which one’s heart is drawn. In fact, the character for Xing combines Heart and Life. The Ming is seen as the path through life created by this direction and has the meaning of a calling or vocation[5]. My fantasy about the University of Life fits with this interpretation and it is this meaning that I find most useful in working with clients who are struggling with chronic conditions or the problems of youth and old age. 

When you are young, particularly in the teenage years, friends, media and parents pressure you to fit in with their world-view, which may conflict with your nature. Unless you can sense your Xing you can easily get lost without a sense of direction in life. The brain and its ability to think are not good guides to the Xing because they evolved to develop social relationships and to learn from culture. In contrast, the body is not concerned with other people and, by learning to listen to its subtle messages, you can sense the Xing. Essentially, if you are following your Xing then you feel fully alive in your body.

People with chronic conditions frequently spend an enormous amount of energy trying to find a cure which often doesn’t exist. But this means that they never meet the challenge of the condition and the lessons they can learn from it. On the other hand, if they embrace and value the issue then the difficulty can temper the soul and strengthen the spirit. A client with a brain tumour taught me how to work with the Xing. She had been told by her doctor that she probably only had a few months to live but the disease had kicked her into a state of aliveness she had never before experienced. She came to see me, not to try to cure the cancer but to “help her to stay fully alive for as long as she had left”.

Her main challenge was her fear which negated her feeling of aliveness. I first asked her to sense which parts of the body contracted in response to the fear. We explored how she could breathe into the organs which inflated that part of the body from inside, causing an authentic expansion. She soon learned to sense where she felt pain or fear and to use this breathing technique to expand rather than contract, so that she faced the difficulties of her condition with an open, positive posture. As a side effect of this, she reported that her friends stopped treating her as ill. In only a few sessions she found she could do without my support and I only saw her every two months or so.  In the end she lived for another nine years, following her heart and seizing every opportunity for living to the full.

If you can reframe your problems as opportunities for development then you can look back at what you have learned and see the strengths and abilities that your condition has given you. If you learn to feel when you are on your heart-path, and meet any obstacles as lessons to be learned, then you gain a sense of life-purpose, which is the deeper meaning of Ming. This is shown in the Chinese character, which has the connotation of telling, calling or instructing an embryo what to do in its future life.

Whereas Xing can be sensed at any stage of life by noticing what makes you feel alive, Ming is usually not understood until later, when you look back and see the patterns that you have made with your life. Erik Eriksson characterized human development as a series of challenges that teach a capacity[6] and described the consequence of not learning that lesson. The challenge of old age is to embrace all the events of your life equally and thus make sense of your existence. Eriksson named this state ego-integration. Reframing your past behaviour and your present pains as lessons in the classroom of life is a good way of integrating  the self.  Old age is difficult because, inevitably, the body starts to deteriorate and, looking back on your life, there are often many things that you regret. If you can’t let go of your regrets and continue to yearn after your youthful abilities then the result, according  to Eriksson, is despair.

But it’s difficult to let go of regrets. They refer to events that are past and can’t be changed. But you can reframe your view of them to have compassion for yourself. I find this self-compassion is easier to learn through the body and a good example is how you relate to your tense muscles. You can either treat them as a problem, trying to stretch them, complaining about them, getting massage to try to relax them. Alternatively, you could value them and praise them for their positive function.

One purpose of chronic muscle tension is protection; holding a vulnerable part of the body from moving. You can value this even if the protection is not needed any more. In this case you can consciously condense the muscle further rather than trying to loosen it. Unlike muscle release techniques like Sotai, this is not done as a way of tricking the muscle to relax, but as a way of saying to the muscle that you are going with it and valuing its past positive function. Once you learn this attitude to physical problems, you can more easily apply it to all those parts of yourself that you deplore so that you can value them as lessons which are part of your life-course. At this level, developing Xing and Ming resolves the state of dissatisfaction. They give meaning to life and reduce the pressure of the water in the bag we pictured before.

Everything is the Play of the Dharmakaya

There is an even deeper meaning to the words Xing and Ming that is almost impossible to describe in words. It underlies the philosophy and practice of Dzogchen (Tibetan for “Great Perfection”),  which I studied with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu for many years. I only glimpse this deeper meaning, and what follows is my very limited understanding, but it comes from experience and not from received words.

