Compassionate care through touch – An interview with Niamh van Meines

Niamh van Meines
is a nurse practitioner, currently self employed as a nurse consultant. She is also a licensed massage therapist, and a skilled clinical leader and educator in oncology, homecare, hospice and palliative care. Together with Barbara Goldschmidt, she has written the new book, Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand, published by JKP imprint Singing Dragon.

Here, Niamh explains why touch is so essential to care.

Can you tell us a bit about the paths that led you to massage therapy, and to its applications in integrative health and palliative care?

I was a homecare nurse and wanted to offer therapy that would be comforting to my patients in ways that nursing did not routinely provide care. While massage therapy is within the scope of practice for nurses, I did not feel prepared to perform massage effectively, especially with patients who had chronic and terminal illness. I decided to go to the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy and my interest in incorporating massage into nursing practice came from there. There are multiple studies that show the beneficial effect of massage therapy on the symptoms associated with disease, so I believe massage can be utilized as a symptom management technique. This is very useful in palliative and hospice care where multiple therapies, treatments and modalities are used to alleviate the distress that patients experience.

How did the new book come about, and what is it about, generally?

Barbara asked me to join her in writing this book as she had developed the hand massage protocol and implemented it in a nursing home. My expertise in hospice and palliative care and perspective on providing comfort for patients through multiple avenues resulted in a wonderful collaboration with this book. We both had an interest in providing ways for caregivers to help and to feel that their efforts are effective in providing comfort, so teaching hand massage to caregivers is a great opportunity to change not only the patient’s experience, but also the caregiver’s experience too.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about care?

I believe that caring for any person who is ill begins with compassion which can be delivered in many ways. Touch is one of the most fundamental ways to offer support and caring and is often underestimated or disregarded in healthcare settings. Touch is often mechanistic and task oriented, so teaching healthcare practitioners to incorporate hand massage redirects their actions to that of a caring activity, which also has an affect on their perspective on helping to “heal”. A hand massage is a wonderful, easy introduction to using touch. From a caregiver’s perspective, they often feel disconnected from the person who is ill or weary of touching them, so it’s a wonderful way to approach the ill person and provide care in a manner that is satisfying to the ill person and to the caregiver, and safe. The hands are the most logical place to start as it often is the first place that we touch when communicating with and meeting people for the first time.

What are the benefits of touch as a way of connecting with people, as opposed to other methods of communication?

Touch can convey so many things that other forms of communication do not. Touch can be directed in many ways. It can have a calming effect or a stimulating effect that can be tailored to the goals of the touch experience. The hands are one of the easiest ways to approach someone; merely by shaking hands, you can have a dramatic effect. Touch can be more powerful than other forms of communication especially when someone is sick. Touch directed in a caring way can have more meaning than words, which makes it a useful tool when teaching caregivers to express through touch what they cannot often express through words.

What are some common obstacles people encounter when trying to use hand massage?

Caregivers often feel inadequate or unprepared to do massage. They have fears of being awkward or ineffective. They are not sure if they are doing it right. The beauty though, is that any touch whether awkward or not, can positively influence the giver and receiver. People often have difficulty slowing down and paying attention to energetic influences. This also comes with practice, so people need encouragement to keep practicing and over time, how they feel about the massage will change.

How can the book help caregivers overcome this and other obstacles?

This book touches on many areas that most people do not think about, especially from an energetic perspective and from an eastern approach to touch. It teaches people about the simplicity of touch and how it can have a dramatic effect. We hope that the framework in the hand massage protocol allows people to take the first step towards incorporating massage into their everyday caregiving.

This book can be used as a guide to doing a hand massage protocol. We encourage caregivers to have the book with them when doing massage, so that they can reference the steps and view the illustrations. It can also be used as a teaching tool in a classroom setting.

What are some examples of best practice?

Best practices always put the receiver’s needs first. Safety and comfort are a priority, so the giver must ensure the receiver is not suffering or in distress before performing massage. We also encourage caregivers to discuss the use of massage with the healthcare team to obtain permission, but also to find out if there are cautions and contraindications to massage. Because the receivers often have significant illness, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and pay attention to the receivers reaction to massage. This is truly a client-centered approach. And lastly, don’t take it too seriously. Massage should be light-hearted and friendly, an experience to be enjoyed not just by the receiver, but by the giver too.

Next blog post: Encountering the Radiant Sea – An Article by Barbara Goldschmidt »

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Touch as a way to share the radiant energy of care

By Barbara Goldschmidt, teacher, researcher, licensed massage therapist, and co-author with Niamh van Meines of Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand.

My passion for integrative health care began 30 years ago, when I travelled to California to recuperate from a car accident. I was a seeker, looking for solace and a new path. Southern California offered warmth, reasonable rents, and ways of living that seemed open to many possibilities. It was commonplace there to focus on fitness, and easy to find gyms, yoga teachers, health food stores, and book shops filled with Eastern philosophy and self-help. Then there was the Pacific Ocean, like a big glittering mirror, reflecting who you were and at the same time inviting you to look deeper.

