The Story Massage Programme can be a powerful medium for enabling young people and adults to share and explore their own personal story in a safe environment. The combination of narrative and positive touch offers a gentle way sharing life experiences, feelings and memories that may otherwise remain unspoken and unresolved.
The reach of positive touch never ceases to amaze me. All it takes are some bold and visionary advocates, in this case from the folks at Story Massage Programme UK working in Nepal. This totally innovative programme uses structured touch for interpersonal skills development, confidence building and self-discovery. David Palmer, Founder and Executive Director of TouchPro International
When Mary Atkinson was first invited to work with the Empowering Women of Nepal project in Nepal, she envisaged working solely with the disadvantaged children in the children’s home. However, the staff were so excited about the possibilities of the Story Massage Programme that they invited her to introduce it as part of their GOAL programme in secondary schools in Pokhara. The team were soon working with the Story Massage book and developing their own ideas to incorporate it into their work.
The GOAL programme is designed to empower and equip at-risk youths, especially girls, with valuable life skills as they deal with complex issues that are brought on by family, their peers and traditional society in Nepal.
Young girls from ages 12-17 are selected to take part in the weekly programme which includes an hour of life skills followed by sports and other creative activities. Topics covered by the GOAL programme include dealing with peer pressure, learning to say ‘no’, trafficking, violence, knowing your rights, managing money, body image and contraception.
The girls are given clothes to wear, and offered orange juice, fresh fruit and snacks before the session begins.
Story Massage Programme for Teenage Girls
The session focussed on “Who Am I?” and “What I Can Do?” in life. Students were paired and they asked each other questions and talked openly to each other. To build confidence, the facilitators asked the girls to close their eyes and to think of one thing they do best. Then they were asked about their future. What did they see themselves doing in the next 3 years? Where did they see themselves in 15 years? Although interrupted by such cultural norms as a cow wandering across the field (below) the girls were keen to participate in sharing life experiences through massage stories.
The session was attended by 35 teenagers who sat in a large circle in the grounds of the school (below). The leaders introduced our 10 basic Story Massage strokes and the girls had great fun singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in English and sharing the massage moves.
Positive and Respectful Touch
Central to the Story Massage Programme is the principle of respectful and appropriate touch, and this is especially important for Nepalese girls living in a society where men traditionally hold the power. They were taught to ask permission before touching another girl, and to say ‘thank you’ at the end of the story massage. Mary also discussed using hand signals to offer feedback if the touch is too soft, or too firm – if it felt really good or if they they like it to stop. The girls were intrigued by these signs and chose to spend time practising and remembering them.
Creating a Massage Story
Perhaps the most moving experience for Mary was being invited into the circle while the GOAL Leaders shared a massage story that they had written especially for the session using some of the Story Massage strokes.
The massage story centred on the need for girls to know their rights and recognise their own value. In a country where most girls are married at a young age and have very few opportunities to improve the quality of their lives, this is an important message.
Massage Story – Who am I?
Once upon a time in a small village of Nepal there lived a beautiful girl. (The Circle)
She came from a very traditional background. (The Calm)
She wanted to join school and fulfil her dreams but her family didn’t allow her to go to school. (The Bounce)
One day she made the most difficult decision in her life. She went against her parents wishes and joined a school where her teacher taught about her rights and she joined a life skills class. (The Fan)
She found a job as a trekking guide and was able to earn her own money. (The Walk)
She went back to her village and told her sisters, her friends and her mother about what she had learnt. (The Fan)
Her family were very proud of her. (The Squeeze)
The girl tells other girls to remember: (The Calm)
I am a beautiful girl (the Fan)
I am a powerful girl (The Squeeze)
I am a disciplined girl (The Calm)
I am a human being (The Circle)
I am a strong girl (The Squeeze)
I am a good student (The Wave)
One day I will fulfil my dreams (The Fan)
Who are you?
(Turn around and look at each other)
I am ……………..girls name
(Repeat above if you wish)
Looking to the Future
The girls became very animated as they shared the massage story and later spent time discussing their own vision for their future.
It was very positive to hear that many girls saw themselves studying in the next three years. In the next fifteen years, some of them said that they would be working, some said they would probably be married with a family and a few of them showed interest to become life skills facilitators and work with children.
More about the Story Massage Programme
The Story Massage Programme combines the benefits of positive, respectful touch with the creativity and engagement of storytelling. Ten simple massage strokes form the basis of the programme. These strokes have a child friendly name, such as The Circle or The Sprinkle, and an easy to recognise symbol making it accessible for all. It is a fully inclusive activity, no clothing is removed and no oil is used. Stories can be taken from our Story Massage book, adapted from favourite stories, or you can learn to help others create their own stories.
Would you like to train in the Story Massage Programme?
Are you inspired by the way that Mary has used the Story Massage Programme with teenagers in Nepal? Would you like to train to use Story Massage in your work or home? We run a popular online course where we teach you how to share the ten Story Massage strokes and work with you to adapt familiar stories and even create some sensory stories of your own. Ideal for teachers, SEN staff, support staff, therapists, Early Years practitioners, those working with people with additional needs, Baby Massage Instructors, Relax Kids Coaches… everyone with an interest in sharing positive touch activities for the health and well-being of children.
For information on our online course: Story Massage Online Course