Touch before birth and after death

Maria Illgen


We receive and give bodywork in life – more precisely: sometime between birth and death. I had some wonderful experiences of touch and contact with people apart from that.
First the moment which led me to become a Shiatsu and then Seiki practitioner.

The magic feeling of contact in touch

There may have been a moment of a very special touch to many people who practice bodywork. The contact, the resonance, which moves a person completely, so that he or she steps through a gate into a world where touch as a form of contact plays an essential role. Touch suddenly is something special, powerful or even magical. And she goes in search of exploring this magical world.
I had at least two or three such wonderful touches before I got it. The strongest was the touch, the communication through physical contact, with my unborn son.

Touch before birth

Many mothers experience special moments during pregnancy. I invite them to take these experiences seriously like real knowledge.

My hand was on my belly. Right where my son had just kicked me. Very slowly I moved my hand to the side and his foot followed my hand at exactly the same speed the same way to the same place. Or was it the other way around that I followed him? Did we both follow a common impulse? I can no longer say that. But I know: He pressed with ever stronger force and I held my hand with almost the same force. There was an extreme bulge, for he put his foot through my abdominal wall into my hand and seemed to enjoy it.
It was very clear to me that this meeting of two events was not a coincidental. This was a shared experience – real and clear communication through touch.
A warm feeling of sunshine flowed through me. Coming from my solar plexus into the body through the palms of my hands to my son.

For my bodywork this experience had the following relevance:

By learning Shiatsu and practicing Seiki, I learned more about this physical feeling of resonance and I can work with it in different ways.

For example, it can take place between my two hands or one hand and the client. It changes with space, inner distance, idea, orientation, opening for specific questions, levels… But that is not the focus of this article.

In body-related work, a lot is attached to the breath.
I briefly note at this point: During this contact my son has not breathed yet.

In contact with dying

Many years later – I had become a Shiatsu practitioner; my son grew to be very attentive – his guinea pig wriggled in death. For me a minor experience that was easy to observe.

We both held it: each with one hand. We sat next to each other. We felt the breathing, the heartbeat, the movement of the animal in our hands. We felt that the breathing stopped, that the heart stopped and the movement. And yet we continued to sit there and held the guinea pig savely and securely. It was a very intimate moment. Not only between my son and me, but also between the three of us. Also the guinea pig could benefit from being held.
At least we, my son and I, agreed on that.
Time was not linear, we were on the edge of infinity. I can only guess that we sat like this for maybe half an hour.

Then it was my grandfather who was sure he had lived enough at ninety. He stopped eating. I visited him. I thought he could still need a little touch. But apart from the loving handshake we exchanged, there was nothing he required. There was peace in the room. He exuded contentment. He laid his hands calmly on his chest and belly. Now and then they changed position a little. And it was all right. He died the next morning.

Relevance for bodywork:

Neither a belief, e.g. religious belief, nor any specific knowledge was necessary for these experiences.

The transition between life and death is a process and cannot be determined in one go.

Dying can be a very conscious and intensive experience.

Very simple gestures of touch can have a great significance.

In everyday life these intense moments also exist, they are just less appreciated.

From the experience with the guinea pig:

Even without a visible or audible feedback (movement, breathing, pulse) we can be clearly in contact.

From the experience with the grandfather:

Even a person in a supposedly weak situation (when dying) can take good care of himself.

In resonance I also can accept limits and consciously dispense with touch.

Touch after death

For a long time my grandmother had lived alone and eventually died alone.

When my grandmother died…

we had a quiet feast with her.
She lay surprisingly long and tall between the kitchen and the bathroom. Her back tight like a castle, her delicate head between her arms, I found her.
She looked really dead.
But I was also attracted to her. So I knelt down in front of her and put my hand on her back. It was a little warm and rather hard and immobile. So were her shoulders. The head seemed small and her hair was very soft. The most warmth I felt in the neck.
I sat like this for a while. And every time I had taken my hands to myself, the impulse came again to put them on her back.
My feeling was: although she was dead, she was here and at the same time very present. As if she could feel that I was with her after all.
Then I noticed how a strong energy came into motion. Under my hands was death and liveliness pure. There was an intense flow and an incredible power.
Full of incomprehension and respect I let go. I had felt a strong contact and energy where my dead grandmother lay. This was impossible. Why do I feel life where there is none? Is all I feel only in myself? And not real at all?
Or what?
So I watched her. And it was as if there was a gentle flow towards the tip of her nose, perhaps also towards the root of her nose and her mouth. Like the soul going into the room. Soul as a light substance mixing into the air. Gas or energy without form and with little substance, rather light and distributed.
When I laid my hands on her again to check, there was still much life there.
Then my sister said it was a catastrophe for the intestinal flora when a person died. And I told her how the cells and muscles store energy that is released after death and then the muscles shorten.
My parents, my sisters, my daughter were there. I cooked, and we ate in pleasant atmosphere.
I had covered my grandmother with her cosy blanket, but we had to climb over her every time we wanted to go to the kitchen or bathroom.
It was good as it was. And we had a quiet feast with her when my grandmother died.

Relevance for bodywork:

When a person has just died the vast majority of body cells are still alive. I assume the nerves also still send impulses for a while. So physical currents still flow and chemical reactions take place. The entire microbiome (skin, intestine, …) is still alive. The body is in a special situation, a crisis.