This was all very different from life in New York City at the time, where a focus on fitness was not so commonplace. In fact, friends on the East Coast often looked down on some of these pursuits. They’d ask, ‘Why is California like a breakfast cereal?’ Answer: Because it’s full of fruits, flakes and nuts! Maybe they thought it was foolish, but I felt I was finally becoming sensible.

During my seven years in Los Angles I completed my bachelor’s degree at UCLA, but my most meaningful studies were outside of traditional academia. I explored ‘alternative’ therapies, as they were called back then, because they were not part of the mainstream. Fortunately, I found reliable teachers who were masters in their field. I practiced yoga every day in Bikram Choudhury’s classes. Thanks to Jack Gray, whose energy work was studied by Dr. Thelma Moss at UCLA’s Parapsychology Lab, I learned how to direct my thoughts to help the healing process and to use my hands to do what Mr. Gray called ‘transfer of energy’. Dr. Grace Brunler demonstrated how she had used color light in her medical practice with her husband Oscar Brunler. With Jon Hofferman, a grad student from the UCLA film department, we made a short documentary about her work.

It was an exciting time, because it felt like a real movement in personal well-being was taking place. It wasn’t being led by doctors, but by ordinary people who were looking for more than symptom relief. They wanted therapies that were natural and non-toxic, and a way to be involved in the healing process. That was a key—becoming an active participant in wellness and illness instead of being a passive recipient of care. The quest for ways to be involved in the healing process, and for tangible ways to share it, became the continuing thread of my studies, writing and teaching.

When I moved back to New York City I wondered if I would be able to maintain the gentle practices I’d learned. As it turned out, I discovered deeper and more specific ways of practicing. With Catherine Shainberg, director of the School of Images, I studied body-centered imagery for many years. Dr. Shainberg doesn’t give answers, but leads students to the answers within themselves. My sessions with her led me to study massage therapy at the Swedish Institute, a college of health sciences in Manhattan. This allowed me to go from just writing about this field to becoming a practitioner.

After working for a few years as a licensed massage therapist, a desire for a more effective ways to engage with the body led me to Jeffrey C. Yuen and the study of Chinese medicine. I began to understand that energy, or Qi, infuses all of life, and that it is fundamental. Qi is our energetic program; it creates the body and directs our growth, development and everyday processes, including healing.

While I appreciate that there exists some controversy around the idea of Qi—it has no standard definition, it’s not readily visible, and can’t be quantified—I embrace its usefulness as teachers and practitioners have done through the ages. Directing Qi through the use of meridian points became the foundation of my practice, which often included teaching people to move their Qi from within through imagery.

Today, ‘alternative’ therapies are not just for Californians and even in New York City there are plenty of gyms, as well as stores selling organic food. Yoga, massage, meditation and acupuncture are now part of an integrative approach to cancer care, palliative care or chronic conditions in medical institutions around the world.

Comforting Touch for Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand, is an integrative approach that will hopefully inspire people to explore touch as a way to share the radiant energy of their care. I was fortunate to have as co-author Niamh van Meines, who brought in her expertise and passion as a massage therapist and nurse practitioner working in hospice and palliative care. In the book, we introduce people to the idea that their touch involves the physical aspects of skin, muscles and bone; the energies of warmth, electromagnetism and Qi; and the inner quality, or spirit, which they bring to it. All will have beneficial effects for both the giver as well as the receiver. And in the spirit of integrative care, we encourage caregivers to become part of a team—whether with a doctor, nurse, social worker, psychologist, massage therapist, acupuncturist or pastoral advisor—so they will not feel alone, inhibited by initial awkwardness, or unnecessarily fearful.

I was happy when our book proposal was accepted by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, because they are so dedicated to the healing arts and to books that people can use to help one another. When Lisa Clark, our sponsoring editor, told us we would be part of the Singing Dragon imprint, it seemed especially fitting, because the energy of nature and the Eastern philosophy that teaches ways to engage with it have been a big part of my life. I hope that this book will be useful for the many people caring for someone with dementia or at the end of life, and that it will provide a meaningful way to discover both a tenderness and a power that we all have in common.

Next blog post: Compassionate care through touch – An interview with Niamh van Meines »

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

JKP at the Frankfurt Book Fair

JKP is exhibiting at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week.

Jessica Kingsley took a few minutes between meetings to talk about why we attend this major international event, and to highlight some of the things we’ve been talking about.


“I so want to see people flourish at work through supervision” – An Interview with Robin Shohet

Robin Shohet has been teaching supervision through the Centre for Supervision and Team Development for 30 years. He lives with his family at the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in the North East of Scotland. He is the author of a number of JKP books, including the new Supervision as Transformation: A Passion for Learning.

Here, Robin shares some thoughts on the profound ways in which supervision can facilitate change that enriches individuals and organisations.

You are well known for your work on supervision – what attracted you to this area of work as a specialism? Who supervises you now, and how do you continue to grow through these experiences?

