Bernardston Elementary teachers check stress relief off back-to-school list with free shiatsu sessions

  • Cheniece Goding of the Shiatsu School of Vermont gives a shiatsu treatment to a teacher at Bernardston Elementary School. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sheyna Hoitsma of the Shiatsu School of Vermont gives a shiatsu treatment to a teacher at Bernardston Elementary School. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Students from the Shiatsu School of Vermont gave shiatsu treatments to educators outside at Bernardston Elementary School last week. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2020 2:30:35 PM

BERNARDSTON — Bernardston Elementary School teachers were recently given a helping hand to manage the stress that comes with an approaching school year, amid a pandemic, no less.

The Shiatsu School of Vermont visited the school on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons to give teachers and staff members free 30-minute shiatsu treatments. Bernardston Elementary School Principal Kelly Carriere said she had been communicating with the Brattleboro-based school since early August to plan the self-care activity.

“I know the amount of work I have put into preparing for the start of the school year and the stress that came with it,” Carriere said. “Keeping that in mind, I wanted to provide something for my staff that acknowledged the stress they too are under and a way to show them I support them.”

After some research, Carriere connected with the Shiatsu School of Vermont. Initially, the business gave a quote of $1,000 for the shiatsu sessions, which Carriere said the elementary school couldn’t afford. She said she didn’t want to charge teachers for something meant to help them, especially in the instance someone felt they couldn’t afford it.

When Carriere said she couldn’t manage the cost, director and founder of the Shiatsu School of Vermont, Marjorie Pivar, offered the sessions for free. The only catch, Carriere said, is that teachers had to take a working lunch so they could use the half-hour for the Shiatsu treatment.

Carriere said about 30 teachers signed up for the shiatsu sessions. To protect against the spread of COVID-19, the shiatsu practitioners and Bernardston teachers were required to wear masks. The teachers were also given a bandana to wear provide an extra layer of coverage. Each station was sanitized and outfitted with clean linens prior to each session.

Pivar said she offered the sessions for free because she believes it is necessary to practice self-care during stressful times, and she felt Carriere’s interest supported this message.

The event was also co-beneficial, as the Shiatsu School of Vermont’s students used the sessions toward requirements for their shiatsu license. Pivar founded the school seven years ago, and her daughter, Sheyna Hoitsma, works as the school’s assistant director.

Pivar has been practicing shiatsu for more than 30 years, and studied under the first Japanese shiatsu instructor who came to the United States. She said she has always been drawn to body and mindfulness practices that stem from Asian culture. Similarly, she studied tai chi while living in New York.

While a typical Swedish massage is about stroking the joints, muscles and connective tissues, Pivar said shiatsu uses the meridian lines of the body as a road map for strengthening muscles and other body parts. Practitioners aim to strengthen the weak parts of the body and tonify places that need support, so they can hold joints or vertebrae in proper alignment, as well as release stress.

“Life is inherently stressful,” Pivar said.

Speaking to mental health, Pivar said it’s important to take in stressors, process the feelings that come with them and let them go again so as to return to a less stressed state. However, with the busy world we live in where we are constantly processing events and information, Pivar said it can be difficult to unwind at the end of each day.

“Things pile up,” she said, “and if we’re still processing it can be hard for us to be present and be balanced in the moment.”

According to Pivar, shiatsu treatments apply pressure to different parts of a person’s meridian lines, which she described as a sort of communication system in the body. Pivar said Asian cultures have understood that these lines connect the different systems of the body. By applying pressure in the right places, shiatsu can help release the physical and emotional stress one might be holding onto.

After Wednesday’s and Thursday’s visits, Pivar said Bernardston Elementary School teachers were visibly more relaxed. She said both Pioneer Valley Regional School and Northfield Elementary School have inquired about scheduling sessions for their staff members, too.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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