Friday, April 3, 2015

Revolutionary Common Sense: The Story of Shizuko Yamamoto

Recently, an old macrobiotic friend and teacher, Shizuko Yamamoto passed away. She was 91. I am posting her inspirational story here today via George Oshawa on Facebook. Shizuko suffered from leukemia when she was young, but turned her health and her life around by discovering shiatsu, yoga and macrobiotics. 

Shizuko's search was for a true way to happiness, that is: what is the body? how does the body work? how can I become strong and independent of sickness? how can I use health to accomplish something good in my life? to achieve my dreams?

Here is her story in her own words -

Shizuko in the Kitchen

Transforming Difficulty Into Happiness --- My Life's Journey

by Shizuko Yamamoto

Each individual must depend on their inner strength and commitment to succeed and achieve their goal of sound health and contentment. The following is my personal story. It is an account of my change to a better, healthier way of living. It's a journey that began many years ago.

At one time I was seriously ill. It was when I was in my twenties in Tokyo. My doctors felt that I was very close to having leukemia. I also had vision and eye troubles. I suffered over ten operations trying to correct my eye problem. Even more than the eye troubles generally I just didn't feel well. I was in and out of hospitals for three years. After my hospital traumas I stayed at home, almost hiding out for more than eight years. Because of these experiences I lost trust in western medicine. From my education and upbringing I grew up with a deep sense of trust and confidence in western ways. After my prolonged experience, I completely lost trust in this approach. Therefore I began looking for some alternative. I was committed to change and I knew what kind of outcome I was looking for. I wanted to be healthy.

While I was living at home with my parents I was introduced to shiatsu (Japanese style of finger-pressure massage). There was an older women, a shiatsu practitioner, who came to the house once a week to give my parents shiatsu treatments. She was an honest and sympathetic person. However at that time I hated the idea of the classical Oriental healing arts. My educational background had trained me to reject such unscientific and primitive nonsense. The problem was that because of my eye trouble and its effect on my neck and shoulder I had a great deal of stiffness and pain. I was deeply uncomfortable and complained to my mother. Finally I relented to my mother's request that I take one of Mrs. Fukumorita's shiatsu treatments. It felt so good! She was a nice person so I could talk to her about what I was going through. From this initial experience I began my study of the Oriental healing arts.

Change Begins -- In Japan

The first step began with my reading a book on yoga that was given to me by my aunt. This led me to attend yoga classes After taking these classes I immediately changed my way of life. I began with my diet. I started by cooking brown rice. I completely stopped eating animal foods, such as meat, chicken, and pork as well as sugar. Not eating sugar was very difficult for me, as I have since discovered is the case for almost everyone. I cooked brown rice, a variety of local vegetables, and seaweed. Everyday I would go out and walk a lot. I would do exercises and I began to meditate. In the morning I would open all the windows to let in the fresh air and perform deep breathing exercises for sometime. I practically changed my life overnight. Within one month I felt different. I felt much better.

From there I began to help out and teach at a Yoga training center. I saw many people guiding them with the Yoga exercises that I had learned. The Yoga style that I know has more movement than regular Hatha Yoga. It also includes individual corrective exercises. As I worked with more and more people I could see that each had variations of the same problems. The symptoms appeared to be different. But really the problems were the same. No one knew how to breathe or to move correctly. Each person improved using correct breathing and movement exercises. It was proven to me that if you make simple lifestyle adjustments you can get results. Sometimes students would need some extra help. They would do the Yoga techniques the best they could by themselves but their healing progressed slowly. At such times I would help them with shiatsu. I had taken beginning studies at the Namikoshi and Nishizawa schools of shiatsu. These shiatsu styles relied on the use of the practitioner's hands to do the treatment. While working at the Yoga dojo (training hall) one of my fellow teachers showed me how to use the foot during a partner exercise. After trying it during a shiatsu session I realized that using the feet was easier than using only the hands. I treated my friends with my feet and gradually developed a barefoot shiatsu style that included this foot technique. I never learned about using the feet in a class or school. It naturally evolved.

I continued my search of alternative healing methods with the study of Seitai. Seitai is a system of guided self-corrective exercises. This study was accomplished with Hidea Noguchi. His techniques are very effective.

I began to incorporate martial art principles into my style after my study of Aikido. Aikido was founded by Mr. Ueshiba and is considered a unique martial art. Through this study not only was I exposed to technical skills but also to universal principles of how nature functions. Realities such as the illusion of conflict and the unification of opposite forces deepened my understanding about the nature of reality.

