“What brought you here?” asked a tousle-headed person with bright eyes, looking at me directly in the eye at Siikajärvi car park in Nuuksio, Finland a good two years ago. At that moment I realised that a common denominator in many of the things I love most is simplicity. These things have found a permanent foothold in my everyday life. I love simplicity. I love looking into a fire, listening to the birdsong, picking mushrooms, swimming in the lake whenever I feel like it. I spent six years without a TV, and I did not miss it. The same applies to my favourite food: baked oatmeal. Nothing fancy – just put some oats in a dish, add some milk and put the dish in the oven.
The tousle-headed person in Nuuksio was Tara Lange, an inspiring author and instructor who had discovered the world of green juices after there was a need for them in her own family. She was one of the instructors on a wild herb and juicing course. Simplicity. That was what had brought me to the course: I wanted to know what kind of grass you can simply eat in the wild and how to prepare it as easily as possible. I loved spending time in nature and I picked berries and mushrooms every year. Now I was keen to find something more to eat and drink directly from the land. I realised that Shindo, which had been an enriching part of most of my grown-up life, had this same kind of simple appeal.
The method is based on the nature closest to you – your own body – using gravity and cleaning the energy flows or meridians in your body. The blockages in the energy pathways manifest themselves as muscle tensions and other feelings of discomfort. A good way to find out about them is to move your body and to do some easy, conscious stretches. Equipment or dedicated activity areas are not necessary. A free space where you can stand, some free floor space or a spot on the lawn for a yoga mat or a blanket is enough. The most important thing you need is a desire to feel more relaxed and bright. After all, we human beings can easily adapt. It often seems that it takes some significant symptoms or big changes for people to start thinking about themselves and to explore the feelings and sensations in their bodies, the reasons behind the symptoms, and whether it is possible to do something about a particular situation. This might have something to do with the Western view of only treating illnesses, or the idea that having an ache is proof that you are alive. In other words, pain is often accepted for one reason or another. In Japanese, on the other hand, the word “pain” is a combination of the characters for “illness” and “flow” or “passing”, meaning that if you direct your attention to the pain and treat it right, you can find your way to health. Treating it right is another question altogether, and it depends on the situation. There can also be more ways than just one. Understanding the situation and seeking advice from a qualified professional is essential, particularly if your symptoms are severe or prolonged. The tools that Shindo offers are mainly intended for maintaining the health of your body and supporting your well-being and recovery when you may have some health issues.
The simplest option is to maintain the health, calmness, flexibility and flow of your body. Relieving stress from your system plays an essential role in all this. There is also research that shows how many diseases are caused by prolonged stress. What would it take to make it easy and compelling enough for you to take a moment to listen to your body and find out where the sore spots are? A moment to take a few deep breaths and apply a few presses to them – and then heave a sigh of relief? Natural recovery. Magically simple.
Today I got yet more proof of that. No matter how well you have slept, your body is not at its most agile right after waking up. If not sooner, this becomes evident when you arch your neck and back. This exercise can be done sitting on the edge of your bed. It is very effective if you sit on the mattress with your legs straight in front of you, and you can make it even more effective if you sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and bend your forehead towards your knees. Do not force the stretch, though; just let the weight of your head gently pull your upper body down. Take your time doing this stretch and take a few deep breaths and gently rub your shoulder with one hand if you feel particularly tense. When you sit up again, you’ll notice how much more supple you feel. This easy exercise enhances the blood and fluid circulation in the area of your thoracic spine. It also activates your kidney and urinary bladder meridians. The more blocked and tense an area feels, the more important even small and easy exercises like this are. Good news for anyone who feels “too stiff to stretch”: Shindo is all about doing small – and sometimes big – but important things in your everyday life to improve your own well-being. Sometimes the small things, when done in a calm manner, may be even more effective than extensive performances.
