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

Six Forms of Touch (Part 2)

Valuing Touch and Dancing Touch

In my last article , I explained that a “Form of Touch” is a quality of contact that activates functions that span both body and mind. Each Form of Touch is really an attitude which is transmitted through the quality of physical touch and also flavours the whole relationship between therapist and client. In my view this inner attitude is more important than the techniques or meridians used. It can happen that practitioners work with a meridian but undermine the Qi of the meridian through their attitude.

The energy functions to which each form of touch relates are often called the Six Divisions of Yin and Yang. Whereas the pairing of meridians in the Five Elements show a Yin-Yang, complementary relationship between two Zang-Fu Organ functions, 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 it was the pathways of these Divisions that guided infant movement development and, at a biological and social level, facilitated the formation of the self.

The Inner Community
Physiologists, neuroscientists and psychologists no longer view our self as a single entity governed by a central controller. Instead there is convincing evidence that both body and mind are made up of a community of autonomous parts, all competing and collaborating with each other . It is from this complex network of mutual communication that a single sense of self emerges.

This viewpoint makes a vital difference to medicine, whether orthodox or alternative. Over 80% of orthodox medicine is palliative or surgical, meaning that it is simply getting rid of the symptoms caused by a part of the body that isn’t working. Much of alternative medicine is based on various models of organic harmony with their own diagnostic and treatment protocols. Energetically, these systems are aiming to control the system; to bring it into a ‘correct’ state. However, if one takes the ‘community view’ of the body seriously, then much of medicine is not taking the group dynamics of the body into account and thus the treatments do not last.

To give a simple example, in many forms of Shiatsu, the (simplistic) idea is to find a Kyo-Jitsu pair of meridians that relate to each other, to support and nourish the Kyo and to disperse the Jitsu. However, if the condition is chronic, then the Jitsu energy has been working hard for years, and resents being ‘dispersed’ just as a person in a group who has been organizing the teas for years can resent being told to stop because other people are now willing to do the job. The Jitsu-person needs to be valued by the rest of the group for the work he has been doing before he can let go.

There is now a large body of research into what makes groups of people work well together . These insights can be transferred directly into a bodywork session and we can use group facilitation principles to help the inner community to work well together. We will show how four meridians, which form two Divisions, are responsible for helping the inner community to follow these “group principles”. The Forms of Touch related to these divisions demonstrate how to activate them through bodywork and through your attitude.

Liver – Group Purpose
Groups usually need a purpose to stay together. If this ‘group purpose’ is not clear the group tends to fragment. In the first part of adulthood our sense of purpose seems to focus on attracting partners, children, jobs, creativity and status. One of the issues of getting older is that many of these earlier purposes cease to be relevant, which can lead to the breakup of the Inner Community and serious health problems. The Liver that provides a central purpose for the internal community to collaborate around and its flexibility is important to redefine our purpose at different stages of life.

Pericardium – Networking
However, having a central purpose is not enough to form a community. For a truly collaborative group to form, every part of the body-mind needs to connect and communicate with every other part. This network of connectivity is represented by the Pericardium function. In Chinese the Pericardium is called the Xin Bao, or the Heart Fascia.

But Bao means more than fascia; the character pictures a womb (the red bit is an embryo); so the fascia is seen as more than just connective tissue, it also embraces and nurtures every member of the inner community. Fascia gives the physical foundation for the interconnections within the community. It is this feeling of supportive connectedness within the internal community that the Pericardium facilitates.

The Jue Yin and Valuing Touch
The Liver and Pericardium together form the Jue Yin Division. The Pericardium embraces each member and gives them a sense of connectedness. The Liver is more active, holding everything together, and is thus more embodied in muscle. However, a group that is working well and communicating with each other does not need to be forced together. In such a group the Liver embraces the whole, valuing every part and providing a central purpose to gather round. It’s only when a group is fractured that the Liver needs to resort to control to hold things together.

People often come to Shiatsu because they want to make a change; to fix a problematic part of themselves. But to help a group to function, one has to start by valuing each member for what they are already doing, not what they could do if they changed. For example, a chronically tense muscle is painful and it is natural to want it to change and let go. But the purpose of chronic tension is often to protect. This can be useful in the healing of trauma even if the end result is dysfunctional. So the tension can be appreciated for its role in the inner community. Valuing a habit for the job it’s been doing can produce a profound transformation. I often murmer “Well done!” under my breath when contacting such an issue. This attitude encourages each part of the self to feel a valuable part of the team and paradoxically helps it to change.

