The healing power of touch for tsunami victims. | Mary Atkinson

The Benefits of Massage for Tsunami Victims

Cocoro (the Japanese word for mind) is a Japanese Charity set up by Takiko Ando to offer mental health care and support to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (March 2011) by providing 15 minute aromatherapy and massage treatments. In a previous blog feature on the psychological impact of the disaster we highlighted the deep need for people to find a way of healing emotional wounds.

Here, we are look at some of the ways in which a 15 minute aromatherapy massage helped the local people – and the many different benefits they experienced from gentle and caring touch.

Opportunity to talk

Japanese people do not tend to talk about how they are feeling. However, this habit of bottling up feelings behind a brave face means they have no outlet for their emotions. During a massage treatment, the victims begin to talk, which leads to a torrent of emotional outpouring. Talking to someone who is on the ‘outside’ or somehow detached from the situation can be healing.

Most talked about how the tsunami swept away their town, or they talk of the incredible noise, others describe how they ran away and of course, so many talked of how many people they lost. Simply asking the question ‘are you sleeping well?’ was enough to give them the opportunity to talk. This is indicative of how deeply they need to talk to someone who is not a ‘victim’.

Males reacted differently to women. They are shouldering more worries and fear for the future as they think about how to provide for their families. For some men, a massage was the first time they had ever thought about themselves and their own feelings. Some men started to talk, while others even cried.

Release of tension

At the beginning of massage, the tension was evident in their faces, but at the end of the treatment their tension was visibly reduced in just 15 minutes. The massage provided the opportunity to talk, but also the smell of essential oils was relaxing.  Many victims told us even though it was only the hand massage, it helped to ease stiffness in their shoulders and improve their circulation. It helped them to feel better and more positive in themselves.

Power of touch

For most people, this was their first experience of aromatherapy and massage. Some were quite sceptical at first as they were not used to been touched at all. However, as soon as they relaxed with massage they could sense the healing power of touch. They explained that it was an amazing experience that they never felt before. There was soon a queue for massage.

Improved sleep patterns

When Takiko visited the disaster area in May 2001, a lot of victims reported that after massage, they were able to sleep through the night for the first time since the disaster. Many were surprised and delighted that it worked so well.

Therapeutic power of essential oils

All oils used by COCORO are organic high standard oils which have been kindly donated by companies including Insole Ltd from Germany, and Materia Aromatica in the UK, distributed by Jasmin Aromatique Organics in Japan. Cocoro is very grateful for their support.

For massage, there is a choice of macerated oil: Lavender, Rose, Chamomile, Arnica, St John’s Wort, and Calendula. Shea butter is also very popular for children and especially for people with dry skin.

People benefited from being given tissues and felt hearts with a few drops of essential oil chosen to help them sleep at night or to have their rooms to give an uplifting aroma. The choice of oils included: Vanilla, Rosemary, Pine, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Juniper, Peppermint, Orange, Grapefruit and Neroli. Lavender and Orange were very popular.

Pine has a special resonance for the local people in Rikuzentakata. Before the tsunami there was a forest of 70,000 pine trees where the people loved to visit and gained great comfort at times of sorrow. After the tsunami, only one tree remained. This has become a symbol of hope and resilience. A few drops of pine essential oil on a tissue helped remind the people of their forest and enabled them to talk more freely about their worries.

Sharing our experiences of working with victims of the Tsunami

In April 2012, my husband and I travelled to Rikuzentakata to work with Cocoro Charity bringing healing touch to the victims of the tsunami through a Positive Touch for Children programme. You can read more on the blog feature Our Experiences of Volunteering in a Tsunami Disaster Area.

We are also happy to share our experiences and photographs with local groups. All proceeds will be donated to Cocoro Charity to help maintain their important work. We are already booked at several events including local holistic therapy support groups, W.I. groups, St Wilfrid’s Hospice, Chichester, and the Japan Society in Petersfield. Please contact Mary Atkinson if you would like to arrange this.

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