Several physicists[7] and philosophers[8] suggest that consciousness is a fundamental part of the fabric of reality rather than a rare phenomenon that emerges from the complexity of a brain. Donald Hoffmann[9], in his book The Case Against Reality,  describes experimental evidence that material reality is a construction of consciousness rather than something that consciousness passively perceives. He therefore suggests that instead of trying to understand how consciousness can emerge from matter, we see consciousness as fundamental. This does not mean, as the panpsychists believe, that everything is aware. Instead, he proposes  that underlying  reality is made of consciousness and that material things are perceptions created by this consciousness as a way of making sense of existence from a dualistic viewpoint.  This is very similar to the view of reality held by the mystical branches of Buddhism and Taoism.

Imagine that the conscious universe is a ball of coloured plasticine with swirls and spirals of different colours. All the colours are experiences but, being a sphere, the universe cannot change or explore itself. To create change in the patterns, it needs to make an outgrowth – something partly separated from the whole. That outgrowth is an individual thing – maybe me or you. By living and relating with others, I twist the clay causing new patterns to appear in the colours. Then, when I die, the projection melts back into the universe and the new colour swirls  are incorporated into the patterns of the universe .

Seen from this perspective, I am the universe, condensing into an individual in order to learn or even just to play. Namkhai Norbu, often quoted a Dzogchen saying:  “All manifestation is the play of the Dharmakaya”[10]. The dharmakaya can be seen as the primal conscious universe, that separates and becomes individuals as part of its eternal urge to create. This is the deepest meaning of Ming. From the dualistic individual point of view, it is our vocation, but from the universal point of view, Ming is the creative intention of the universe. From this universal point of view there is no dissatisfaction, every manifestation is part of the play of the universe and, through play, it learns.[11].

[1] Rennie J (13 November 2017). “The Beautiful Intelligence of Bacteria and Other Microbes”Quanta Magazine1

[2] Irmgard Schoegl. The Zen Way. The Zen Centre 1987

[3] Commentary on the Mirror for Compounding the Medicine: A Fourteenth-Century Work on Taoist Internal Alchemy)

[4] Commentary on the Shen Nong Bencao Jing, course notes from my studies in China.

5  XingMing – the Nature and Destiny of a Human Being – Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallée – TCM Academy

[6] Erikson E. H . (1982). The life cycle completed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

[7]  e.g.  On the place of qualia in a relational universe by Lee Smolin, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

[8] e.g. Galileo’s Error by Philip Goff, Penguin RIDER

[9] e.g. The Case against Reality – Donald Hoffmann. Penguin 2019

[10],11 Dzogchen View of Tantric Ngöndro – A Teaching by Düdjom Rinpoche


The Neck as a Mirror of Self

by Teresa Hadland

For the European Shiatsu Congress in Kiental 2023    

There is something very expressive about necks.  From the gracefulness of a swan’s neck to the powerful neck of a bull.  Human necks also have a wide range of differences, from long and slender to strong and condensed, and from the moment I started working with necks in humans, I became aware that I was gaining an insight into the person as a whole.  

The state of a person’s neck reveals the relationship between their head and the rest of their body.  When there is tension in the neck there is often a conflict between mind and body, a fight between what the mind considers possible and what the body does not.  And the mind and the body are often at odds

The neck is vulnerable. It stands alone, somewhat exposed and unsupported by other structures of our skeleton.  But this vulnerability could be an advantage. It means that it can be highly flexible and can act as a mediator between the head and the body. If the neck is held tense then it manifests an unsolved conflict between mind and body.

The neck is made up of a number of internal structures.  These are: the larynx or voice-box; the major tubes of breathing and digestion, large arteries, veins and nerves (including the popular vagus nerve), and also, but by no means least, the thyroid gland.  This quiet, unobtrusive endocrine gland situated above and behind the voice-box, produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate, growth and development. It plays a role in controlling heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance.   Thus, the neck is home to some very important body parts.   

The Neck as a Tree Trunk

The neck is a bit like a tree trunk, with tube-shaped structures running vertically through it and supporting it from inside.  The bodies of the seven cervical vertebrae, the uppermost portion of the spine, provide a strong, stable, central column, along which the tubes of digestion, blood and breathing, run parallel and anteriorly, and these are supported by muscles that allow movement. The deeper muscles run alongside the vertebrae, while the more superficial ones wrap around the tubes’ central edifice.  The fascia weaves a continuous web between and around all these structures, lacing them all together.  All these are contained within the skin’s most superficial layer, giving us a smooth and sensitive surface to work with. 