Each form of touch consists of an attitude and a physical technique. The Form of Touch associated with the Jue Yin is called “Valuing Touch” , whose attitude is embracing and valuing what is already happening rather than trying to change things. The physical aspect involves helping the client to choose to do what she is already (unconsciously) doing. For instance, instead of trying to release a chronically tense muscle, one can show the client how to consciously condense the fibres in the muscle. By doing this she can own and value the job the muscle is already doing and she can frequently find another way of doing that job so that the muscle can be released from its bondage.

This is fundamentally different to the Sotai techniques of contract-and-release because the latter is just another technique for releasing the muscle rather than valuing what it is doing. Chronically tense muscles are not fooled by Sotai because they know that they are doing a necessary job, even if it is not the most harmonious way of doing it!

The Shao Yang and Dancing Touch
The complementary Division to the Jue Yin is the Shao Yang, consisting of the Gall Bladder and the Triple Heater. Whereas the Jue Yin focuses on giving a feeling of connectedness, these Yang functions are concerned with how the internal community acts together and resolves conflict between its members.

There are essentially two distinct forms of conflict. One could be called the Shoot Out, where two forces are acting in what seems to them to be opposite directions. The only solution that the combatants see is that one or the other wins and beats the loser.

The other is the “Cop Out” where two people who are in relationship don’t make contact, creating a tension between them because they are also needing to work together.

In a group, if one person is Copping Out, then it often diverts the energy of the group into trying to pull the cop-out back into the team. This is a very common form of conflict in the body where one part is not doing its job.


Conflict resolution depends on finding a common activity within which both forces can feel equally valued. This could be called The Magic Roundabout.

The Triple Heater focuses on helping every part of the internal community to be involved. The Gall Bladder function focuses on helping potentially conflicting members to use their differences in collaboration.

For example, to provide strength, it is common for one side of a joint to be braced while the other moves. But this causes conflict in the joint – just as if one partner in a dance holds still while the other tries to move. If this pattern remains even when strength is not needed then the continual conflict can wear the joint down. If one can teach the braced bone to join the dance the conflict can be turned into harmonious and graceful movement. Because of this metaphor, the Form of Touch associated with the Shao Yang is called “Dancing Touch” and this joint work is a physical example.

The same principles can be applied to any form of conflict in a person’s life. If they are feeling pulled in opposite directions then Dancing Touch listens to both sides of the conflict and explores how they are connected. Often a common direction emerges that respects both energies and allows both to act together.

The Integrating Family
The Jue Yin and the Shao Yang work together as a family of four meridians to Integrate the Inner Community. Together they also join the Wood and the Ministerial Fire Elements, which are both concerned with relationship. Working with Valuing Touch and Dancing Touch aims to heal the dysfunctional dynamics within the community and then the group can reconfigure to deal with its challenges with good heart. This is particularly relevant for old age, disability and chronic conditions. In these cases we are not necessarily trying to heal the condition but to help the person-community to embrace it and deal with it in the best way they can. The important principle in working with this family is not to aim for change but to value what is there and help it to explore its potential.

Case History
One client taught me a lot about these forms of touch. Sally came to me with period pains and migraines but immediately I started working with her, she tensed up, blocking the touch. When we noticed this reaction she remembered that she had a dreadful skin disease as a little girl, because of which she couldn’t be touched for a year. So she was in conflict, she wanted to be touched but the traumatic memory blocked it when it was offered.

My first response was to value the blocking. It had been doing a good job protecting her from the pain of that trauma and we spent a session feeling the contraction and saying “Well Done!” to it. Next, I suggested that, when she felt the first signs of the contraction she told me to stop and actively pushed me away. Through this activity she was exploring an expansive and conscious way to protect herself instead of the unconscious contraction.

It took several sessions for her to find the confidence to really open to touch, knowing she could push me away at any time. Eventually she found a way of meeting her need for contact and trusting in her boundaries that transformed the chronic Kyo-Jitsu dynamic: she could open herself to receive what she needed knowing that she could always push away what she couldn’t cope with .

