Hugging a Tree of Life

IMG_0770  Today I have been hugging a tree.

I was wandering round a small park in Bewdley,  Worcestershire, and was ‘accosted’ by a beautiful old tree. Its trunk was clad in a brightly-coloured knitted waistcoat! There was a hand-embroidered message on the woolly ‘waistcoat’, “Please Feel Free to Hug Me”


How could I resist? I laughed out loud. I embraced the tree and the sun literally  beamed down on us. A passerby looked on in astonishment and I quickly handed her my camera.



This is not part of the 3-day SHEN retreat I’ve come to take in Worcestershire but somehow tree-hugging fits in beautifully. Up until now the main highlight of my day has been lying comfortably on a low-slung cradle on a massage table- it even has an electric blanket.

SHEN is based on the scientific theory that traumas, stress and difficult situations cause us to contract our muscles. This can block normal energy flow and unless dealt with, can affect us later in life. Once the blockage is removed the energy flows more freely and this results in a healthier and more harmonious body. My body is definitely out of harmony and has not been happy or well with Polymyalgia Rheumatica. (PMR) and I decided to see if a three-day SHEN retreat might help.

Tony Bailey has explained things clearly. The treatment is simple. Whilst I lie comfortably wrapped up in the cradle, I am encouraged to try not to use my head to think about issues, and instead, allow myself to feel the emotions attached to these issues. I am shown how to breathe gently in and out whilst identifying emotions and then how to breathe them out and let them go. Tony meanwhile will be working with slow movements of his hands to help the energy to flow more easily. In my case he will be concentrating on my neck, shoulders and other specific SHEN points on my body.

A session lasts about an hour and a half but on this retreat I’m having the luxury of double sessions. That’s a lot of lying back and letting go of health problems and associated worries. But this isn’t just about sleeping or having a much-desired rest. (Although there is time for that). For SHEN to be effective and long lasting the client has to work too by identifying and facing up to difficult often hidden emotions. This can be challenging because whilst we often go round and round “thinking” about our problems the essence of SHEN is to become aware of how we feel about them. Then, having identified these emotions the practitioner and client work towards letting them go and unblocking the system. This is specialist work and you need the help of a fully trained and certified practitioner alongside and involved.

Tony is an experienced practitioner of SHEN, and has helped over 6,000 clients over many years. Today it was my turn and I was intrigued to see what, if anything these sessions held for me. Although this is not counseling I began to identify events and emotions that in some cases had been lying buried since I was a child. I’d experienced the example of my fear of blindness, a risk of PMR (described in yesterday’s blog). I was also experiencing feelings of sadness and loss that had re-emerged during my recent illness; loss of mobility, loss of ability and loss of strength had strong resonances from my past. I could now see I hadn’t dealt with them at the time, I’d buried them and they had now resurfaced with a vengeance.

I was looking at difficult issues but, as I shed some tears, I felt the professional and caring support of Tony. The movement of his hands was at times reassuring at others very consoling – think how a mother consoles a small child who has a pain – and I felt I was in a very safe and secure environment.

So did I experience anything new or different? Yes I did.

Time seemed to both expand and contract. Sometimes I was fully awake sometimes I drifted in and out of consciousness, occasionally I snoozed. I breathed rhythmically and made an effort to stop ‘thinking’ and relaxed into ‘feeling ‘. Long-buried memories surfaced; sometimes they were difficult – divorce, being separated from my parents, loss of the custody of my children, coping single-handed with disability.

I can’t say if these memories were associated with the physical reactions I experienced in the sessions but as the treatment progressed there were several occasions when my body, without warning, felt like it had received an involuntary voltage-like shock. My left leg shot skywards and then immediately afterwards dropped quietly back. On another occasion my heart gave a great lurch.

At other times I had the sensation in my upper right arm of a stuttering electric current trying to get round an old wiring system. Without any verbal communication from me Tony continued to concentrate on this area. I remained silent throughout the treatments. Gradually the sensation settled into a gentle regular flow through my arms and legs.

In another session my head and face became very hot. It was almost like a hot flush, which slowly moved down the back of my neck, descended down my spine and then extended sideways into the rest of my body; the overall sensation was comforting. I was aware of Tony’s hands, one above my torso and one lightly touching my middle back underneath the cradle. As my body cooled down, the sensation disappeared as magically as it had arrived and I was left feeling relaxed and with a normal temperature.

Lying quietly I had time to reflect on other things apart from my physical self – I had a great awareness of my spiritual self. I had come to the Sanctuary to re-balance my physical energy fields and now I was finding that I had the opportunity to use this time to look at the deeper issue of the balance of mind, body and spirit. That was a very positive choice I made but not everyone might want to do that.

My steroid medication has made an incredible difference to my physical condition. However, being on this retreat I’m experiencing other subtle changes like sleeping more soundly and waking feeling refreshed. Tonight I realise that the fatigue and exhaustion of the last few months have diminished and I am astonished and appreciative at how energised I feel.

As I remember discovering that amazing tree in the park today, and how I laughed and hugged it, I feel real ‘joie de vivre’ for the first time in months.


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