Our head is connected through the neck to the rest of our body, and is often the part of us which is most visible to the rest of the world.  As human beings we are very conscious of our fellow humans.  Sometimes we can be overly conscious of how we are ‘seen’ and how we fit in with those around us.  Thus, when we are feeling sad or overwhelmed, we can feel the need to put on a “brave face” to the outer world and thus hide our true state in order to avoid disapproval, embarrassment or shame.  We can be afraid of “losing face” in some way.  In these cases, tension in the face and especially in the jaw, spread into the neck through the connecting muscles and leads inevitably to tension or discomfort in the neck.   

The lack of alignment between head and body can manifest in many different ways.  People are often led in their movements by their senses, which are mostly situated in the head.  Our eyes are probably the most used of our senses because, in general, we are most influenced by what we see.  We notice something that catches our attention and interests us, and we are pulled towards it.  It can be something that catches our eye in the shops or on the computer screen, or even something we think we need and are looking for.  The stimulation from the eyes causes us to move from the eyes and head and the rest of the body is dragged along after.  Sometimes the body doesn’t want to be dragged along and digs in its heels.  Once again, this conflict between head and body will be felt in the neck.  We can also be led in a similar way by our ears and our nose, but we tend to use these senses less than our eyes. 

Our actions are led not only by our physical eyes but also by our “mind’s eye”. This can lead  to our trying to be something different from our true nature. Again, this attempt to override the objections of the body leads to tensions and stress in the neck. As I said before, the neck is a bridge between the mind and body and is where the gaps in listening can be resolved.  The neck tells us when we have a confrontation between our ambitions and our body. 

The Neck and Emotions

Another aspect of the neck is its role in vocal expression and its link to our emotions.  Our neck houses our larynx, which is built into the upper part of the trachea or windpipe.  Our vocal cords (more correctly called folds) are part of the larynx and this is where the sound of our voice is made.  This sound-making is closely connected with our self-expression and also our sense of self.  Imagine what happens, therefore, when it is unsafe to say something.  Or when we might be punished, shamed or embarrassed for speaking out.  The muscles around and in the larynx contract and hold, to maintain silence.  It can be quite exposing to voice something, especially if it is something challenging to others, and so we protect ourselves by not expressing and by tensing the area at the front of the neck.  This, if continued over time, can lead to chronic stiffness in the throat.   

A similar thing happens when we express ourselves through singing, which is a louder and even more exposing action.   At some stage, many of us have been told that we “can’t sing” and have blocked off this mode of expressing ourselves by holding the muscles tight around the throat.  

Expression of any kind is closely connected with emotions and we can feel how these can influence how we hold our neck.  The neck is the topmost part of the spine and the spine as a whole is dramatically affected by the emotion of fear.  Just as when all the hairs on the back of a cat raise up when it sees a dog, so the muscles along our spine tighten when we feel under threat.  Many circumstances can produce this physiological stiffening of the neck.  It doesn’t have to be a traumatic life-threatening experience, but can just as easily happen when you are stuck in traffic and are in danger of arriving late for work.  If the tension remains even when the danger has passed, the stiffness can become chronic and interfere with other movements, by holding us back.  

The Meridians of the Neck

All of the above shows how conflict between mind and body is embodied in structures in the neck that prevent it from flexibly mediating between them. So, helping the neck to move starts a mediation process and facilitates communication between mind and body. Bill Palmer’s research into the relationship between meridians and movement gives us clear tools for exploring the neck. The movements of the neck are strongly related to particular meridians and their function, so helping clients to explore these archetypal meridian movements gives them insight into their internal struggle.  This is the main principle of Movement Shiatsu, developed by Bill in the 1980’s: to help a client to use movement to explore their habitual patterns and liberate their energy. I have been practising Movement Shiatsu for many years now and I think it provides the missing link between what the meridians are and how we express ourselves in the world through them.

In the 1980’s and 90’s, Bill worked with babies and made videos of their development. This research convincingly showed that infant movements developed progressively and followed the track of the traditional meridians. This means that meridians can be seen as the pathways along which a baby learns to inhabit and use their bodies. 

In addition, babies first learn life skills through movement and then translate those movements into social and psychological capacities. He found that the skills learned through movements corresponded closely to the Qi of the meridian that guided the movement. 

For instance, the movement developed along the Large Intestine meridian is a ‘pushing away’ with the arm and turning away with the head. This is first used to push against the ground to lift the head and body off the ground but later it is used to say “No” or “Enough”. This energy of pushing out / pushing away is similar to the traditional function of Large Intestine Qi, which is to expel toxic or unnecessary energy. 