I mentioned in one of my previous books – Passionate Supervision – that my first experience of supervision was so good and helped me to keep growing that I wanted to pass it on.  I am sure I would have burnt out without it, and I see people now very stressed and I would love them all to have good supervision.  It was in a therapeutic community for people who had come out of psychiatric hospital and supervision was one of the cornerstones of our work. It was the mid 70’s and the emphasis on supervision was quite unusual at the time and we developed a reputation in residential social work. When three of the core staff, myself, Peter Hawkins and Joan Wilmot left to go freelance we just continued with the work we had already been doing and developed it over the years.

I love doing the work. Someone once said: If it moves, Robin will supervise it. It suits my personality – slightly detached and yet as you have noticed also passionate about it – passionate about wanting to see people flourish at work and supervision can play a huge part in that.

As for the now, I am in a new peer group; the last one lasted seventeen years.  I really like the idea of being accountable to peers and this formed the basis of my helping to set up something called the Independent Practitioners Network which is a form of peer group accreditation.  I also get excellent supervision on the hoof from my partner – perhaps the most challenging supervision as she knows me so well – and I regularly do at least one CPD event a year. As I write this, I am also doing a mythodrama workshop with one of the contributors, Richard Olivier which is really stretching.  I will put in a plug for him here.  He takes you on a journey using Shakespeare as a starting point.

Can you talk a little bit about your development as an author, and how this new book sits in relation to your others?

In terms of my work, my big breakthrough came when I was asked to co-write a book on supervision by the late Brian Wade of Changes Bookshop. He dropped out and so I asked Peter [Hawkins] to do it with me. We had no idea the book would do so well. We just wrote up what we had been doing and we were very lucky with the timing because it was one of the first books of its kind.

How I came to do my latest book, Supervision as Transformation is an interesting story. It started with a group of homeopathic doctors/veterinarians I was supervising. Their training, which at the time was pioneering, was losing out to competition and I suddenly blurted out: You need to write a book about what you do! The result was a book called Passionate Medicine, which I edited. The format gave me the idea for my next book, Passionate Supervision, and that was such a delight to do that I wanted to do another. Hence Supervision as Transformation: A Passion for Learning – I wanted to keep the word ‘passion’ in.

In the new book, I have tried to broaden the scope of the contributors to include more of an organisational aspect – how supervision has been introduced into the organisations that the contributors are part of. I think the first book had a more individual flavour.

Can you talk about the wonderful contributors to your book – how did you come to choose them for this project?

They were all people I knew personally whose work I respected. I could have had enough material for a third book, but the ones I chose were from a variety of professions. Michael Carroll (author of “Chapter 1:  Supervision – A Journey of Life-Long Learning”) is well known in the supervision and coaching field – we started about the same time and he writes well so I was delighted to have him. The second chapter (“It’s at the Heart of our Practice at the Family Nurse Partnership.”) is by Ann Rowe who was a pioneer in something called the Family Nurse Partnership, which supports pregnant teenage mothers during their pregnancies and the first two years of the baby’s life. Brilliant work and they put supervision at the heart of their work. And I could go on and describe each chapter. I loved getting all the authors together and their reading each others’ work which I think adds some cohesion to the book.

In his chapter, Michael Carroll lists 11 insights about the learning journey in supervision, one of which is the importance of flexibility to learning styles on the part of the supervisor. Can you talk about this from your own experience?

I liked what Michael wrote very much – it spoke to me as I have enormous problems learning.  My learning style is having to trust and feel in relationship with the person teaching me – it is as if I am absorbing their energy.  I remember having to change skiing classes because I could not learn from the head coach. He was considered to be a better teacher, but I went with someone else because I could feel a relationship.  My stepson on the other hand does not care about the relationship, but wants someone who knows their stuff and puts it across clearly.  So flexibility is key. Michael explains the whole question of learning very succinctly and it is central to the book.

What do supervisors struggle with the most in facilitating change for themselves or their supervisees, and how can this latest book help them?

There is a whole chapter in Supervision as Transformation on resistance (“Chapter 9: Resistance is a Natural Path – An Alternative Perspective on Transformation”), written by Christina Breene.  I know we have all experienced obstacles in ourselves when we want to change and this chapter takes a very compassionate view on understanding these obstacles.  I believe that something can only be changed when it has been fully embraced first and then it seems to drop away.  Trying to change by will does not work and is a kind of violence because it is imposed, even if it is ourselves that is imposing it.  So in order to facilitate change, we need to listen and accept first.

In the final chapter of the book, you reflect that the process has enabled you to ‘hear yourself think’. Do you think that the process of ‘putting into words’ is essential to growth as a human being?

Now that is a huge question. I do think having the space to think clearly is very important, and supervision can play a vital role in that. But I am not sure what is essential to growth as a human being. Good early attachment perhaps, and a deep sense of spirituality, which I touch on in the book.

You are part of the Findhorn community. What originally took you there? What affect has the spiritual community had on your work in supervision, or vice versa?

