Artist and masseur Ali Zaidi gets hands-on about healing the body, mind and spirit. Ignore the picture though, he doesn’t practice rake-i.
Let me begin by saying that I was not always comfortable with my body the way I accept, respect and love it now. Love is an important word that I repeatedly return to throughout my work as a self-confessed connector.
I don’t typically tend to my garden in the nude, either, by the way — handling all those tools would just be an accident waiting to happen! So, a bit of background. Growing up in Pakistan, being younger to a very sporty brother, the comparisons were rife and they affected me no end. Making things with my hands, drawing, gardening with my mother, and secretly dancing with my shadow was much fun than pumping iron. But one day, wanting to fit in with the young men, one day I ended up with a bruised, swollen hand in my failed attempts at breaking tiles. I fondly remember my father taking my hand in his and lovingly telling me, “ These are your tools of expression, son, look after them, always.” And he was right. I was very aware of my many differences as a youngster, but I found a real sense of belonging when I enrolled at the National College of Arts in Lahore. From there, I immersed myself in the worlds of hatha yoga and transcendental meditation, which brought me closer to a deeper understanding of self, and the connection of the breath to the body, the mind, the spirit. Suddenly everything started to make sense — which leads very nicely to what I do now as a connector. Yes, it’s a thing!
In a nutshell, I seek commonalities from within differences while also celebrating the uniqueness each of us have regardless of age, gender and sexuality. I connect wherever or however I can: through art, cooking, gardening or healing/massage. It starts with the eyes, a smile, a hug and finally the touch. I can’t put my finger on exactly when I started massaging, but it dawned on me early on that I had a gift of touch, through holding people’s hands, or in giving unhurried hugs. It was as if the person’s body told me what they could not actually say. I started respecting my intuition and, when in a state of calmness I could feel the vibrancy of communication with a great clarity. Touch guided by one’s heart produces a sublime exchange of energies, and over the years I have experienced many forms of healing, from gong baths to vocal therapy, and massages, including ayurvedic, shiatsu and tantra. I incorporate the last into my healing process and it’s informed by my own experiences of the practice, learning from the texts and meeting with a diverse range of practitioners.
The joy of tantra is that it plays with the polarities of masculine and feminine, it produces a third space which is one and many all at the same time, stay with me — a space of authenticity, where one can just be, in pure love, acceptance, free of prejudice, a space where you are invited to leave behind what doesn’t serve any purpose, a space to renew yourself by letting go.
“Touch guided by one’s heart, produces a sublime exchange of energies”
When I receive a request from a new client, we have a conversation about how they feel and what in particular prompted them to book a session. We move on to doing synchronised breath hugs, followed by a short exercise that involves tensing and releasing the muscles from head to toe, then we start the massage. It is purposely slow-paced, a tender loving reaffirmation to the person’s body that it is in a safe and non-judgemental place. Every part is touched with equal amounts of care because most of us hold deep issues of guilt and shame, so it is important to touch with intention. It’s in this state that the healing begins to take place. Repeated sessions are required though. On a regular basis, I also make time for self-love — which, before you get carried away, is different to masturbation. The focus is the whole body; not one particular region. I also treat myself to massage exchanges and immersive therapies that allow mind, body and spirit to dance together.
I’ve certainly come a long way from dancing with my own shadow.