Over the 15 years he was doing this research, Bill found that every one of the twelve organ meridians could be explained in this way. He believes, therefore, that working with meridians is intimately connected with reminding people how to inhabit their bodies.  Inner Qigong and Movement Shiatsu use these archetypal movements to help people re-embody themselves and to explore how to change habits that have cut themselves off from the innate wisdom of the body. 

The neck meridians are all yang meridians and this means that the movements are all proactive, ie the body doing something in the world.

An Example: The Stomach Meridian

One of the earliest of these movements to function in the new-born baby is that of the Stomach function, and the seeking out of nourishment.  In the womb, the foetus has been effortlessly provided with all its needs by the mother through the umbilical cord, and after birth the baby has to adjust very quickly to the new need of finding nourishment itself.  This reaching for food is very necessary if the baby is to survive and is a strong movement in the new-born.  The movement comes from the mouth, which is like a tube reaching towards the source of sustenance.   By stimulating the Rooting Reflex, at this time, the baby automatically turns its head and reaches with its mouth towards the side that is being stimulated, in search of the mother’s nipple.  This reflex is set into action when the skin beside the mouth is lightly stroked, and this is also the location of one of the points that lies on the Stomach meridian, Stomach 4.  Thus, stroking around Stomach 4 stimulates the Stomach function and helping the baby reach with its mouth for nourishment. 

The Stomach has other important lessons for the new-born.  Through the drawing in of milk by sucking, the jaw, mouth and throat muscles (all parts of the body connecting closely with the upper Stomach meridian) are activated and engaged.  And this in turn sets up the swallowing reflex, in the process of which, the baby opens itself up to actually receive the nourishment (ie. milk) into itself.  In the act of swallowing the whole of the Stomach meridian is woken up by the resultant toning of the muscles down the length of the Stomach meridian.  So, the acts of rooting, sucking and swallowing all involve specific movements in the neck relating to reaching for food nearby, to drawing it in and opening up to receive it.

Most of these reflexes happen in the first year of life; through these, the baby learns a movement and then can make the movement consciously using the same muscles.  This change from unconscious reflex to conscious movement is the means by which the infant becomes embodied, and develops from a new-born, making mainly reflexive movements, to a year-old toddler who can stand and walk and express its own individuality.

These movements can be helpful to a client who finds it difficult to seek or receive support from outside.  By exploring these movements in a session, the muscular patterns around the existing habit are loosened and the client can open up to being able to ask for and be comfortable with taking in support from others.

What is Experiential Anatomy?

Most anatomy is taught intellectually or passively. This means that a person knows where a structure is and can even touch it. But this doesn’t mean that they have an inner sense of that part of their body – they perceive it passively rather than it being an active part of their sense of self.

Experiential Anatomy aims to give you an inner experience of your anatomy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can control each part. But it does mean that you can listen to the messages that the organs, bones, muscles and fascia are continually giving. The body becomes a real resource of wisdom, rather than an appendage imperfectly controlled by the mind.

This changes the politics of the self. Most of us in modern first world cultures see the body as something that should do what it’s told. Our decision maker is the conscious mind and we are not taught to listen to the messages that the body contributes unless the sensations are painful. Even in that case, we tend to take pain killers and override the message because the pain is seen as an interruption to the instructions that the mind is giving to the body rather than an important bit of information. If the pain persists, we go to a therapist or a doctor to have it ‘fixed’. We still don’t know how to understand the communication that the body is making through the pain. Politically, this means that our self is an autocracy. The mind is the ruler and the body is told what to do by the mind, which doesn’t take the body into account when making decisions or choosing what to do. If the body is vulnerable it is seen as a failing to be fixed rather than a significant communication.

Experiential Anatomy helps you to listen to the intelligence of the body. Each part of us can be seen as a separate, intelligent, active agent that can contribute to the decision making process like a member of a real democracy. So Experiential Anatomy changes the politics of the self from an autocracy into a democracy. This means that the mind takes the body into account when making choices and learns to move the body in ways that take care of its parts.

Clients most often come to body therapy to fix a painful part of the body, but fixing the problem may not be possible without changing the politics of their self. For instance, if they have a painful knee, it may be possible to relieve the pain through massage. It may even be possible to stop it from re-occurring through exercises that strengthen the muscles that protect the joint. But if the person’s movement habits don’t take the internal messages from the knee into account then eventually the protection will fail and, perhaps as they age, the joint will wear out. Another common example is our attitude to our digestive system. This part of our anatomy has a great deal of intelligence. It knows what we need and sends mood-messages to the brain, which not only tell us we are hungry, but also can tell us what to eat and how to eat.