Another huge question. It seemed like a complete accident. I wanted to do a writing week there but I had to do this thing called an Experience Week first. I did it with very bad grace, hated virtually every moment of it, thought the leaders were second rate and half an hour before leaving out of the blue I had a ‘road to Damascus’ experience of unconditional love. It has never happened since by the way. When I suggested moving, the family were quite shocked (‘After all you have been saying!’, they said) but were also receptive and so we gradually moved up and are all very glad.

Through Findhorn I have met some wonderful teachers and speakers who have had a big impact on much of my life, but not specifically supervision. Joan Wilmot and I were very instrumental in introducing supervision to Findhorn which makes it unusual in spiritual communities, so perhaps we have influenced the supervision the community does rather than vice versa.

Finally, ‘passion’ is a word that recurs frequently in your work, and ‘creativity’ is another. Would you like to say something about why these words mean so much to you?

Well. as I mentioned above I so want to see people flourish at work in the same way as I did through supervision, that is why I still love giving it, receiving it, teaching it, lecturing on it. For the same reason I like going into staff teams and working with their conflicts and helping to resolve them. I trace this to so wanting my parents to get on and needing to create happy families – a creative use of a not so functional family of origin.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

How to Incorporate Wellness Coaching into Your Therapeutic Practice – An Interview with author Laurel Alexander

Laurel Alexander is a complementary therapist, coach, trainer and widely published author with over 20 years of experience in the wellness industry. She runs Wellness Professionals at Work, providing business coaching for healthcare professionals and a range of accredited wellness courses. She is a qualified reflexologist, nutritionist and stress manager and is currently the business coach for the Association of Reflexologists, the International Stress Management Association and the National Council of Psychotherapists. She is based in Sussex, UK.

Here, Laurel answers some questions about her new book,
How to Incorporate Wellness Coaching into Your Therapeutic Practice: A Handbook for Therapists and Counsellors – published by JKP imprint, Singing Dragon.

How did you come to the field of wellness?

When I left school, I wanted to be a nurse (that was either my mother’s fantasy or mine). With the contrariness of teenage years, I became a window dresser in a fashion shop instead. Over the following years, I developed an interest in self development and this became my working life. The next few years saw added work with career management and a fading link with self development. At 39, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and this reconnected me to my intuition and passion for wellness. For the past 13 years, I’ve worked solely in the area of wellness; writing, teaching and as a therapist/coach.

What experience(s) motivated you to write the book?

Much of my working life as been as a wellness professional. Many moons ago, my students suggested I added the teaching of life coaching to my courses which I did. Over time, this has evolved into teaching of wellness coaching. Writing of course is another way of teaching – so here I am today.

The book is designed to be used as building blocks in terms of underpinning knowledge and skills development. Therapists can take ideas from the book and develop themselves both personally and professionally.

I would hope therapists would take away information, ideas and inspiration for their own wellbeing and that of their patients and clients.

What are the key characteristics of wellness coaching that make it a useful addition to a counsellor or complementary therapist’s toolbox?

As healthcare professionals move into the 21st century, coaching offers a highly effective skill set which can complement a therapist’s practice. Key characteristics include:

  • being non-directive (thereby empowering clients);
  • questioning and listening skills (useful to gain information so that we are better informed);
  • integration of coaching skills into a variety of therapeutic approaches (offering an eclectic toolbox approach to healthcare)

Let’s not forget we are in the “business of healthcare”. We may come to wellness as a vocational calling. We may feel motivated and inspired to work with others in a healing capacity for the highest good. However, we are business people and if we are to stay in business, we need a range of transferable skills which are marketable and useful. Coaching is one of those key skills.

Can you describe a typical client who would benefit from wellness coaching techniques, or a particular case in which the use of these techniques has proved effective?

The best of scenarios with a wellness client is someone who is pro-active in their healthcare, who is a seeker of self knowledge and who is willing to embrace all possibilities.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about wellness?

My philosophy about wellness is multi-faceted. There is rarely one route into, and out of, wellness. There are often several contributing factors including lifestyle and mindset. We also need to bear in mind that wellness may not mean “no disease” or “less pain”. It may mean pathways of acceptance or transition.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

NEW resources on Using Massage with Children on the Autism Spectrum

This week the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) has been holding events across the UK to promote baby massage as part of its National Baby Massage Week initiative (16-21 May 2011).

According to the IAIM, the many benefits of massage include parent-child bonding, better sleep, body awareness and sensory stimulation. These findings are also reflected in two new resources from *Singing Dragon which combine research and practice to give parents and carers the skills they need to use massage with their young children on the autism spectrum.

Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers by Dr Virginia Cowen is practical guide explains how massage works, how the body senses touch, and how touch therapy can benefit children with ASDs. As Dr Cowen said in her recent interview:

“In children with autism spectrum disorders, massage research noted fewer displays of self-stimulating behaviors, better sleep patterns, improved receptivity to touch, and less aggressive behavior. As a practitioner, that helps me understand that massage can help a child become more self aware and relaxed.”

