The benefits of Shiatsu for older people

Shiatsu for older people with Heidi Newport ON Tay
Shiatsu keeps older people mobile, enabling them to carry on with rituals that make life meaningful and fun, such as feeding birds on the river banks

I want to share a wonderful experience I have had working with a 90-year-old man who had lost his “vital spark” and appetite for life after an eye operation caused sharp deterioration in his vision – and a bad fall knocked his confidence. After just one Shiatsu treatment, I witnessed remarkable improvements in his mobility and ability to live independently. After a couple of sessions he was performing daily routines with extraordinary zest, even chopping firewood.

Chopping wood again aged 90, with Shiatsu Heidi Newport On Tay
Chopping wood again aged 90 after a couple of Shiatsu sessions

Yet, when Claude first came to see me in September 2016 he was in frail physical health and had been in decline for some months.  A couple of bad falls left him with a broken shoulder and painful bruised ribs. Limited use of the injured right arm restricted him in activities such as dressing, taking a shower, getting himself out of a chair and cooking. He was losing his vision and could no longer drive which was a serious blow to his independence because he could no longer get out and about. To make matters worse a recent an operation had caused considerable damage to his good eye which was now blurry. He had also stopped eating, lost energy, confidence and interest in daily life.

“Claude has lost his vital spark,” said his wife Hazel who persuaded him to come for Shiatsu because mainstream health services were not getting results. Although he always lived an active life, Claude was far from being a health and fitness fanatic.  He enjoyed smoking and, in a glamorous past life, had been fond of the odd champagne cocktails, she said. Although he had no previous experience of alternative health therapies which were outside of his comfort zone, he was willing to come for Shiatsu on Hazel’s suggestion. “I’m so proud of him for being open enough to try,” she said.

Shiatsu for older people with Heidi Newport ON Tay
Three mile leg – for stamina, stability and grounding. Literally helping to keep feet on the ground will help further falls

The priority in my first session with Claude was to strengthen him and restore his appetite with gentle abdominal massage and pressure on the stomach meridian, in particular Stomach 36: Three mile leg to boost stamina, vision and vitality. He was frail, needed support walking and getting his shoes off and it took time to get him safely onto the futon mat.

It was also important to make Claude feel more comfortable by softening the pain and restrictions caused by the shoulder injury, by gently working the arm, chest, neck and shoulder blade, primarily using the gallbladder meridian. The upper body had become locked – making it impossible to live a normal life. The lower body was also rigid and inflexible, particularly the feet, which would put him at risk of falling in the future, I spent time opening up the feet, using pressure points and rotations and manipulations of the ankle and toes.

It was also important for Claude to feel at ease and free him up on a mental and emotional level. We talked about his earlier life in the South of France, his siblings, a 14-month granddaughter, a bright red Triumph sports car bought after a lucky win in a poker game. I asked him to describe the sheer joy of driving along the river Tay in his shiny new motor.

Claude enjoyed the first session. The importance of pleasure in a session should not be underestimated – it helps reignite the spark of wellbeing absent from daily life. He  said he was relaxed but also had felt some uncertainty about what to expect during the first session because Shiatsu was a totally new experience. The second session would be easier, he said.

On the follow up session there were some amazing changes. Claude no longer needed my support walking and was able to drop down to the mat get and get up again more swiftly. His appetite had improved and he had resumed many of his chores, even chopping wood for kindling, something that would have been unthinkable two weeks earlier. He also reported improved vision.

On the third session – Claude no longer had a pain or problems with the shoulder and the range of movement was almost normal. Energy and appetite had improved. He had resumed normal household chores, and although his vision was still hazy it was not as bad as it had been. As well as chopping wood in the garden, he was even taking rambling walks in the steep streets of the nearby village.

Although Claude’s health is much improved, he is keen to return for sessions. So far the benefits have been considerable – pleasure and wellbeing in the session, increased mobility, stamina, improved appetite, stability and the ability to balance. My goal for the next session is to continue improving the mobility and flexibility in the feet to reduce any further risk of falling. I also supplement the sessions with advice on exercises that will improve flexibility and balance.

In conclusion, I must also say something about what this experience has given me. Working with Claude is a delight. He increased my optimism about the ageing process – and with each session I discover something new about the amazing, transformative powers of the human spirit.