The core of the Shindo method comprises six – yes, only six – stretches. This may sound like a small number in today’s world filled with entertainment and processes that focus on performance. Many members of established stretching groups, some of which have met regularly for years, feel that it is a relief to be able to concentrate on a limited number of familiar exercises. After all, the world outside of stretching classes is abundant in variety. Therefore, the sometimes almost meditative stretches (sometimes done at a brisker pace) provide a comfortable setting for relaxation and bodywork. Like many things in life, stretching is something that always remains a work in progress – even after 20 years. Different stretch exercises may have different degrees of importance at different times. Sometimes I spend a lot of time squatting in the forest, picking berries, while at other times there is a lot of raking to do – and sometimes it is necessary to sit for prolonged periods of time in the car or hunched over a computer. All these activities place a burden on different areas of the body. Chinese medicine offers another perspective on this: stretches that affect the liver and gall bladder meridians are particularly useful for myself and for many others for finding a rewarding challenge and an inexhaustible source of relaxation, both physically and thanks to the emotional aspect connected to it. According to the oriental concept of the human, the good energy and functioning of the gall bladder improve the quality of sleep during the early hours in particular, and support initiative and decision-making. If these meridians are burdened, distress, timidity and indecision are likely to take over. The energy related to the liver, on the other hand, may promote creativity and compassion. When burdened, it promotes frustration, hatred and irritability. It is also a common cause of fatigue and feeling faint.
The basic stretches are done on the floor (or on a chair) where you bend forward or to one side with your legs crossed or straight in front of you and take a few deep, conscious breaths. If another person, such as your instructor or a friend (there are also a few stories in circulation about Shindo cats and dogs that know just when to walk on your back) can support and attend to the tense spots by applying some pressure on them, you have everything it takes to be able to slowly let go of your tension.
Brushing your teeth, washing your face and doing the stretches mentioned above form a great everyday routine that “flushes” both your body and one or more meridians with the help of a gentle or a more intense stretch. These are routines that help you to clear your head at the end of the day, calm you down and prepare you for a good and regenerating night’s sleep. In addition to that, they are routines that can provide you with mental refreshment amid your daily chores. The easier the routines are, the lower the threshold of doing them. Just be present where your body is. Shindo always encourages you to do even just one exercise per day. Your body will be grateful for even just one.
Stretching and relaxation exercises can be done in groups or individually. Classes can be paid for with Smartum and other exercise vouchers.
There are days when your head is really buzzing, even if it’s hardly noon yet. You may have spent your day hunched over your desk, typing away, and even in the best of cases your poor body may have been reduced to simply carrying your processing unit, i.e. your head, around. Very often, we only become aware of our bodies when we experiment negative feelings: stiffness in the shoulders and skull base or pressure on the temples and jaw. And that nagging pain somewhere between the shoulder blades… The high point of the day in terms of bodywork is often the moment when we pull ourselves up from the sofa after a late night movie on TV to brush our teeth before bedtime.
If your head and mind experience a lot of strain in your everyday life, relaxing and “being present” may turn out to be quite a challenge. Being present in this context can be described as focusing your attention to where your body is. If the only sensations you have of your own body are mostly from the area of your head and your fingertips on the keyboard, only a very small percentage of your body is in a state of awareness. If we are honest, how many of us can really sense our bodies unless we are feeling symptoms of one problem or another? If you are not aware of your body, it is difficult to be present. So what can we do to sense our bodies more consciously? Our sense of touch and movement are excellent tools for just that. Various bodywork methods improve our ability to respect and sense the state of our bodies. The better you know your body, the more you can respect it and be on good terms with it – after all, can you love something that you hardly know?
My journey towards a more versatile bodyfulness and well-being in my own body has been the path of Shindo. Meridian stretches used in Shindo often affect the whole body, helping you to sense large areas and long lines at the same time. The stretches help you to become more aware of any tensions in your body. This way, you can work and relax them. A few easy and comfortable presses that you can do yourself or that you can ask a partner to do will significantly enhance the effect of the stretches. They help you to become more aware of tensions in areas that you may not have noticed, meaning you can better focus on these areas. There is the added bonus of the happiness and relief that you’ll feel after applying pressure to and thus helping to relax a particularly tense spot.
For many, one of the most effective Shindo treatments is the toe treatment. This may come as a surprise, considering the fairly marginal role that our toes have in our everyday awareness. They are as far away from your head as it gets in your body and yet, or maybe even due to this very reason, treating them gives you a sensation of deep relaxation. One reason that explains this is the fact that it is easier to perceive the whole of your body by observing its extremities. It gives you a compelling sense of your body as a whole, with all its parts meaningfully combined, and it extends your bodyfulness in a natural and soothing manner. The attention given to your feet and toes makes them more lively. This in turn helps to unwind the energy piled up in your upper body, often in your head and shoulders, and to earth your body. It is fascinating that whenever someone falls asleep or nearly falls asleep during treatment, it usually happens during toe treatment. This is particularly common if your toes are treated after the rest of your body, helping you to relax completely.
Get moving in a good way and feel relaxed in your own body!