The book goes on to describe exactly what each type of massage entails and covers anatomy-oriented massages, energy-based massages and therapeutic bodywork, helping readers to tell Reiki from reflexology, a Swedish from a sports massage, or tuina from a Thai massage, and includes recommendations for selecting the right style of massage, advice on locating a practitioner, and tips on preparing a child with an ASD for massage.

Qigong Massage for Your Child with Autism: A Home Program from Chinese Medicine by Dr Louisa Silva is a book and DVD set that teaches parents a simple 15-minute Qigong massage programme which has been developed specifically for the needs of children with ASDs, and is based on the author’s extensive clinical research. When performed regularly, this massage programme been shown to greatly improve mood and behaviour, sleeping patterns, and language and social skills.

In this video, Dr Silva demonstrates some of these benefits discussed in the book:

Also included in the book is information on diet, advice on reading a child’s body language during massage, and helpful progress checklists.

Click below for more information on these new titles.

*Singing Dragon is an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Autism Spectrum Disorders – An Interview with Dr. Virginia Cowen

Virginia S. Cowen, PhD is a massage therapist, exercise physiologist and yoga and Pilates instructor. She is Associate Professor of Massage Therapy at Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York, and also maintains a small private fitness and bodywork practice in New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey.

Here, Dr. Cowen answers some questions about her new book, Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, published by *Singing Dragon.

Tell us about your background in massage – how did you start working with children on the autism spectrum?

I graduated from the Swedish Institute in New York City where I took courses in Swedish massage, medical massage, and Shiatsu. After graduation I studied Thai massage in the U.S. and in Chiang Mai, Thailand and took more continuing education in a variety of techniques. Including reflexology, trigger point therapy, myofascial release (to name a few.) I became interested in working on children with autism spectrum disorders after my nephew and a friend’s son were diagnosed with autism. The more parents I spoke with, the more I began to understand that they needed help understanding how touch was related to the child’s sensory issues.

How does massage therapy help with sensory issues, and what are some positive results?

A child who displays aversion to touch can be taught how to understand touch—essentially learning to differentiate between normal and painful sensations. I have found that a systematic approach to massage is very important for children with autism spectrum disorders. When they learn what to expect, they are better able to relax and receive massage. In practice the idea that massage helps people feel better is pretty consistent. General research on massage has consistently found that massage can help reduce stress and anxiety. The body of research on massage has included a variety of massage styles and techniques, but the findings are consistent. In children with autism spectrum disorders, massage research noted fewer displays of self-stimulating behaviors, better sleep patterns, improved receptivity to touch, and less aggressive behavior. As a practitioner, that helps me understand that massage can help a child become more self aware and relaxed.

Probably the most dramatic change I’ve witnessed was when a little boy with feeding issues consistently ate after his massage sessions. He even tried new foods. I suspect that his food aversions were somehow connected to texture and massage helped him better understand how to interpret or understand texture.

Trust is obviously important in massage therapy. What are some ways that you gain clients’ trust in your own practice?

I feel that honesty and patience helps build trust. My practice is small in relation to teaching and writing, so I am not in a position of having to convince people to become clients. My background in exercise science, massage, and yoga has given me a broad toolkit to use in practice and also use as a source of reference. Some parents lump massage into the “alternative” therapy field along with riskier therapies. This is unfortunate, so I try to educate parents about the many options in massage. Helping them understand touch and sensation has been very beneficial to help them make informed decisions.

What are some other considerations when practicing or seeking out the right kind of massage therapy, especially for children on the autism spectrum?

No single type of massage is “right” or “the best” for autism spectrum disorders. The many possible presentations of autism indicate many possible variations in treatment. Finding a massage therapist or practitioner who is adequately trained in massage is important. In places where massage is licensed, using a licensed practitioner is important. After all, most parents would not opt to receive services from an unlicensed teacher, doctor, or occupational therapist. Interview the practitioner about their approach. A massage therapist who is trained in multiple techniques is usually a good option because a change in the massage treatment will not mean introducing the child to another practitioner or new setting.

What do you think about the classification of massage as a CAM therapy? What are some misconceptions or common concerns about massage? How will your book contribute to a better understanding?

Massage is CAM because it falls outside the scope of conventional medical care. So does exercise. I am very interested in active and passive forms of movement. Both offer benefit to individuals on the autism spectrum. Massage does not usually take the place of conventional medical treatments, but it can be a useful addition.

Common misconceptions about massage are that it could be harmful or somehow counteract the effects of sensory and play therapy. There are several challenges in research on massage and specifically in analyzing the effects of massage. The standard model in research is a randomized controlled trial that uses a specific treatment protocol compared to some type of control group. It is difficult to create a true control group for massage because a person knows if he or she has received a massage. Specific treatment sequences can be developed, but actual touch cannot be duplicated unless the same massage practitioner delivers all of the treatments.

