Interview - Mardi Kendall

Interview: Mardi Kendall, shiatsu massage practitioner and film producer


Media 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?

My "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.

I 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.

After 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 I blossomed.

I 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 today.

What motivates you?

I 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.

I will say that beauty motivates me. And corny as it sounds, love.

How did you develop such a broad skill set?

Curiosity 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?

Shiatsu 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.

However, 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.

I understand your Shiatsu massages are somewhat known around the world. What's actually involved, and why do you need 2 to 4 hours?

I 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.

Since 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?

I 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 on Africa?

In 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.

I 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.

Africa 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?

The 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 Guinea.

What's the story about you finding your soul mate and partner in Africa?

I 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.

My 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?

I 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 you?

The 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.

My 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 mother's milk.

Who has been the most supportive to date?

My best friend Jocelyn, my sister and brothers, and so many friends.

Who are your business and life mentors?

In 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?

Life 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?

Media 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?

I'm 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 of Guinea.

What's the biggest compliment you have ever received?

My 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.

My 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 location?

Bronte 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?

I 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?

I'm 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?

I 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.


Mardi Kendall official website


Mardi Kendall


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