Q&A questions with Suzanne Yates
Tell us a bit of background about yourself… (Why and how did you get into the industry? What did you do before?)
During secondary school, our PE teacher introduced us to yoga. I didn’t realise at the time how much that would become part of my life. My initial career choice had been to become an accountant, or a journalist and I had initially been accepted by Bristol to read Philosophy and Economics. However, after spending a summer in France, I changed my mind and decided to swap to modern languages. I continued doing yoga and began meditation obtaining a travel grant to study yoga and do voluntary work in India. When I developed a kidney infection I decided to look at other treatments first trying western herbs and then acupuncture. I personally didn’t really like the sensation of the needles. At the same time, there was a shiatsu therapist working in the clinic, so I switched to shiatsu and immediately became “hooked” on receiving bodywork. It felt like coming home to myself.
I decided to start studying shiatsu after I finished my finals. By then, I was no longer sure what I wanted to do, as I was processing my trip to India and the subsequent 6 months I spent in Senegal, West Africa, as part of my degree. I wrote a novel (which was never published) and found that regular bodywork and yoga helped give me structure and support. At that time, I wasn’t thinking of becoming a therapist – I simply wanted to learn more about shiatsu – but I realised that I enjoyed giving shiatsu just as much as receiving it. I also started studying massage because I wanted to work with oils directly on the skin and to understand the muscles and the physical body a little more than we were being taught in shiatsu. I funded the 4-year shiatsu training and other courses by working as a tour guide in Europe.
Are there any challenges you have had to overcome as a therapist? How have you overcome these?
I feel I have been fortunate because I started studying massage and shiatsu before I had developed a career in anything else. I wasn’t used to a steady income and so it wasn’t a huge challenge like I know it can be for many therapists, to transition from employment to being self-employed and running their own business. I was also fortunate in that later when I decided to have children, my then partner was a homoeopath and yoga teacher, and we were able to support each other. Both being self-employed meant we were able to share childcare, but it also meant that we didn’t have so much time together as a family, which was sometimes challenging.
As I developed my work, especially my speciality in pregnancy massage, I was invited to teach in many different places. I found it difficult being away from my children. I always remember my first long haul trip to teach in New Zealand. The morning after my long travel, already feeling guilty about being so far away from my children, I woke up to see the Twin Towers being destroyed. People started asking me how I would get home in the immediate aftermath of global flights being grounded.
However being self-employed meant that I could make sure I had time with them when I returned. When they were a little older I would take them on trips with me. Rosa, who is now a yoga teacher, was happy at 16 to spend her time in yoga studios while I taught in Portland, Oregon, US. My son enjoyed visiting the Niagara Falls and wakeboarding, while I was in Canada, collaborating with my Canadian colleagues in the final stages of writing “ Pregnancy and Childbirth”.
What interests you outside of work? (How do you normally spend your spare time?)
Simply being in nature: a garden, a park, or in mountains, forests, by the sea, nourishes me deeply. I also enjoy moving in close contact with nature – swimming in the sea or lakes and rivers or skiing or hiking in the mountains. Partly why I fell in love with Chinese medicine was because of how it sees the human body as a microcosm of the world around us. It helped me understand how profoundly we are connected to nature and the world around us.
I have lived in Bristol since my University days, and I recently bought a house with some land in France with views of the Pyrenees. I love waking up to see the sunrise above the hills and the horizon all around. I am creating a permaculture garden which includes a mandala. There is a beautiful pavillon where I can run small groups and combine my love of teaching massage and shiatsu, with my love of nature and Chinese medicine. I envisage teaching outside, interacting with nature and linking outside work with the study – for example weaving chakra colours along the line of linden trees outside the teaching pavillon.
I have continued to love travel, often combining it with further study. I was fortunate to return to India to deepen my yoga and meditation practice in the wonderful Sattva Yoga academy just outside Rishikesh in January 2020, just before travel restrictions became enforced. Rosa did her 300 hour Yoga training there and I was drawn to the traditional Kundalini approach and the teacher Anand Mehotra. I did their Warrior of Wisdom training. A few years before, also inspired by Rosa who did her Thai Massage training in Thailand, to travel to Thailand to study womb lifting with a traditional midwife just outside Chiangmai.
