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Finding an ancient healing practice in New Orleans

Cily Winkeler

Local Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner Cily Winkeler.

After I was diagnosed with a chronic illness over two years ago, I have become much more aware of how the mind and body are connected to our health. What we say, think, and do is reflected in how we feel.

We all emit and receive energy. You can feel a person’s energy when they walk into a room. You can sense when someone is happy, sad, or in pain -- physically or emotionally. I find it all fascinating.

So when my editor told me about an ancient Japanese practice called Jin Shin Jyutsu (pronounced Yin Sin Yitzu) based on energy healing, I was excited to learn more. Jin Shin Jyutsu is a form of Acupressure which helps release tension in the body through touch therapy. It was rediscovered in Japan in the beginning of the 20th Century by Master Jiro Murai. He taught the practice to Mary Burmeister, who brought it to the United States in the 1950’s.

But I didn’t have to go far to experience Jin Shin Jyutsu first-hand. I was pleasantly surprised to meet one of the people behind the practice in New Orleans.

Cily Winkeler is not someone you might imagine would be behind an ancient Japanese healing practice. A native of the Netherlands, she has lived in New Orleans for over 35 years. She moved to the city with her husband and four children in 1979. She was introduced to Jin Shin Jyutsu by a friend in the late 90’s. She had always been interested in learning about ways to improve her own health and well-being. In 2003, after doing an introductory lesson, she became certified to practice Jin Shin Jyutsu.

I met Cily at her home in Algiers, where she invited me to my first Jin Shin Jyutsu session. In a tidy room upstairs in her home, I laid down, fully clothed, on a padded table similar to a massage table. She asked me to close my eyes, take a deep breath and relax. She began the treatment by feeling my pulse from my wrists. Then, she gently placed both of her hands on different points of my body including my forehead, my stomach, lower back and my hands. After about fifteen minutes, I drifted off into what felt like a meditative state. Cily continued to gently press both of her hands on different points of my body. After forty-five minutes at the end of our session, I felt deeply relaxed, relieved and calm.

Afterwards, I sat down to talk with Cily, as she shared the story of her journey to New Orleans as well the origins of her Jin Shin Jyutsu practice, which began when she treated her first client and friend, Joan Fisher.

Fisher was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. At the time, she was the principal at St. Cleatus High School, where she continued working while she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Fisher was hoping for relief from the nausea she was experiencing from the chemotherapy, but at the time, the medication was costly. So she took Cily up on her offer and tried Jin Shin Jyutsu. Fisher says the sessions provided significant relief.

“I was feeling miserable when Cily first started working on me. And I could tell right away within a couple of days, I felt tremendously better,” says Fisher.

But it wasn’t just physical relief. It also helped her cope emotionally.

“It was a restful period that allowed me to let go, center and focus. Afterwards, I felt relieved, purged. I felt more powerful and in control in a situation that had taken complete control of my life,” Fisher adds.

Doctors told Fisher, who is currently the director of the counseling and training center at Holy Cross College, that she had a 40%-60% chance of surviving up to 6 years after she was diagnosed. Today, she has been cancer free for nearly fourteen years.

“My oncologist had never heard of it in the beginning, and he wasn’t interested. And as it went on, he said, 'well, whatever that stuff is that you’re doing, keep doing it',” Fisher says.

And she’s not the first to find relief in Jin Shin Jyutsu. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center indicated that patients reported significant improvement in side effects of cancer treatment following just one Jin Shin Jyutsu session.

Cily still provides the treatment for clients at her home on a donation basis. She asks clients to pay whatever they feel they can afford and she has donated much of that money to help care for others in need.

“I don’t advertise. I don’t see it as a business. We don’t need the money. I see it more as a ministry,” Cily says.

She also teaches a Jin Shin Jyutsu self-help class at the People’s Program in New Orleans each week, along with several other classes.

“To see people come in and feel miserable, and when they leave, they are upbeat, they are happy, they are smiling. That is a wonderful experience,” Cily says.

Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.