For individuals on the autism spectrum, a standard massage protocol cannot likely benefit everyone because of the different reactions to touch. But rubbing and pressure offer sensory benefits and general research supports that. Translating it into practice by using a flexible approach is probably the most consideration in treatment. I hope this book will successfully dispute that by helping parents understand the sense of touch, how massage can be helpful, and the myriad of options that are available.

*Singing Dragon is an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

How meditation can help people with Asperger’s Syndrome release tension and recognise body language

By Chris Mitchell, author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness: Taking Refuge in the Buddha.

Positive feeling from within radiates beyond: Chris trekking around Mount Cook (or Aaoraki, as the Maori call it), the highest mountain in New Zealand.

Body language, or non-verbal communication, is an aspect of life that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle with. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome myself, I find that as well as being able to interpret non-verbal signals, being aware of your own body language – both intentional and unintentional – can also be difficult. I have found, though, that developing a mindful awareness of the body is helpful in being able to recognise this more effectively.

Having practiced meditation for almost six years, including going on meditation retreats and monastic stays, naturally the next level was to try and integrate qualities experienced during practice into everyday life, not only in relation to right or appropriate action through applying a non-judgemental approach. To try and enable this, I recently undertook an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) course, based on the work of mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn.

The Buddha taught us to see the body within the body. This includes noticing and becoming aware of different sensations through the body that are consistently present within us that we don’t often notice. Activities covered by MSBR, including body scans and stretching exercises, enabled me to gain a stronger understanding of how different feelings and sensations in particular parts of the body in turn affect the body as a whole, as well as how different body movements have after-effects throughout the body. These sensations are so difficult to notice in normal life for anyone, not just a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The even greater difficulty for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome to overcome, though, is being able to notice how sensations from within reflect on the outside, whether positive or negative. Quite often, certain areas of the body, particularly the stomach, become ‘reservoirs’ for feelings of tension and stress which radiate within the body and outside of the body. Often in my life I have found not being able to control such tension a problem in terms of how it affects the way I come across to other people – in other words, how my non-verbal presentation can affect others, when I least know it.

Techniques used in MSBR involved noticing your breathing while focusing on different parts of the body, and imagining if the breath could reach there, to different areas of the body so often taken for granted. Then, when stretching, one begins to notice the after-effect on parts of the body that are not involved in the stretch. When doing the exercises you are encouraged not to compete with yourself or with others, but rather to notice and acknowledge the limitations of your physical make up, allowing for acceptance of yourself as you are.

Something that I am beginning to find from the practice is that being able to acknowledge such feelings within the body helps me to feel more comfortable, enabling me to radiate a positive feeling within myself, thus giving me more freedom within rather than being constrained by tension. Hopefully, with continued practice, I can bring these positive effects to my work, including when giving talks seminars and training on Asperger’s Syndrome.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Video: Nancy Williams on the benefits of Yoga Therapy for children with special needs

In this series of videos, Nancy Williams – author of Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child – talks about the many benefits of Yoga for children with special needs, including those with autistic spectrum disorder, developmental delay, sensory integration disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Nancy has been a yoga therapist for 9 years. She also works as a pediatric Speech Pathologist, and is a certified Neuro Developmental Treatment Therapist, Zero Balancing practitioner, Yoga instructor and Reiki Master Teacher. Nancy runs her own yoga therapy practice in Tucson, Arizona (USA). more…

This lovely slide show features images from Nancy’s yoga workshops:


Nancy introduces ‘Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child':

Nancy on Why Yoga Therapy Works for Children with Special Needs:

Nancy on The Difference Between Traditional Therapies and Yoga:

Nancy on How to develop a Yoga practice of your own, or locate a good Yoga teacher or class:

Watch more videos about Nancy and her Yoga workshops…

An Interview with Martin Mellish, author of ‘A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion’

Martin Mellish has been studying and teaching Tai Chi for over thirty years. He is a certified hypnotherapist and Yoga teacher and has travelled extensively in China to practice Tai Chi, and to explore the sacred mountains and minority cultures of Western China and Tibet. He also holds a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and has published articles with both ‘Qi’ Magazine and ‘Tai Chi’ Magazine.

Here, Martin answers some questions about his new book, A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion.

Tell us about your background – how did you come to be interested in imagery?

I was somewhat of a mathematical prodigy. My nominal research area was mathematical models of energy futures, but I spent most of my time ‘moonlighting’ in Artificial Intelligence research. Like most newcomers to AI, I soon found out that modeling our perceptual and motor skills is actually much harder than solving what we think of as ‘complex’ intellectual problems. For example, you can buy a computer program that can play world championship-level chess for less than $50, but there is still no robot that can walk down the street without bumping into people, or even distinguish a male from a female face.

So, paradoxically, it was my intellectual researches that showed me that we not only overestimate the power of our intellect, but also underestimate, by an enormous factor, the power of other, non-conceptual, aspects of our being. I don’t know if it was coincidence – it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice – but it was around this period that I resigned my University fellowship and headed out to the Rajneesh meditation ashram in India, not to return for five years, for most of which I was ‘researching’ those non-conceptual aspects of my being in an extremely intense and down-to-earth fashion.