I enjoy studying. Because of my interest in pregnancy, I read a lot about the subject and that led me to study embryology, to understand more about the baby. I always love deepening my knowledge on the physical body – reading books on epigenetics but also books on the chakras and other ways of understanding ourselves: books like Bessel van der Kolk’s “The body keeps the score” or Gabor Mate’s work. I did eventually publish 3 books, although not novels, and am working on another, which takes up a lot of my time.
I also enjoy reading novels and poetry – entering another world than our daily world. Another draw of Chinese medicine is the poetic way they express our body – our inner landscape.
My work is a large part of my life and so things like yoga, meditation, receiving bodywork and looking after myself are also my interests outside of my work.
Spending time with my family and loved ones is important. My daughter Rosa is now nearly 32 and is a yoga teacher and massage therapist. It is lovely to be able to collaborate with her. She now assists me on the pregnancy massage courses and we are starting to run retreats together. Our next one is in Portugal in June, and we hope to run some more in France.
What is your seminar about and what can viewers expect to come away with?
It is about the importance of including the abdomen and baby during pregnancy massage. This first was an issue for me when I received massages and shiatsu during my first pregnancy with my daughter. The therapists wouldn’t touch my abdomen. It felt strange to me, because I massaged it a lot myself and felt it was an important way of communicating with my baby. This led me to study much more about pregnancy massage and realise that a lot of the cautions came from fear or lack of knowledge.
I want therapists to understand why this is such an important area to connect with and to come away with some safe techniques, which they could use on the mother if she is open to them. If she is not, then we can teach them to her so she can feel confident massaging her own abdomen, or her partner. I also find that many partners are happy to learn what they can do and encourage them to be creative with how they communicate with their baby..
What is it about your topic that appeals to you and why is it useful for therapists?
We all understand the importance of pregnancy and childbirth in a woman’s life: however it is also a powerful time for the baby. It is only relatively recently, in the 1940’s, that pre and perinatal psychology and research has shown that the brain is different and womb memories are pre-verbal. The ancient Chinese understood the importance of this time and that we are influenced profoundly at an unconscious level.
“Studies show how they (unborn children) are constantly tuned to their mother’s every action, thought and feeling. From the moment of conception, the experience of the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personality, emotional temperament and the power of higher thought “ (Verny T, 2003)
Pregnancy can be an amazing time because we are supporting new life and supporting the bond between a mother and her baby. It is powerful work. Of course sometimes it can be challenging too, especially when a mother loses her baby, or has a complex health condition. Yet whatever happens, we are working with two beings: building a relationship which will impact them both for the rest of their lives.
Even if you do not work directly with pregnant women, understanding the experience of being pregnant, will inform your work with any woman who has had children. It also gives you a greater understanding of life in the womb, which we have all experienced.
What would be your one piece of advice for therapists wanting to grow and develop their therapy practice?
Keep learning, keep discovering more, keep your enthusiasm for your subject. If you feel inspired by what you do, you will always find your way through, even the challenges.
Also make sure that you have plenty of support from the people around you. I have developed my work a lot through teaching and my students, but it is also essential to have people to support you – your peers but also supervisors or other professionals who can support you in your professional and personal development. It’s important to keep learning new skills and so continuing to study is vital. Especially as a teacher, I always try to learn something new each year, so I am reminded of how it is to be a student, learning a new skill.
What do you consider to be the most important traits for a therapist to have?
That’s tricky to answer because each therapist is different and brings different qualities to their work. However we all need to have a love of the magic of the body and a desire to keep learning about how to support it. It’s also important to be able to communicate on many different levels, physically, verbally and empathically. We need to be aware of how to support the quality of our relationship with our client in a professional way.
However, perhaps the most important is to enjoy doing what we do. If the passion is there, we are motivated to do all the things we need to, to keep growing and nurturing both ourselves and our career!