If we learn to listen to each part of our body then we can become a community of inner intelligences with a combined wisdom far greater than our conscious mind. We call this the Inner Community and it is the foundation stone of Inner Qigong and Movement Shiatsu. Inner Qigong teaches how to use movement and voice explorations to facilitate the Inner Community’s ability to communicate with the conscious mind. Movement Shiatsu does the same but with the help of a practitioner who uses touch and guided movement to deepen the person’s awareness of their body.

We are starting a new term of Inner Qigong classes both online and face to face at the end of September.

And for more information about our online self-study course in Experiential Anatomy or our CPD courses in Movement Shiatsu see

Talking About Physical Democracy

An interview with Bill Palmer about Physical Democracy, which sees the non-verbal parts of the world, including our own organs, muscles and tissues as being intelligent, autonomous agents which should have equal weight to the mental and verbal aspects of the world. Movement Shiatsu and Inner Qigong show people how to listen to these intelligences and how to form a sense of self that is not dominated by the verbal mind.

Movement Shiatsu – Mit den drei Meridian-Familien am Kernprozess arbeiten

Manche Probleme scheinen nicht zu verschwinden, da sie von einem grundlegenden Konflikt innerhalb der Klient*innen herrühren.  Die Klient*in steckt in einer Position fest, in der sie mit ihrer wahren Natur kämpft. Die Probleme tauchen oft in Beziehungen, in emotionalen Mustern oder an körperlichen Schwachstellen auf.

In der chinesischen Medizin können diese Probleme als Manifestation von Ming dessen angesehen werden. Dies wird oft als „Schicksal“ übersetzt. Es kann auch als Beschreibung der Agenda unseres Lebens angesehen werden. Anstatt zu versuchen, diese Kernprobleme zu „therapieren“, können wir lernen, sie in Gelegenheiten für die Entwicklung des wahren Selbst zu sehen.

Die drei Meridianfamilien, die die Grundlage von Movement Shiatsu bilden, können praktische Wege dazu aufzeigen. Die vereinte Energie der Familien verwandelt den Zustand der Klient*in von einem Opfer in einen aktive Entdecker*in, die ihr Leben in die Hand nimmt und den eigenen Zustand nutzt, um ihr ganzes Potenzial auszuschöpfen. Anstatt zu versuchen, Probleme zu heilen oder zu beheben, lernen wir, wie wir Schwierigkeiten als Potential sehen können.


Dieser Kurs untersucht:

  • wie Kernprobleme als Unterbrechungen natürlicher Lebensprozesse angesehen werden können;
  • wie wir den Körper nutzen können, um die Kernprobleme in Lebenslektionen zu transferieren.


Du bist in der Lage:

  • mit emotionalen Mustern über Bewegung und Berührung arbeiten zu können;
  • anhand des Gestaltzyklus die verschiedenen Arten von Prozessunterbrechungen zu verstehen;
  • über die drei Meridian-Familien festgefahrene Prozesse zu identifizieren und zu befreien;
  • Experimente, Qigong und Erkundungen kennen, welche wir  Klient*innen zum Üben für zu Hause mitgeben können.


Fr bis So, 16. Jun – 18. Jun 2023

Inner Qigong Self-Study Course

This course contains articles and videos covering the complete cycle of Inner Qigong.

Inner Qigong focuses on using movement and voice to develop the practitioner’s own experience of their energy functions. These functions maintain the life of the organism and make a connection between physical capacities and mental states. In general, we guide you through a body-exploration, which helps you to feel the state and activity of different organs, muscles, fascia or bones. Then we practice an aspect of Qigong that uses the support of these parts of the body in developing energetic capacities such as “Knowing what you need” or “Creating Clear Boundaries”.

Each of these functions is traditionally related to a meridian and the qigong aims to give you a direct experience of the pathway of these meridians and to explain why they run where they do.

Unlike the live classes, this course is a self-study course and many people find they want to switch to live classes after having tested the water with this course. If this switch is done within one month of enrolment then we are happy to accept the payment for the course as two months subscription to the live classes.

To enrol in this course go to the Inner Qigong Self-Study Enrolment Page.

Physical Democracy

This year, I am trying to open the bodywork we are doing to be accessible to everyone, not just body therapists.