During this period I began my study of Tai Chi, meditation, martial arts, and human relationships. All of these were pretty much new to me, and I was both extremely enthusiastic about, and spectacularly bad at, all of them. The fact that I was having to learn these skills late in life, starting from pretty far back, gave me, I think, a better ‘conscious’ understanding of what they are about than if they had come naturally to me. There are many good Tai Chi practitioners to whom Tai Chi came naturally, but I have never met a good teacher of, or writer about, Tai Chi who did not struggle enormously, and for a long time any without apparent success, as a beginner. I was no exception.

I was the Ashram’s front gate guard, and given the large size and extremely controversial nature of the Ashram, I had to use my martial arts skills almost every day. This allowed me to compare the strong and weak points of different martial arts in practical application. My beloved Karate turned out to be almost useless in practice, since it contained no methods for subduing someone without injuring them: what worked best tended to be a combination of Tai Chi and Aiki-juijutsu. I developed a feeling for what constitutes a safe application (for both parties) that has never left me. I think this feeling can only be developed by actually having to use those applications in the real world, out on the street, on a daily basis.

After 5 years the commune dissolved and I returned to the West. In India I had had the freedom to practice Tai Chi many hours a day, but a very restricted range of teachers and forms –I spent 5 years working entirely on the (very simple) 24 form, which I think was very helpful for my development since it forced me to go very deeply into the essence of every movement. In the West I had less time, but a greater variety of teachers. I started to teach Tai Chi myself, and that experience, together with the experience of studying with other teachers, showed me how effective imagery was – and, by contrast, how ineffective rational explanation was – at encouraging students to make positive changes.

Once I was ‘hooked’ on imagery and its power, I decided to train as a hypnotherapist, and practiced as one for a few years. Again, I was struck by how a simple image could have the power to enable a client to make a change, such as giving up an addiction, that they may have struggled with for many years on the rational level without success.

During this period I won several medals in national Tai Chi competitions – in fact, I did so well in the Canadian championships that the Canadians finally asked me not to come back! This not as big an achievement as it sounds, since the best practitioners do not compete – they judge. I also met my main teacher, Gao Fu, an elderly Chinese woman with an unrivalled understanding of the deep internals of Tai Chi. I learned Chinese in order to study with her (she spoke no English) and became her interpreter. She invited me to stay with her in Beijing one summer, where she introduced me to some of the best Tai Chi masters in the world as well as to her own famous teacher, Feng Zhi Qiang.

During that summer I had the interesting experience of learning subtle details of Tai Chi internals that I did not understand, in a language that for the most part I did not understand either. My learning sunk in on a level deeper than language, and showed me how unimportant ‘surface’ understanding is to the process of positive change. This was also the beginning of my long love affair with China, where I now live and teach.

How did the book come about, and where does the imagery come from?

This book owes its existence to Ki McGraw, of the Seattle Hatha Yoga Center. I was taking a Yoga certification course with her in Bali, she heard of my interest in Tai Chi, and lent me a copy of Eric Franklin’s Dynamic Alignment through Imagery. This book has its roots in the world of dance, which is another of my interests, but I found many of the images in it very useful in Tai Chi as well. I was thinking of writing an article pointing out the usefulness of the images in Tai Chi, but the more I worked on the article, the longer it became, and the more the images in Mr Franklin’s book were naturally replaced either by native images from the Tai Chi tradition, or by more contemporary images that I, or other teachers, had found useful. That article eventually turned into this book.

Perhaps a third of the imagery comes directly from the Tai Chi classics, a third has been either invented or substantially modified by me, and a third comes from other teachers, either of Tai Chi or of other movement forms. However, as I say in the book, ‘Everything in this book has its roots in the ancient tradition and lineage of Tai Chi. Everything in it is also directly applicable, right now, to modern life in the twenty-first century. Nothing in this book is here for historical, ceremonial, cultural, or artistic reasons: every image in this book is here because it works.”

What is ‘imagery’ in this context and how does it aid and improve the practice of Tai Chi?

Imagery is a method of encapsulating and transmitting non-verbal knowledge. It lets you know that a certain skill or learning with which you are already familiar can be usefully applied to an unfamiliar situation, similarly to the way in which computer developers ‘re-use’ code that is known to reliably perform a certain function. You can think of ‘imagery’ in this context as the software of the body – that which enables us to coordinate all our different muscles and bones without having to consciously ‘think’ about coordinating them, which is neither necessary nor possible.

Many beginners are surprised that they have difficulty learning something as apparently simple as the slow, gentle movements of Tai Chi. They frequently become depressed about their apparent lack of talent for the art, lose their initial enthusiasm, and give up. I’ve had every single student in a ten-member class come up to me, individually, and tell me they were thinking of quitting so as not to hold up the others!