This further helped to develop my shiatsu style. I found the corrective exercises of Yoga particularly useful so I combined them with shiatsu treatment. The two together achieved a much greater response than either one alone.

Fundamentally my initial search in Japan led me to the understanding that the foundation of the macrobiotic diet coupled with corrective exercises and shiatsu had tremendous power to cause change within an individual and the alleviation of suffering. For me this was a revelation. Especially considering my original outlook seeing natural healing techniques as foolish and a waste of time.

The Change Continues -- On To America

For the next ten years I applied myself to understanding traditional healing methods. While I was pursuing my studies of the healing arts in Japan I developed a holistic beauty school. People would come and be introduced to macrobiotic foods, healthful cooking, yoga, and exercise as well as beauty tips such as facial treatments and cosmetics.

The school was developing nicely when my teacher, Mr. George Ohsawa suggested that I could be more useful working in America to spread macrobiotics. I carefully considered Mr. Ohsawa's point of view and decided that he was correct. I would go to America. My purpose for coming to America was, following Mr. Ohsawa's wishes, to help promote macrobiotic activities. At that time I didn't have any plans to do shiatsu treatments. After I arrived in New York there was some legal trouble regarding macrobiotics. Consequently there were not many activities going on. Because of this I decided to work with Gloria Swanson, a famous film star, helping her with macrobiotic cooking. From Gloria Swanson's job I got another job working in a macrobiotic restaurant. While working in the restaurant some employees would complain about stiff neck and shoulders so I would quickly work on them for a few minutes and apparently they felt better because soon I was being asked to do many treatments. The employees would come to me and they told their friends who also would come for treatments. The fact that I was giving shiatsu spread by word of mouth. It was soon after that I began to earn a living from shiatsu.

Developing My Shiatsu Style

My treatment style had developed to include both the skills that I had learned from schools in Japan that primarily used the fingers and hands, plus the foot technique from my time at the Yoga center. These two styles along with the technical additions that I invented while working on the people of New York and the use of the macrobiotic diet became the "Barefoot Shiatsu" style.

New Yorkers are hard working people who tend to eat large amounts of beef, pastrami, hot dogs, eggs, and other animal source foods. This excessive consumption of animal protein together with their stressful mental work and lack of physical exercise produces exceptionally stiff, tight bodies. I developed a technique that is specifically directed toward addressing such inflexible conditions.
Technique wise from the beginning I would put a great deal of energy into giving a treatment. As time has progressed and I have seen tens of thousands of patients, the technique has become simpler and simpler. I have always taught this holistic style of treatment that includes diet, breathing, and corrective exercise with shiatsu. Before there were any macrobiotic training schools many young people would gather at Michio and Aveline Kushi's house in Boston and I would spend time sharing my experience with them. We did this many times. I was always treating patients and teaching students what I had learned. Later as interest grew large seminars were developed to share shiatsu with the public. Now many years later this information is being taught around the United States and in Europe. Shiatsu continues to grow and is sought after by many people.

Though I had many physical and emotional troubles, they were all healed. After I made the profound change to macrobiotic living principles my problems were cured. With these changes I developed more of a positive outlook. It has become easier for me to look on the bright side. When I was sick everything appeared negative to me. As my body healed itself I was able to do more work. I became involved in many interesting activities. I was able to forget my personal troubles. I soon began to feel good about things again.

After 40 years of living in Tokyo with my parents and friends, life gave me an opportunity to start over. It started with my practice of yoga and macrobiotics. It has continued with my move to the United States. This process initiated my new life. Before that time I had hardships with my illnesses but I never really had to work hard nor to depend on myself. To break away from my old ways and start a new life really felt good to me.

Following Nature

I feel that human beings who are in really good condition, those who are healthy in body and mind, will naturally have a positive outlook. Even if the environment is difficult and there are many hardships we can have a positive outlook. When your body and mind become weak everything looks bad, even if you are in a great environment. Everything is in a moving balance in nature. As we all belong to nature we aren't supposed to have many troubles. If we are healthy, we are able to cope and adjust to the challenges that inevitably affect us all. We have to follow nature's order to survive. When we violated nature's order trouble is sure to come. Most people however, never realize we are part of nature. My experience has proven the truth of this to me. To fundamentally change for the better we must learn from nature. We have no choice. If you don't have the will to change, your life is finished. You won't die right away but you will never change and your physical and emotional miseries will remain. Is this the life you were born to experience? If we as human beings cannot understand the simple message that we belong to nature we will be incapable of curing physical or emotional troubles. Nature created us. We cannot control nature. The key here is "how to discover what is nature's order." As humans, we have lost this sense. We must be able to feel it. If we can practice self-reflection, meditation, and even honest talking to ourselves, we will discover that we are part of nature. Nature is in us.