Thus the original conflict was resolved by finding the common ground between Invitation and Protection. Both energies became aspects of Expansion. She could let go of Contraction as a way of protection. Almost irrelevantly, the physical symptoms she had come with also disappeared.

1 Bill Palmer, The Six Forms of Touch, Shiatsu Society Journal Autumn 2018

2 Bill Palmer, Development of the Yang Ming and Tai Yin in infants. JSOBT 1995

3 Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained

4 Dale Hunter, The Art of Facilitation

5 Dragon Dreaming:

6 Eight Shields:

7 For more about this case history see

The Three Cycles of Inner Qigong

Inner Qigong is a synthesis of traditional Qigong, Developmental Movement and Somatic Exploration. Its aim is to bring awareness to different body systems such as the inner organs, the fascia, the skeleton and the muscle system and to explore how they all contribute to your ways of being, both in body and mind.

We use the developmental movements to show how the meridians of Chinese Medicine are actually the pathways along which we learn, as babies,  to join up the body and make intentional movements. Babies not only learn to use their bodies through these movements but also develop their characteristic way of being and personality.

The twelve movement meridians act together in three groups of four.  Each of these groups teaches a profound life lesson by embodying its energy through the movements of the Qigong.

The first lesson is how to define and be grounded in yourself.  If you are centred and relaxed in how you are then you can both have clear boundaries and be open to receive support and nourishment from the outer world. The physical side of this is learned by first feeling how the ground supports us, feeling the upward force from the ground flowing up into the inner organs and supporting us from underneath.

When the organs are expanded by this support they form a buoyant and springy centre to the body, which we can relax onto without collapsing. In fact, their bouncy tone moves our energy upward and outward. This self-support underlies our ability to be authentic, have clear boundaries and ultimately have mutually supportive and nourishing relationships.

The second lesson is how to act and move in a way that is aligned with your inner spirit.  Many of us inhibit our spirit because we are over-concerned with other people’s approval. Physically we learn to act with spirit by feeling our inner motivations and listening to them. Maybe we don’t act on them all the time because we also live in society, but at least we acknowledge them.

Physically, we can feel this clarity by learning to feel how the force of our movements travels through the skeleton and how to align our bodies so that our actions are consistent with our intention. The Inner Qigong of this group of meridian movements first teach us to become aware of our skeleton as the physical aspect of our core being. The qigong develops practices which access our primal energy – deep, often unconscious, impulses that give vitality to life – and to feel how to align our actions with our primal spirit.

The third lesson is how to creatively deal with conflict. Once we act authentically and move in the world we come into contact with other actions and movements that might not agree with ours. Two dysfunctional ways of dealing with this conflict are fight and flight. In one we try and dominate and, in the other, we collapse and lose ourselves. In both cases, we are not able to find a mutually agreeable relationship.

This is also true inside our body. Sometimes an action seems to require a movement that puts an unhealthy strain on another part of the body. The trick is learning how to involve the whole body in all the movements so that each part feels integrated and involved. Physically we learn this through developing elasticity in the muscles and fascia which give the sense of being joined together. The Inner Qigong of this group of movement meridians first shows how all parts of the body are connected and then uses those connections to develop spiral movements, which involve every dimension of the body.

The Six Forms of Touch (Part 1)

The Six Forms of Touch is a system of training that I developed almost 40 years ago. The main idea is that the WAY in which you contact a person is as important, or even more important, than the meridians with which you choose to work. This article describes two of these Forms,

The Six Divisions

Each form of touch relates to one of the Six Divisions, which I wrote about some time ago, and it might help to remember the deep meaning of these channels.  Each of the six divisions is the combination of a leg meridian with an arm meridian and I think they were the inspiration for Masunaga’s meridian extensions.

However, the six divisions express deeper archetypes than the functions of the individual meridians. The Ling Shu states “The arms reach to Heaven while the legs stand on the Earth”. So each arm meridian embodies an energy through which our body expresses mental and spiritual capacities. In contrast the leg meridians express the way in which our feelings, thoughts and spirit can become embodied, supported by the Earth and transformed into action. The combined channel forms a bridge between the body and spirit and this bridge is a kind of combination of the energies of the leg and arm meridian. Just as the Five Elements combine the meridians into Yin-Yang pairs, as if they were brother and sister, the divisions combine them into Yang-Yang and Yin-Yin pairs, two brothers and two sisters.