The movements of Tai Chi are hard for the ‘rational’ mind to learn, since the rational mind doesn’t do ‘parallel processing’ well – don’t ask it to walk and chew gum at the same time! In Tai Chi you have to coordinate your feet, your legs, the carriage of your torso, the expression of your arms and fingers, and your breath, all at once. As hard and frustrating as this process can be if you try to ‘micro-manage’ the individual details, it can be just as simple and joyful if you coordinate your movement using an image – ‘Feel yourself throwing a frisbee’, or ‘Skate across a frozen pond’.

Why will bodyworkers and others concerned with balance and movement be interested in these ideas?

Bodyworkers, personal trainers, and physical therapists have sharp eyes and can see exactly what postural deficiencies or movement limitations their clients have. However, directly telling their clients what changes they need to make – “Don’t slouch! Keep your shoulders level!” is generally not a good way to bring about positive change. People tend to hold their posture rigid and over-controlled for a while, then return to their previous bad habit. We can’t be micro-managing our posture all the time – we need a simple and engaging idea that the body can orient itself around, that imagery provides. In fact most bodyworkers already have a fair repertoire of imagery – the advantage of Tai Chi imagery is that it is subtle, sophisticated, and fun, and comes from a long tradition and has thus stood the test of time.

An underlying guiding principle in this book seems to be ‘non-doing’ (wu wei). What does this mean and why is it important?

I teach Physics here in China, and my staff-room desk looks more like a toy store than anything else. I use so many toys for a very good reason – toys are designed to teach young children, in a very simple way, how and why the physical world around us works.

I start all my Physics classes by looking at something very simple and everyday – a bouncy ball, a length of string, a soap bubble, or a cup of tea. In the book I also use simple language and talk about everyday things –skateboards, exercise balls, cats, frozen orange juice, trampolines, bowls of fruit, and so on. I always try to keep the discussion as concrete as I can.

Esoteric Chinese terms such as wu wei (literally, ‘non-doing’) often hinder such discussion more than they help. Wu wei is not only an unfamiliar term to most people, but also a slippery one – even ‘experts’ (if there are any!) disagree on what it means, and for that reason I only use the term once, in the Introduction. But I think it’s at least possible that you are on to something, and that actually the whole book is about wu wei.

Language gets slippery when we talk about these kinds of issues, since it embodies the sometimes-biased perspective of the conceptual mind. For example, I could talk about letting go of conscious attempts to control one’s body and one’s world, and learning to trust one’s unconscious wisdom. This would be kind of a classic definition of wu wei. The trouble with this formulation is that it concedes, falsely, that the conceptual mind is the only part of your being that is ‘conscious’. An Olympic diver leaping off the high board, or a tightrope-walker balanced over an abyss, is not ‘unconscious’, but in a state of extremely heightened awareness. Trying to express that awareness in verbal or conceptual terms is not only unnecessary, but potentially a good way to get oneself killed.

Wu Wei, in my understanding, is trusting that you already have the wisdom to respond appropriately to the situation in front of you, and that you do not need either to micro-manage it or to think it out. It takes courage – in the beginning your conceptual mind will scream at you that it, and only it, can handle things. Sometimes it might even be right – your more instinctual mind has many resources, but it’s not infallible, and it learns partly by making mistakes. In developing wu wei you may sometimes need to take your lumps – ‘invest in loss’, as Chen Man Ching used to say.

In my experience of wu wei, it is actually not so much the doing, but the doer, whose apparent absence can be unnerving. I remember a period when I was working for Microsoft, and practicing opening the Jade Pillow (upper neck) which is a very good way to access ‘non-doing’. I was quite extraordinarily productive, and my work was of exceptional quality, but I was always scared to submit it because I never had the feeling that I had done it, and I had no idea whether it was any good. Similarly, after my best hypnotherapy sessions I would always feel like a fraud taking my client’s money, since I felt that either the client had done all the work, or that no-one had and the results had just arrived by Grace.

Does the usefulness of imagery depend on experience?

I think experience is less important than passionate interest. For example, Married Love, the famous 19th-century sex manual that transformed the lives of thousands of women, was written by a virgin. That said, I do believe that actual experience can add depth to the usefulness of an image, For example, I have always loved the classic Tai Chi image of imagining that you are riding a horse, but I used to experienced the image in a more or less static way – until I learned to actually ride a horse. There’s a certain dynamic fluidity to your ‘seat’ as you ride a horse that is very beneficial for any type of movement practice and that I learned the hard way, trotting and cantering along mountain trails.

Much of the classic imagery of Tai Chi refers to skills, such as riding a horse, or cracking a whip, that every medieval farmer would have had, but that are much less current now. Cracking a whip is an excellent way of thinking about the dynamics of a Tai Chi movement, but these days the actual experience of using an old-style whip is more or less confined to equestrians and certain, shall we say, minority interests. One of my motives in writing the book is to supplement such images with others that draw more directly on out daily life.

 Copyright © Singing Dragon 2010.