Mardi Kendall, shiatsu massage practitioner and film
Man Australia continues to explore the world of mind,
body and spirit. We interview one of the world's greatest
shiatsu massage practitioners.
What's your background?
"background" began when I was nine. This
was when I suddenly knew I was going to do something
called healing, but it wasn't in the encyclopedia!
It was 1963. In the intervening years 40 odd years
I've done many diverse professions, but the healing
modalities have been the theme. I simply love working
on people and making them feel better.
did the right thing and went through university (music
performance; cello), but I was damned if I was going
to go through life sitting down and wearing black.
I took off for world travel and living (all around
the States, Europe, the then Soviet Union, later Australia
and Africa), and intensive study. I never looked back--
not now, not ever.
years of studying and working on people, at 30 it
became obvious that a basic part of life was missing.
I didn't even know how to wear lipstick! I dropped
everything and moved to Paris to become a model, fully
transforming myself in the process. (I did lie about
my age). French girls are most enlightening about
the outer aspects of life: beauty, elegance and presentation.
(French men have their own mystery). Working the catwalks
of Paris for years purged any residual shyness and
came to Australia on Boxing Day in 1989, (with a man)
and soon put modeling behind me to re-focus on the
healing arts. Before long I was teaching at the esteemed
Sydney Yoga Centre, founded by Eve Gryzbowski (of
Simply Yoga), which I came to direct for some years.
I continued my shiatsu bodywork and over time, developed
the four-hour transformative treatment that I give
What motivates you?
just want to get what makes people (especially myself)
tick. The defining moment of my life was the death
of my mother when I was fourteen, in 1969. From that
time on I was hungry to find peace, and became ravenous
in my pursuit of healing and strengthening modalities
and techniques, and especially interesting these days
is research into the brain.
will say that beauty motivates me. And corny as it
How did you develop such a broad
is a strong medicine. As soon as I could, I followed
my guts. From books and travelers I learned about
places and people I had to visit. I lived in many
communities such as the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland
and the Esalen Community in Big Sur, California, and
went to the then Soviet Union to study with Igor Charkovsky,
the pioneer of water birthing, who is a great laying
on of hands healer. I have studied and absorbed from
many schools, teachers and experiences. Being outfitted
by the great couturiers of Paris to cradling dying
children in Africa, one learns.
What is Shiatsu massage?
is a form of Japanese bodywork that I call the little
sister of Chinese medicine. In both, one perceives
the body as a system that works together as one piece,
(as explained by the meridian system or the nervous
system), and attempts to find the keys to it's renewed
balance and vitality. Shiatsu uses touch to do this,
on a clothed body, instead of with needles. It is
done on a futon mat, and because it's on the floor,
it is possible to do many stretches and a lot of detailed
work on the receiver.
my favorite form of bodywork comes from a powerful
Kurdish man, Manocher Movlai, whom I had the honor
of studying with in San Francisco in the early 80's.
His bodywork came from his village in Afghanistan,
where everyone practiced it to help ease the harsh
life in the mountains. It is a very feminine form
of work, incorporating rolling and rocking movements
that are incredibly effective in releasing the nervous
system and leading to profound relaxation.
understand your Shiatsu massages are somewhat known
around the world. What's actually involved, and why
do you need 2 to 4 hours?
don't like anything half done. I'm sure many people
have said to themselves after an hour massage, wow
I really needed more of that. And there is something
to this. No one could deny that stress levels in society
are going through the roof, and my treatments have
evolved accordingly. They've grown and grown until
they hit the four-hour mark. This seems to be how
long it takes to really make a difference, a lasting
difference, though at times they have gone on for
as long as five or even six hours! Yet time seems
to disappear during the process and passes in a dream.
such long sessions are a sort of pioneering venture,
the feedback I get from different people around the
world is invaluable. And I have gotten the same overwhelming
response from architects in New York, young drummers
in Africa, young and old, rich and poor. It makes
me think I'm on to something.
What qualifications do you have?
have a Batchelor of Music Performance from Webster
University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, a diploma
from the Breema Centre in California, a Zen Shiatsu
Diploma from Sydney Shiatsu College, a teaching training
diploma from Sydney Yoga Centre, as well as 28 years
of practicing shiatsu and 36 years of yoga practice.
Like myself, you are a humanitarian.
Tell me about your humanitarian efforts which focus
early 2000, I went to Africa, to the country of Guinea
for the first time. I was desperate to learn the West
African 21-string harp, called the kora. I found a
desperately poor country with generous and creative
people living in appalling conditions. I fell in love
with the country and wanted to show the world their
rich culture. I planned a documentary, but quickly
realized I would also like to live there and contribute
to the country.
have taken various trips to Africa and to France since
that time, filming and getting to know the members
of the kora family I studied with. I have many friends
in Guinea, a good support system. We have plans to
begin some ventures that could make an immediate difference
to daily life for many, and create jobs. With the
support of many influential elders, I feel confident
that we can accomplish great things.
is finally on people's radar, though it continues
to suffer on a scale unimaginable to us here. My challenges
there will be massive, and there is no guarantee of
results, but I have a vision. The vision focuses mainly
on food production with a permaculture base, better
housing based on earth architecture, combined with
the latest in green technology that would create family
compounds that would be food-producing and fundamentally
more comfortable and self-sufficient than the way
people live now.