For instance, the Stomach and the Large Intestine together form the Yang Ming division. The stomach function, essentially, is to reach out and ask for what we need. Notice that it is  a Yang function so it impels our body into action – in this case to reach out and to take in nourishment. The Yin “sister” of the Stomach is the Spleen whose function is to receive the nourishment, filling and toning the flesh. The Stomach’s Yang “brother”, on the other hand, is the Large Intestine who gets rid of those things that we have taken in which are not needed.

So the Yang Ming has the deeper function of maintaining our boundaries and forming our individuality. The Large Intestine’s ability to say “No” to things which we don’t need is often a necessary precursor before we feel safe enough to ask for something that we do need. The Yang Ming mediates our exchange with the outer world and gives us our sense of self and other.

The last member of this family is the Lung, who is the sister to the Large Intestine and elder sister of the Spleen. The Lung’s relationship to the Large Intestine is that she expands us to fill our personal space the boundaries of which the Large Intestine guards. This expansive energy is also protective and allows us to have clear boundaries without them becoming barriers to contact. The Lung’s relationship to the Spleen is that she continues the inner expansion of the Spleen into the outer world.

Together they make a family which has the profound but simple function of maintaining our sense of self within our exchanges with the outer world.


Forms of Touch

Although the forms of touch are related to the Six Divisions, they are not treatment techniques. By this I mean that they are not techniques to be used when there is an imbalance in one division. Instead they describe six different dimensions of therapeutic contact and a good therapist will be using all of them. However, if there is an imbalance in one division, then one should be clear that your contact with the client includes the form of touch associated with it.

To illustrate this, let us start by describing the form associated with the YangMing division. The YangMing has the function of actively reaching for what we need and pushing out what we don’t need. The important aspect of this division is that it is active, so in order to support its energy the client has to be active and interactive.

This is unusual within the traditional format of a Shiatsu session because, usually, Shiatsu is performed in silence – the client being quite passive and the practitioner making the decisions about what the client needs. This silence also has an important function so I am not disparaging it. But a client who has difficulty with boundaries will often accept without question what someone else thinks they need and is therefore open to abuse in their lives. If we simply follow the routine of diagnosis and silent treatment within the Shiatsu session then we are not helping such a client to develop their active ability to maintain their boundaries.

In fact, I think this is true for many people, who need to have explicit permission to ask for what they need and to say no to things that feel wrong. This is what a strong YangMing gives us. The YangMing form of touch gives this permission and actively helps develop its energy in the client.

All the forms of touch have two aspects:

    • A technique which develops a capacity or develops the client’s awareness.
    • An inner attitude on the part of the practitioner. Our touch subtly transmits our inner state even if the client is not consciously aware of it.

The technique part of YangMing Touch is best performed as an ‘awareness exercise’. I help the client to scan through their own body and to notice any places which they feel are significant. This can be difficult for people who are not very aware of their body and I find that at first they only notice  places where they feel pain or tension. However, as they receive more bodywork, more subtle sensations come to the surface. I then ask them if there is a place where they would like to be touched and if they are not sure, I just ask them to choose one of the places they noticed in the scanning.

When a person is actually touched, they can usually feel more clearly where they want the contact. It’s as if the mind has an idea what the body wants but, when the body is touched, it knows what it needs much more precisely than the mind does. So I immediately give them permission to change their request and to guide me to a place that feels ‘right’. I also say that they can ask me to change the quality of touch, for instance to press more deeply or to give soft contact with the palm.  By this I’m giving them permission to say no to what I suggest and to ask for exactly what they need. This process is teaching them to listen to what their body wants rather than to what their mind THINKS their body wants.

The ‘inner attitude’ part of this form of touch requires the practitioner to let go of the desire to fix a problem, to let go of the high status which comes with the ability to diagnose and treat and to be totally open to the requests and corrections of the client. If you are used to deciding where to touch and how to touch it can feel disconcerting, even insulting, to be asked to do something different. Maybe you DO know best but the point is to teach the person to listen to their body and to develop their own expertise. To do that, you must get out of the way and let the other person explore themselves.

