Mary Atkinson is an award-winning complementary therapist, tutor and author. She is the UK Representative of Cocoro, a Japanese charity providing aromatherapy and positive touch activities for the adults and children still living in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami. Mary has written several books on holistic therapies including Once upon a touch… story massage for children. Mary writes about her life-changing experiences of working with the victims of the tsunami and suggests ways in which we can offer our heartfelt support and raise awareness of the continuing struggle with mental health problems in the area.
From Mary Atkinson:
"We all witnessed the media coverage of the devastating tsunami in Japan in March 2011. Our hearts ached for the loss and destruction experienced by the people whose families, homes and livelihood were swept away before their own eyes by the cruel force of nature. A year later, with the generous support of many people including PhysioPod™ UK Ltd it was my privilege to be invited by Cocoro Charity to visit the area and offer holistic healing to the survivors of the tragedy.
Japanese people, especially those living in the more remote areas, such as those affected by the tsunami, are conditioned by their culture not to burden others with their suffering. Even those who have lost so much in the tragedy are expected to keep their fears and worries to themselves. This lack of opportunity to express their feelings leads to severe mental health problems; such as recurring nightmares, depression, high anxiety levels and in some cases, eventually suicide.
The Natural Power of Touch
It was against this backdrop of emotional suffering, that Takiko Ando, a Japanese aromatherapist, founded Cocoro charity to provide healing massage. The aim of "Cocoro", which means "Mind" in Japanese, is to support the mental health of the local people by offering the space to share individual stories of suffering, loss and pain.
During my week in the area, I joined the team of therapists working in Rikuzentakata City, on the North East Coast of Japan, offering 15 minute hand and foot massages. This was the third visit by the charity and once word went around that the Cocoro therapists were visiting, people of all ages queued for a massage. One lady told me that the massage was like a precious gift, bringing peace of mind and respite from inner turmoil. Another said she felt that my hands had touched her heart. One man talked and cried, and, despite the language barrier, his smile was testimony to the comfort that he had enjoyed.
Bringing Smiles to the Faces of the Children
We also visited several kindergarten schools and taught the children how to do a simple story massage on each other’s backs. We wrote a massage story ‘The Smiling Flowers’ about the healing power of nature that proved so popular with both children and teachers that everyone was laughing and wanting more story massage! Watching such spontaneous smiles on previously sad faces was so deeply moving that I have written several more story massages for the children. I have also created a DVD of two of their favourite story massages, demonstrated in both Japanese and English, so more local children can enjoy sharing them.
The DVD is also being sold in the UK (£6 plus p and p), with all proceeds towards the work of Cocoro Charity. If you’d like to know more about story massage then please visit us
Supporting and Teaching New Skills
It is now over three years since the disaster, and the situation in Rikuzentakata has not changed dramatically. There are still 10,000 people living in temporary houses without any certainty for their future. However, the positive news is that a few spirited local people gained such tremendous inner strength from Cocoro’s healing massage that they are keen to learn new skills of sharing massage for adults and providing story massage sessions for children. The work of the charity is now geared towards supporting this transition from victim to Aroma Care Worker – and in ensuring that we nurture their motivation not only with training and supplies, but also with regular visits and supervision sessions.
As part of our on-going support for the newly trained Aroma Care Workers, we have developed The Heartfelt Project. Whilst working with the local people, I soon learnt that even the smallest of gestures has the potential to make a tremendous difference. After the massage session, each person was given a small red felt heart with a drop of essential oil. This small token of the red felt heart has now come to symbolize ‘heartfelt’ caring and support from around the world, and holds a depth of meaning for the local people that words cannot express.
Join The Heartfelt Project
The idea of The Heartfelt Project is to demonstrate that we care by sending photos of adults and children from around the world, each holding a red felt heart. As time goes on, the people become even more afraid that the rest of the world will forget them. The Heartfelt Project is designed to nurture their inner spirit by remembering them so they feel less alone.
1. Simply cut out a small red felt heart, and then take a photo with your smiling face.
2. Try to show your location, country or company name on the photo.
From The Ukraine, London and The Republic of Ireland
3. Email your photograph to me and we will send these photos out to the local Aroma Care Workers.
4. If you wish to give a small donation to the charity to aid the funding and essential supplies then please contact me"