Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Helping children with story massage after the tsunami in 2012 in Japan (interview of Mary Atkinson)

I taught story massage today in Family Room in San Marino so it is a great day to share the interview of some true story massage veterans who have taken story massage even to Japan to help children in the aftermath of the tsunami in 2012. I am honored to present you the interview of Mary Atkinson who with her partner Sandra Hooper teach story massage in England. Read the inspiring story of these incredible women and their valuable and inspiring work

You and Sandra Hooper have been teaching story massage in the UK for many years. What is your story? How did it all start?

Sandra and I first met in 2005 when I was researching information for my book Healing Touch for Children. Sandra is an experienced Massage in Schools Instructor and I was a student on her course. We both shared a real passion for the power of Story Massage and felt an instant bond. We worked together on several other projects together. Then in 2012, I was invited to work with the children who had been affected by the devastating tsunami in Japan. Story Massage seemed the best way to introduce the healing power of touch to these traumatised children. I approached Sandra and other health professionals to write a story massage especially for the children. 
The story proved so popular and beneficial that Sandra and I wanted to share the benefits, and the joy, of Story Massage with as many children and adults as possible, all around the world. We now run accredited training courses, and we have written a book, eBook and produced a DVD. Our books and DVD are called Once Upon a Touch… Story Massage for Children.

How many people have you trained?

We have only been running our courses for a year but we have trained around 250 people already. Our diaries are filling up for next year too with courses around the UK including in-house training days in schools and hospices. We have invitations to teach in Denmark, USA and France. It seems to be gathering its own momentum as people realise the amazing benefits and possibilities of such a simple and positive activity. 

Where do the people you trained use story massage - at home, schools, other facilities?
We have been so humbled by the range of areas where Story Massage is making a real difference. People attend our courses and then use Story Massage in their place of work using their own expertise and experience. People use it at home with their own children and grandchildren, and it can be helpful for bonding when children are adopted and fostered. It is used in schools and in special schools, and with adults and children with learning difficulties or physical disabilities. It has also proved really beneficial in hospice settings with children facing the end of their life where Story Massage brings comfort not only to the children themselves but also their families. Disadvantaged teenagers find that sharing positive touch in a safe atmosphere can be helpful for raising self-esteem, and it has been part of Brownie activities, Harvest Festival in churches, baby massage classes and even within physiotherapy sessions. Every course we run seems to bring new possibilities and avenues to explore. At the end of November, I am travelling further afield and will take Story Massage to a children’s home in Nepal.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from your students after they have started using story massage in their work or homes?

The feedback has been so positive, sometimes it is hard to believe that something so very simple and enjoyable can bring such profound benefits. People are always so pleased that they have an activity that they can use immediately after the day course. We often get comments from parents and grandparents saying that their child loved the story massage and wanted more and more…! Health professionals are delighted to have an activity that does not require any preparation, funding or sterilization. Teachers find that Story Massage has a calming impact in the classroom, and can easily be used as a creative activity within the school curriculum.

Could you share one positive experience (I am sure you have many!) with story massage that has touched you?

Am I allowed to describe two!

Firstly, there is a charity called The Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline which offers children from the Chernobyl Disaster area some respite, good food and healthcare for four weeks every year. One of the problems is the language barrier, and also initial ‘bonding’ with their host families in the UK. For the past three years we have introduced a Welcome to the UK Story Massage on their first day to help break down the barriers through positive touch. It has always proved successful and provided a lot of fun and laughter. However, last year we were so pleased to discover that the children had been sharing massage not only within their host family homes, but also in a supermarket! (see photo). The children took the story massage back to their own families – and so the power of touch keeps spreading.
Secondly, we took story massage to a school assembly of 330 children aged 10 -11 years, and the outcome was really heartwarming. As background information, as I mentioned before, I was part of a project that took Story Massage to the tsunami area of Japan. This was instigated by a wonderful Japanese charity called Cocoro (which means mind in Japanese) and founded by Takiko Ando, a Japanese aromatherapist who wanted to bring comfort and healing to the victims through positive touch.

The mental health of the survivors is still a real cause for concern and the charity continues its vital work in the area. One of the most important ways of supporting the local people is by sending letters or photographs to show they are still remembered by people all around the world.

Part of my role as Cocoro UK representative is to co-ordinate these awareness-raising activities. We were invited to run a school assembly and introduce The Smiling Flowers Story Massage to the children. It was just so amazing to watch 330 children, boys and girls, all massaging each other (see photo). The teachers commented that they rarely saw the children so well behaved, focused and gentle with each other! Then, totally unprompted, they wrote beautiful hand-written letters to the children in Japan. The letters were translated to Japanese and delivered by the charity to the schools and kindergartens. It was chain of compassion, connection and caring that was sparked by the power of touch through Story Massage.

Because of my own work with story massage, I am curious about your method! In your method you teach a set of strokes to use with stories. Do you find it is easier for people to have this tool pack of strokes than to improvise?
Definitely. We organized several ideas workshops with a range of professionals and parents to devise the most effective way of sharing Story Massage with people who have no massage background. We introduce ten basic strokes that can be used to cover a range of different actions and objects within a story massage. One stroke is called The Circle, for example, and this could depict the sun, a cake, the world or children dancing in a circle…. the list goes on. We teach and share these ten strokes and spend time discussing the various objects and actions before people begin to adapt stories or create their own.

For many people, the creative process can be quite daunting and these ten strokes offer a starting point to help build confidence. Each stroke has its own symbol, and this becomes an international language. You can see video clips of our ten basic strokes on our website.

Which is your favorite story? Could you share it with my readers?
Personally, my favourite story is The Smiling Flowers because this marked the start of our Story Massage project. We had no idea where it would lead when we first wrote it. The Smiling Flowers Story Massage is available to download from our website www.storymassage.co.uk when you subscribe to our free e-newsletter.

What are the most important benefits of story massage in your opinion?
Story massage offers a simple, fun and interactive way of sharing the benefits of positive touch with children of all ages and abilities. The benefits will vary depending on the situation, whether at home, in the classroom or other location, and also the responses and particular needs of the individual child, but may include:
  • The relaxation of mind and body, easing tension and the cumulative effects of stress. 
  • The promotion of ‘feel­good’ hormones including oxytocin, which helps to boost general well­being. 
  • The opportunity for children to have dedicated ‘calming time’. 
  • Learning the essential life skill of conscious relaxation through first­hand experience of recharging and refreshing mind and body. 
  • Improved alertness and concentration. 
  • Reduction of aggressive and hyperactive behaviour. 
  • An increased sensitivity by children of how their own actions and emotions can influence those of others. 
  • Increased self­confidence, self­awareness and self­esteem. 
  • An alternative and engaging way of encouraging children to develop a wider vocabulary. 
  • The opportunity for children to engage in experiences that provide a context for the use of emotional language. 
  • Individual attention that enhances a child’s awareness of being valued, and brings a sense of self­worth. 
  • The opportunity for families and friends to share time together – having fun, connecting and developing the imagination. 
Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it and learning how much valuable work you have done so far and I am sure there is more to come!

Read also: Why story massage is great for kids


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