It can actually be a great liberation to form a more equal relationship with the client  because, face it, there are times when you feel a bit lost and being able to ask the client where they would like to go next keeps contact with them and maintains the flow of the treatment. Moreover, this exercise gives them permission to give useful feedback while you are working.

In summary, YangMing touch is the aspect of therapeutic relationship which is helping a person to listen to their own needs and explore themselves rather than being dependent on the expertise of the therapist. It does not subtract from the competence of the therapist, in fact it needs awareness and skill to create an environment where the client is able to share what they really need and safe enough to guide the therapist while they are working.

Tai Yin Touch

The Yin side of this family of meridians is the TaiYin. It is the combination of Spleen and Lung.  As I said before, the connection between these two energy functions is that they are both related to expansion. The Spleen is the ability of the organism to receive nourishment and fill the tissues, toning the organs and the flesh.The Lung takes that expansion further and fills our personal space, making contact with the outer world. Whereas the YangMing governs the gates of our personal space, the TaiYin fills it.

If the TaiYin is not working then there is a tendency to collapse inward and this movement sucks other people in to fill the hole. So it creates a Victim state which feels that it needs Rescue. Stephen Karpman described what he called the ‘Drama Triangle’, which describes how the Victim role is also vulnerable to abuse.  This abuse doesn’t have to be evil in intent – the Rescuer can easily cross over boundaries, giving specific advice or performing particular interventions which subtly make the client more dependent on the Rescuer rather than empowering them to be more independent.

The essence of TaiYin touch is that it focuses on meeting someone at their boundary rather than diving in to fix their problems. I often call this form of touch “Front Door Touch” because, energetically, it is analogous to the act of knocking on someone’s door and waiting for them to open it, rather than marching into the house and sorting things out. This is a subtle attitude but makes an enormous difference to the relationship. It covers the way you ask questions, the way you physically touch and the clarity of the contracts you make. For example:

Asking open questions

Open questions help a person to explore themselves and express their hidden feelings rather than simply supplying information to the questioner. This is particularly important in bodywork because open questions help the person to get in touch with their body instead of getting caught up in emotional stories. I call questions that narrow the field and ask for explanations “Pointed Questions”. In general pointed questions are asked for the understanding of the the practitioner, to help them make a diagnosis. Open questions, on the other hand, are asked for the benefit of the client. For instance:

Client: “Im feeling angry today”

Pointed Question: What happened to make you angry? (This takes the client away from the present, away from their body and into the past. Energetically this is an inward direction and doesn’t help the client to express their present feelings. It enmeshes them in a story)

Open Questions: Where do you feel that in your body?  If you were to express that feeling with a movement, what would you do? Etc.

With open questions you are not trying to analyse or diagnose or fix things, but they stimulate the client to explore and express. In other words, energetically, they stimulate expansion and so activate the TaiYin.

Touching the Superficial Fascia

When one stretches a muscle there is a point of “first contact” where you have taken up the slack in the muscle fibres but have not begun to lengthen them. If you stay at that point then the receiver has the opportunity to let go, open up and lengthen the muscle themselves instead of being passively stretched, This is again analogous to knocking on the door and waiting for the owner to come to you.

In the same way, when one presses a tsubo, there is a point of first contact. This occurs when the touch has taken up the looseness in the skin and meets the elasticity of the layer of fascia just underneath it. This layer has only recently been recognised by anatomists for what it is. Previously it was just seen as subcutaneous fat, but actually it is a tough layer of loose knit connective tissue holding the fat cells. Moreover, it has recently been found that this layer also contains a large number of sensory nerves – mainly stretch receptors – which sense the movements of the muscles and organs below. It covers the whole body like an internal diving suit and, just as the skin is a sense organ facing outwards to sense the world through touch, this “superficial fascia” is a sense organ facing inwards, giving a sense of the holistic integrity of the body. In a sense it is the inner boundary of our body. Making contact with it but not going deeper gives the receiver a sense of their wholeness and knocks on their front door, encouraging their Qi to wake up and participate in the therapy.

In summary, Tai Yin touch comes forward to make contact but stops that forward energy immediately one senses that one is crossing a boundary. At that point, you don’t back off but open out, waiting for the receiver’s energy to expand outwards to meet you and open the door. It needs practice to reliably feel those boundaries because the Victim archetype is actually asking you to come in further. Using the Front Door analogy, the Victim is calling from the bedroom for you to open the door and come up to rescue them. If you don’t collude with this, you help the person to really express their underlying vulnerability and this, paradoxically empowers them to find their own resources rather than rely on rescue.