This chimes with my forthcoming book “Physical Democracy” so I thought I’d kick the project off with a blog, followed by a few courses and then the book later this year.

The first course is in Hamburg from Friday 21 – Sunday 23 February. For the others see

The basic idea – integrating self and other.

– The human brain evolved to socialise so the verbal mind is easily influenced by other people, sometimes even harming ourselves

– The body has its own intelligences which have evolved to care for our wellbeing

– (The Meridian Functions are embodiments of some of these body intelligences)

-The verbal mind often overrules or ignores the body intelligences which causes internal conflict, injury or illness

– the techniques of Physical Democracy help a person to:

a) Listen to the intelligences of the body

b) Find a middle way, including both forms of intelligence 

c) Allowing our decisions to be made by all aspects of ourselves

These principles can be taught to everyone using movement processes, simple hands-on techniques, theatre and voicework exercises and the framework of Inner Qigong.

In addition, practitioners of East Asian Therapies can teach clients to balance their lives using the processes of Physical Democracy in a way that integrates well with their treatments . The stages through which people learn Physical Democracy are embodied in the functions of the meridians in the following way.

Step 1: Individuation – learning to feel the body and sense a boundary between self and other.

Meridians involved: Yang Ming (Stomach and Large Intestine) & Tai Yin (Spleen and Lung)

Step 2: Listening to Inner Impulses – learning to discriminate between the motivations from self and from other

Meridians Involved:  Tai Yang (Bladder and Small intestine) & Shao Yin (Kidney and  Heart)

Step 3: Finding the Middle Way – learning to resolve conflict between self and other and to make decisions with both body and mind.

Meridians Involved:  Shao Yang (Gall Bladder and Triple Heater) & Jue Yin (Liver and Pericardium)

The Joy Divisions (Six Forms of Touch Part 3)

The Joy Divisions

By Bill Palmer M.Sc., FoSS, ADPT

This article is the third in a series describing ways of working directly with the Qi of the Six Divisions[1]. They describe how your attitude, your quality of touch and your interactions with the client are just as important as the choice of meridians you work with. In fact, in situations where the condition is deeply embedded in unconscious habits, I find these ‘Forms of Touch’ to be essential. In these cases working with meridians alone often meets an unconscious resistance to change because changing deep patterns means changing the self, which is scary. However, by working with the Forms of Touch, the client is involved in exploring themselves, experimenting with their patterns and feels in control of their process, so that resistance is not triggered.

The energy functions to which each form of touch relates are often called the Six Divisions of Yin and Yang. The Six Divisions pair a leg meridian with a synergistic meridian in the arm. These pairings are both Yang or both Yin and show how the two Organs work together as part of a deeper function.

Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn’t define these deeper functions. However, my research in the 1980’s into child development showed clearly that these Divisions guide infant movement development by showing how to join up primitive movements into whole body actions[2]. Moreover, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s research showed that these archetypal baby movements also form the foundation of the child’s personality and develop mental and emotional capacities as well as physical ones[3].  So effectively, a baby is learning to embody the Qi of the Organs through learning to move.

This article describes the deeper functions embodied in the connection between Kidney and Heart, which is called the Shao Yin, and between the Bladder and Small Intestine, called the Tai Yang. As with the other two groups of four meridians, these form a connected family all of which are concerned with intention, motivation and action. The two divisions also connect the Water Element to the Fire Element, meaning that they transform unconscious motivations into conscious intention and channel this energy into actions which align with the spirit.

The Dilemma of Being Human

Human culture is a vast web of mimicry. As Susan Blackmore points out, we learn by copying more than any other animal[4]. Much of our sense of self is copied, even if we are not aware of it, because we define ourselves largely by what our social groups like and dislike. However, young children copy differently to older ones. Much of a young child’s learning comes from spontaneous exploration and play.

Of course, exploration is always a part of learning but, as Erik Erikson pointed out, children after the age of five are progressively more concerned with fitting into their peer groups[5]. Their games tend to have rules and groups of children in this stage often exclude other children who don’t fit in.  The threat of exclusion often pressures the child to conform to a group norm. This pressure to conform increases in the teenage years and, in addition,  secondary school also tends to squash initiative and creativity. By the time we are adults, most of us have all but lost our ability to spontaneously play and to explore. As Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up”.