Much of the illness that exists today can be traced back to lifestyle. The number one cause of death is heart and vessel disease. This illness is practically 100% avoidable with dietary modifications. Although all scientific evidence points out this fact it has not been acted on by either the medical nor lay communities. I suggest that common sense action be taken immediately. This stance appears to be revolutionary. It may be revolutionary as it meets the current needs of a serious problem in an innovative, untried manner. It is my desire that individuals within society take it upon themselves to make appropriate changes. To take a stance individually and act upon it with logic and reason, particularly when it is outside the norm, takes courage. If society is to continue without extreme financial and emotional burdens, significant change must occur. The numbers of people afflicted with serious illnesses are ever increasing. A fundamental and rapid change to preventive health care and holistic techniques is essential to turn around human kind's race toward degeneration. The solution is simple and it can be done.

In one of his poems American poet Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference".

Lima Ohsawa (left) and Shizuko Yamamoto on the occasion of Lima's 88th birthday

You may remember Lima Ohsawa from my previous post These Are My Mothers
I would also like to post the following poem about Lima Ohsawa, "Mother of a Revolution," from my poetry book Atlantis, about the United States possibly being another Atlantis. 

Mother of a Revolution
(for Lima Ohsawa)

Catholic children are afraid
of the dark
after they say their prayers
and turn out the light,
they lie with one eye open


that the night will assemble itself
into a shape
that a sliver of light will grow
and grow
until it becomes an angel

or worse, Jesus
kind and sorrowful
or, most undeniable, His Mother
giving, her palms outward

these horror-struck
children, know,
they will be touched, no longer, innocent
if they see a vision
they must cast away their toys
leave cartoons behind forever
to fast and walk the earth barefoot
they might suffer torturous deaths
from which terror they must not cry out
or deny God, ever

so was I in awe when I was introduced to my Mother
she didn’t speak a word of English
she came all the way from Japan
and it was a big deal that she had stopped walking by
when she saw me
that she was being introduced
in hushed, hurried tones
by her little translator
to this thin, Catholic child

Now, I had spoken to her many times before this
in my heart,
asking, “Mother, you are far from me, but
I need help. What should I do for this ailment, or that?”
And, I could see her, as plainly as I did in front of me,
she held her hands across her lap, and said,
almost before I’d finished my prayer,
“Eat more brown rice.”
And, her r’s would roll like l’s, ever so gently

Now, she took both my hands and stepped toward me! Unheard of!
She was the Mother of a Revolution!
I was a nothing
the translator was silent
I waited for her to speak
I smiled, uneasily
My Mother held my hands
I tried to pull them away!
(I didn’t want to give up my toys! My pretty things!)
She pulled my hands back to herself!
to her hara
she looked, determined, into my eyes

What I would have given for the little translator to speak!
My home is in the eyes of my Mother
not a day goes by I do not visit them
and ask, “Mother, what would you have me do?”

What were you telling me? small brown eyes
most unremarkable 
elegant Western dress from fifty years ago
nylons, shoes
not even a kimono to help me

was I supposed to teach?

I taught, I kept my toys few,
my heart pure, my eyes and ears open
I embraced poverty
I know, my great sin,
I kept myself hidden from the world

“Mother, what would you have me do?”

only one thing remains

only one thing
the baby that was inside me
was that all you were trying to tell me?

that she would return to God?
am I that small?

is that all, when the personal life is dead?
when the axis will shift
and we will perish,
gasping mouthfuls of earth like the dinosaurs

tell me it was bigger, tell me I was bigger!
and I will be more comforted
the sucking up of oceans, the cracking of glaciers
tell me it was planetary, tell me it was destiny
the explosive creation of a star, no, a galaxy!
easily mistaken for

an embryo
a grain of golden grain

©PatriciaGoodwin, 2015

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Patricia Goodwin has also written many articles about organic foods, macrobiotics and the dangers of GMOs, which can be found on her website