I hope that the descriptions of Yangming and Taiyin touch have given a clear idea of what I mean by a Form of Touch. I see these ‘therapeutic attitudes’ to be more effective than any particular choice of meridian that one may make. In fact, the wrong attitude can completely sabotage the therapy even if the diagnosis is precise and appropriate. For instance, if the receiver is low in energy, depressed, collapsed and with low tone to the muscles a TCM diagnosis may well indicate treatment of the Spleen meridian. But if the attitude of the therapist is that of an expert treating a passive client then the work will not wake up the Spleen function. In fact, it will maintain the dynamic, because the low Spleen energy is expressed in the archetype of the Victim and this is simply amplified by therapeutic Rescue. It is the attitudes of the Forms of Touch associated with the TaiYin (and maybe also of the YangMing later on) which activate and energise the self-supporting, expansive energy of the Spleen. Thus the Six Forms of Touch show what attitude and what quality of physical touch activate the holistic energy functions and make the whole therapy consistent with the work on the meridians.

Bill Palmer and Teresa Hadland are teaching three UK workshops in 2019 which will explain al the forms of touch in depth. They are also running a workshop in Totnes on the 1st and 2nd December which gives an overview of the Six Forms and acts as a taster for the one year programme. See for more details.

Our Philosophy

The philosophy underlying our work comes from two sources, Taoism and Dzog Chen.

Taoism has a basic attitude which values the natural process. You shouldn’t push against the water. Taoism seems to be the philosophical system that describes the nature of life most accurately.

Life needs to be adaptable and resilient. Adaptability comes from flexibility but resilience comes from strength. If there is too much flexibility then nothing persists. If there is too much strength then things can’t change when necessary. So life depends on the dynamic and complex interaction of two complementary qualities. This is the meaning of Yin and Yang in Taoist philosophy.

Taoism is also practical. Because it sees these two qualities as being dependent on each other then they interact in a way that is strange to the mechanistic philosophy of western medicine. On the other hand, the principles are familiar within human psychology and martial arts.

For instance Taoism would say: “If you are stuck, then go further into stuckness and when the Yang of the stuckness reaches its extreme it will naturally transform into the Yin of release.”

In terms of therapy, it would say: ” Don’t try to cure a chronic condition because you don’t know the consequences, but become aware, experiment, help things to move and the condition will transform through natural development.”

The Taoists never strive for perfection because that is an idea, and the idea may not run in the same direction as the natural process. For instance, it is possible that a serious disease could be a valuable process in someone’s life, even if it kills them. One of my clients once said to me that she didn’t want to distract herself by hoping to cure her newly diagnosed cancer because she wanted to spend the rest of her life fully living. In fact, she ended up living for another 9 years, although the doctors initially gave her six months without treatment. Her viewpoint was very Taoist.

Dzog Chen, or ‘Great Perfection’ in Tibetan is a spiritual approach which values Direct Experience instead of ideas. Instead of seeing spiritual practice as a way of attaining a state of enlightenment, Dzog Chen practice focuses on letting go of the stories and ideas about yourself and your goals and targets. From this viewpoint, striving after change only takes you further away from the direct experience of yourself.

Paradoxically, it is only when you let go of the desire to be better that you are fully present in yourself. If change happens, it happens as an organic, developmental process – like a baby growing up. We don’t say that a baby is an imperfect adult – the baby is perfect as a baby – and by fully being a baby, it will grow and change into other forms of perfection. As I see it, this is the essential viewpoint of Dzog Chen

The three principles of Movement Shiatsu are:

  1. Help the client to have a direct sensation of themselves instead of perceiving themselves through various stories. To be aware of their current ability rather than focusing on their imperfections.
  2. Teach the client exercises through which they can explore the new connections and help the initial direct awareness become embodied in their nervous system.
  3. Help the client to integrate their direct experience of themselves into the rest of their life through experiments which they perform outside the therapy sessions.

These, to me are an echo of the three basic principles of Dzog Chen. There are two articles which expand on this:

Disability is Personal Ability

Body Buddhism