I play the piano and am particularly interested in free improvisation. This is a genre which has no rules, follows no agreed chord structures and is created spontaneously. When I started to play with others I was initially blocked by the desire to get things right, to sound good.  But this only had the effect of freezing my creativity and made it impossible for me to really listen to the other musicians. It took years to let go of the fear of getting things wrong and start to let my musical creativity flow.

In order to be really creative, one needs to let go of pre-conception and listen to the subtle messages of the unconscious, because almost by definition, ideas that are new to you come from your unconscious. Most of creativity training in the arts concentrates on the breaking of habits and the process of letting go of our internal critic, which tells us how things should be. But letting go of preconceptions gives space for creativity but is not enough in itself. You also need to make contact with the unconscious and help it to come into consciousness.

The dilemma of being human is how to remain in touch with our authentic, creative spirit while learning to live harmoniously with the society around us. Most of us squash our primal energy down in order to fit in, but this leads to the slow death of the spirit where a person just exists rather than living their life. The deep lesson of the Shao Yin is to value our primal energy as the ‘fuel’ of our spirit and to make space in our lives for its expression.

The Joyful Spirit

What do we mean by our spirit? For the purposes of this article I am not interested in the beliefs that different cultures have about it. Nor do we need to delve into the labyrinth of philosophies about consciousness and mind. There is a common sense, practically useful meaning to spirit: it is the aspect of ourselves which feels alive, joyful, excited, clear and truthful. If we do not feel these then we are not in touch with our spirit, whatever it is. This lack of joy is different to the feelings we have when we go against the rules of our social group. Then we feel guilty or ashamed. But it is perfectly possible to act with joy, to say your truth and at the same time feel guilty for disappointing or hurting someone we love. By becoming aware of the difference between guilt and joylessness we can learn the difference between our conditioned self and our core spirit.

The spirit has a dark side too. It is also our purely selfish side which doesn’t care about other people but is energised by primal drives. Freud called this “cesspit of sex and selfishness” the Unconscious Id[6], which many religions feel needs to be inhibited. But this suppression also cuts us off from our vitality. Maybe our spiritual challenge is to stay in touch with our spirit while choosing not to act on it when it would harm our social groups.

I think that the solution to this dilemma is to learn to bring the spirit into consciousness. Then we can be in dialogue with it. If society or another person expects us to act in a certain way we can ask our spirit: “Is that OK with you?”. Most often, the spirit says yes, even if it’s not exactly what it would have done. But sometimes it says “No, I can’t live with that” and if you over-ride that message then an essential part of your authentic self dies.

The Shao Yin

Traditionally, in Chinese Medicine, our primal life energy is attributed to the Kidney. I would prefer to say that it is called the Kidney because I think that it is not necessary to follow the medieval Chinese belief that every ‘energetic’ function is the responsibility of an internal organ. To me, a form of Qi is some holistic activity of the organism that applies to both body and mind and the traditional physical organ associated with that function is chosen because it expresses a physical metaphor for the energy. There are many stories about why the kidney was chosen as the metaphor for the primal spirit, but the historical reason is not important, it is enough that we are naming a real aspect of ourselves.

In the same way, the Heart is a label for awareness; it is not saying that the phenomenon of consciousness lives in the heart organ. So the process of bringing primal spirit into consciousness involves making a bridge between the Kidney and the Heart. This combination is one of the Six Divisions, called the Shao Yin. However, simply working with the two meridians is not enough to become aware of our primal spirit. Instead, one needs to learn how to feel the subtle sensations coming from parts of us that are normally unconscious and how to facilitate their expression.

As with learning to improvise, you first have to learn to let go of inhibition and self-control. Then you can learn to listen to the elusive sensations coming from the movements of deeper, unconscious parts and to allow them to initiate whole-body movements. These spontaneous movements are the natural language of the spirit and both express it and bring it into consciousness. The form of touch we call Amplifying Touch consists of several techniques for helping this process through facilitated movement and through voicework.

Voice is a particularly direct way of contacting the spirit. I don’t mean learning to sing, or trying to sound nice.  Alfred Wolfsohn, whose approach to voicework has been a great inspiration to me, observed that the voice is part of us that we squash into tiny limits in order to form our persona[7]. We tend to speak and sing within a small range of notes, and this self-limitation directly corresponds to our limitation of the spirit. He developed many accessible exercises to explore and widen the range of the voice that I find a powerful way of letting the spirit speak in the first person.