My assessment:

In a crisis, the system sends out stronger impulses and is particularly sensitive.

Obviously it is possible to perceive such (or other?) life processes without necessarily using the breath, movement or pulse as an indicator for change and „liveliness“.

I can be in resonance with a person who has just died.

In addition to the situation that can be rationally grasped and handled, my subjective perception had significance. It is not necessary for me to explore the objective truth of my experience, because free experience in resonance is already real. However, I can ask myself later whether or how I interpret this experience.

Touching the soul

One time a good friend, who knew about the experience of my grandmother’s death, said to me: You are welcome to use me.
That made me wonder: What should I use you for?
For your experiments.
My question mark remained. He was in his late 60s. What I didn’t know, but he knew he’d soon die. By chance or not it happened that I came to him and another „experiment“ took place.

My phone rings. A doctor tells me you have just died.
Half an hour later I see you. We are alone in a mourning room in the hospital. You look peacefully dead. Your hands are folded on your stomach. Your mouth seems to smile.
You feel very warm and soft, relaxed and agile. I leave my hand on your chest for a long time, touching and moving you. Without breath and without heartbeat there is still a lot of life pulsating inside you. I am talking to you. Feel that you can still hear me and also answer me; inwardly.
You ask me for permission to die.
A small flash: Am I to blame then?
I answer you honestly, there is no other way: Yes, it is okay if you want to die. And if you still want to live, that’s fine, too. You’ve made up your mind. All that mattered was this request for confirmation.
After an hour I leave the room quietly and close the door. You call me. You want to get out as well. I open the door briefly, and invisibly you float to my side. I take your hand and we leave together. Straight ahead. I want to go to a friend of yours, because I couldn’t reach her on the phone. You tell me that’s nonsense, that she’s not even home. I say to you, I’m going anyway because I don’t know any better. So I walk, you hover. It’s a very strong feeling in my hand.
You tell me jokes without words, and I laugh, even with a few tears, but it’s wonderful! By mistake I pass a little close to a house wall, that doesn’t bother you. You can even float through a passer-by. And keep up with me. You become a little lighter, like a helium balloon in my right hand. You’ll float up, you say. Let me hold you a little longer.
When I ring the bell at the friend’s house, nobody opens. I take a look at my mobile phone, which I had turned off in the hospital. Several messages. To be able to handle my device better, I have to let you go, but I’m afraid you’ll fly away up in the air. I wedge you gently between my teeth.
And then I call a bunch of people back. Phone conversations.
I just forgot about you. Then you were gone.

Relevance for bodywork:

In the days before his death, I gave this friend foot treatments. Later on I was not interested in his feet and legs at all.
During the Seiki treatment after his death, the hands, the breastbone and the right collarbone were interesting for me. I also used Kenbiki (swinging) on the rib cage.
The friend, who was with him an hour later, said that he was no longer in his body, she would have recognized this by the sternum.

Whatever the soul may be in the religious or non-religious imagination, I believe that the soul is what touches and what we touch when we resonate.

Life here first withdraws from the feet, and later escapes from the ribcage / sternum.

Bodywork is possible and relevant before birth and after dying, just like in life.

There are many aspects of life that are not always in the same place at the same time.

Touch in life

I was emotionally very connected with the people and beings that appear in this text. But this was not absolutely necessary for the experiences.

I opened myself to the experiences of unborn life and death, was curious without focusing on anything specific.

What was special for me was the absolute clarity of contact and the pure feeling of resonance.

I think that the same qualities of touch occur in all encounters.

I can call the resonance shared vibration, connectedness or love. When I catch this resonance with my mind, a reflected subjective reality is developed.

I also think it is always possible to feel this resonance.

Mostly the resonance is overlaid by actions, ideas, thoughts, movement, breathing, heartbeat.

Resonance, which happens anyway, can express itself through these life functions, but can also be experienced purely.


I want to show my personal experiences and I want to touch with this text – not to make affected, but to include the interested idea of death into life. Life before birth and being in death are only examples of invisible states that we more or less tend to neglect in life, which are therefore no less real. Sometimes the balance between pragmatic and spiritual insight can also need encouragement and connection.
On the other hand, I would like to point out the possibility that life can be perceived in a very pure way. The concentration on the breath, in bodywork an important tool, often distracts me from an open inner „resonance conversation“. This does not diminish the relevance of all techniques that involve the breath, tissue tension, pulse etc., but it is to be distinguished from them.
Touch is a suitable medium of communication for resonance with the invisible. From this point of view, the experiences I have described have an effect on my everyday touch and on my bodywork. I trust in the resonance I feel. I allow it to become a reality within me. At the same time, however, the handling of my subjective perception has gained a lightness. I can accept the information I receive, question it and also let it go again without hesitation. I can participate and decide, as I do in every conversation I have.
And finally, I encourage each reader to value her individual experience. If we find clarity in our resonance and deal with it in a reflective way, we are less dependent on the truth of others.

Original version (German) published in „Shiatsu Journal“ No. 103, 2020

Maria Illgen, Shiatsu practitioner GSD, Berlin, 2020

Touch before birth and after death
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