I've heard about your film project.
Tell me about that?
planned documentary will highlight the culture of
Guinea through three generations of a family that
has played the sacred kora since the 1200's, and whose
younger generation are now World Music stars in Europe
with their group called Ba Cissoko. I am hoping that
it will be the front-runner to my charitable foundation
that will build the many projects planned. The foundation
will be under the auspices of the kora master Ba Cissoko,
who is loved and trusted by young and old alike in
the story about you finding your soul mate and partner
met Ba Cissoko when I first went to Africa to study
the kora. After knowing him for over a year, and filming
he and his family extensively, I realized that down
to my cells I loved him. His patience and compassion
are profound, and he is the peacemaker in his large
family. We basically ignored it, until the elders
actually brought us together and suggested marriage.
Then we happily accepted the reality.
passion to aid Africa came well before my relationship,
but it certainly helps to sustain it during these
long developmental stages. Ba is nearly always on
tour as his career skyrockets, so we are patient.
In the end, one does what is necessary, and hopes
for the best long-term results.
Where were you born, and what's
the background to your move to Australia?
was born in St. Louis, which is on the Mississippi
River, and am the child of an early American family.
But I always knew I would live throughout the world.
I came to Australia knowing nothing about it. I have
stayed for nearly 17 years. I love Australia, though
her present politics, like those in the US, worry,
alarm and horrify me.
Who has influenced and inspired
women of Africa for keeping the continent together,
Medicins Sans Frontiers, Jaime Oliver for having the
balls to change school lunches, Steve Irwin for his
conservation vision and with having balls full stop,
Angelina Jolie in general, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Ex-Presidents Clinton and Carter for their unending
work for the world, Princess Diana, Bill and Melinda
Gates, Hugh Jackman for being a good guy, and anyone
with a conscience who acts on it.
mother was my best teacher. She was an ardent civil
rights campaigner in the 60's, and among my five siblings,
one sister was profoundly retarded. I adored and cared
for her. I learned compassion from her and from my
Who has been the most supportive
best friend Jocelyn, my sister and brothers, and so
Who are your business and life mentors?
Australia, the founders and directors of the former
Sydney Yoga Centre, Eve Gryzbowski and Collyn Rivers,
who believed in me and taught me both yoga and business,
and the co-director of Yoga Synergy, Simon Borg-Olivier
from whom I have learned so very much.
How does the Internet assist
you, and how do you know its makes a real difference?
doesn't actually exist without the Internet, does
it?! It's the connecting fiber of today's world. I'm
planning to build a major foundation to work in Africa.
That requires enormous amounts of research and link-ups
and for that the Net is indispensable. The Internet
might just save the world.
What media coverage have you
achieved to date?
has been in my life for a long time. Modeling isn't
really media, but being on TV and in print a lot,
it becomes normal to be out there and see your face.
While I had the yoga centre I was often interviewed
for TV, either TV shows or small docos, and was interviewed
by many newspapers, magazines such as Vogue and even
did modeling work doing yoga poses.
What are you best known for,
and what would you like to be known for?
known as an excellent yoga teacher and bodyworker,
and a good friend. I want to be known as a person
who actually moved mountains and helped the people
What's the biggest compliment
you have ever received?
dear friend in Africa, the revered elder M'Bady Kouyate
told me that I am really an African, that I have the
heart of an African. This was the greatest compliment
I could ever be paid.
shiatsu clients have also told me repeatedly over
the years that my work is the best treatment they
have ever had, anywhere in the world, even shifting
their lives for the better. This is an honor.
Why is Bronte Beach such a great
Beach has been my home for 16 years. I joke that it
is the known centre of the universe. There is a lovely
community here and the physical beauty is astounding.
To give my shiatsus with the sea and park in front
of the window is a dream.
What do you do to relax?
absorb information. I am starving to know more about
the world. And I do yoga of course! I love music,
(World), walking, reading, movies, playing with kids,
writing-and of course the unmentionable things. What
I love best is a good meal and an in-depth conversation
with a person who is taking risks in their life.
What star sign are you?
a Scorpio, and I suppose in the symbolic world of
astrology I relate to it. Scorpio is about life, death
and re-birth, losing and gaining money and an intense
need to go deeply into the meaning of things. It has
its drawbacks, (too intense) but it seems that these
aspects of life are my fate, if there is such a thing.
What's next for Mardi?
am finding that setting up a charitable foundation
and producing a documentary film are not simple endeavors.
It must be a team-effort, and slowly the teams are
assembling. I am on a very big learning curve. Life
and challenges go on and get deeper, and I aim to
achieve my goals or die trying.
Kendall official website
Body & Spirit
Body & Spirit