The Tai Yang

Once you can hear your spirit, the next challenge is how to act in alignment with it. The reason that we squash and inhibit our primal selves is usually that it scares and embarrasses us. Most of us don’t speak our truth but express a version of ourselves that is designed to impress others. Being authentic doesn’t mean that one always follows the urges of the primal self but that we acknowledge it and don’t hide it from others.

Learning authenticity is difficult and often brings up old feelings of shame but, even within the context of body therapy, there are ways of safely helping a person to develop it. The most important is modelling. Being genuine yourself gives the message that it’s ok for the other to express their truth. When someone’s true spirit starts to appear after years of being squashed, the energy is often highly emotionally charged. This is not the nature of spirit but is the result of letting off the pressure of being contained. If the therapist is frightened by the energy and tries to calm the client down then they give the client the message that they need to keep that energy hidden. On the other hand, if the therapist can choose to facilitate and hold space for the strong energy then the client feels that it’s ok to show it.  The ability of the therapist to contain their own fear and give space for the client’s spirit gives them the message that they can do that for themselves.

Inhibition and control is performed by the muscles, so another effective way of contacting our primal energy is to help the client to get in touch with aspects of the body that are not in the business of control. Two body systems are particularly potent doorways into this realm.  I have already mentioned Amplifying Touch which helps the internal organs to express their authentic energy. Once someone can sense the energy of their spirit, touching the bones stimulates awareness how it can flow clearly through the body without triggering the emotions surrounding its imprisonment.

The Tai Yang joins the Bladder to the Small Intestine.  I have written in other articles2 how infants develop the ability to crawl by using muscles along these meridians.  Through this archetypal movement they learn to align their actions with their intention and learn to be pro-active in the world.[8] In adults, activating this connection helps to develop clarity and authentic action. The Bladder connects our excitement (for instance: seeing something interesting) with our ability to act and move towards it through the use of our legs and spine. The muscles along the Bladder meridian align the skeleton to clearly channel energy rather than control it with muscles.

But unless your motivation is aligned with your spirit then any amount of skeletal alignment won’t resolve that deeper conflict. Many of our urges come from our conditioning and from the expectations of others. Some of these ‘outer impulses’ are in alignment with our spirit and some are not. So we also need the ability to discriminate between outer motivations that our spirit can accept and those which would squash it. This function is metaphorically called the Small Intestine, because it is that part of the body which discriminates between the nutrients from the outer world that can be assimilated and those that need to be excreted.

The muscles along the Small Intestine meridian have a dual role. In contraction, they tighten the neck and shoulders, stopping the free flow of energy up the skeleton and inhibiting the spirit. On the other hand, if they are energised but not tense, then when you reach with the arm, they connect it into the spine and thus connect the reach of the arm with the push of the legs. The eyes see something exciting, the arms reach for it and the legs push us towards it. The whole action is channelled by the muscles along both the Bladder and the Small Intestine meridians and the combination of the two channels forms the Tai Yang Division.

So the Tai Yang division is the expression of our authentic spirit in action. It needs the consciousness of our primal impulses that the Shao Yin gives and provides a completion to those energies, bringing them into the world.

The Form of Touch associated with the Tai Yang is called Clarifying Touch, It involves all the approaches I have mentioned above. Modelling authenticity, supporting expression of spontaneity, helping the client to feel the flow of excitement through the skeleton and working with the Bladder and Small Intestine meridians to channel this energy clearly through the body.

Being authentic, acting from spirit and speaking our truth lets energy flow freely and the experience of this is the emotion of Joy. Both the Shao Yin and the Tai Yang are intimately connected in this process, so I call these two divisions the Joy Divisions. Maybe it was my unconscious that made the connection with  the 1980’s band called the Joy Division. In any case, it is appropriate. Their music broke many of the rules of rock music and I think we need some of that anarchism to free ourselves of our inhibiting conditioning and learn to act through choice rather than by convention.

Bill and Teresa are running a workshop on how to work with the Joy Divisions in Totnes 13-15 March. for details.

[1] The Six Forms of Touch – Bill Palmer. Shiatsu Society Journal 147 & 149.

[2] The Development of Energy – Bill Palmer, Journal of Shiatsu and Oriental Body Therapy 1993-1994

[3] Sensing, Feeling and Action – Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, 1994

[4] The Meme Machine – Susan Blackmore 2000

[5] Childhood and Society – Erik Erikson 1950

[6]The Theory of the Unconscious, –  Sigmund Freud, Octave Mannoni, 1971

[7] Jung and Alfred Wolfsohn: analytical psychology and the singing voice. P Newman, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 37