Tohoku Pacific Earthquake: Report 10 on Medical Activities on the ground

As a part of our emotional and psychological care work, the exercise support team provides opportunities to both victims and support workers (some of whom are also victims themselves) to experience some relaxation techniques through exercise. The aim of this is for the victims to be able to look after themselves and administer ‘self care.’ Now, three months after the earthquake, various relief activities are being scaled down on a daily basis and victims are being expected to begin looking after themselves. In an attempt to help them do this, we are supporting the victims by showing them ways to care for themselves both physically and psychologically. Physical care is linked to emotional care.
Our bodies are bound up intricately with our emotions, so by relieving physical stress and exhaustion you can actually improve your emotional well-being, too.

The exercise is made up of massage and stretching. Coaches who have experience with physical activities like yoga and various martial arts talk with participants and work out with them what types of exercise would be most suitable for them, as well as how to do them. The participants get to feel the rewards of exercise and become more motivated to follow on with their own ‘self care’. In order to help participants stay motivated enough to continue to exercise, a pamphlet entitled ‘Exercise to relax the body and mind’ is also given out during exercise sessions.

Among the many victims that we encounter, we hear people say “I’m fine – please attend to the others. There are others who are much worse off than me so please care for them first” To this we reply ‘Since we are already here, let us just give you a short massage then’, and as we begin to rub their shoulders they start to relax and tell us freely about what they have been going through. There are those who are reticent to let themselves relax, but we have found that encouraging them to relax physically even just a little bit is a good approach. We have also encountered people who tell us that although the physical exhaustion doesn’t bother them, they are under an incredible emotional burden. In these situations we suggest that physical relaxation techniques can help ease their psychological distress, upon which many take us up on the offer.

As we go around the evacuation shelters with these exercise activities, we see many who tell us how happy they are to be able to do exercises by themselves that are just right for them, and others who are doing stretches every time we see them, becoming more and more active all the time. Just after the earthquake struck, many experienced pain in their knees and lower abdomen, and stiffness in their shoulders and neck. Now we hear from them that the pain has gone and that they are feeling much better than before, which actually makes us staff feel better! Many also initially experienced low blood pressure as the trauma of the disaster manifested itself through physical symptoms, so it was good to see the positive effects of exercise and relaxation techniques. But what I am most happy about is the change that is evident in the expressions of those individuals who have started to practice self-care. They now have bright expressions and are almost unrecognizable from the people they were when we first met them. This is thanks not just to the physically exercise regimes but also the other various support activities that have been taking place. When I see this I feel deeply grateful that I was able to take part in this relief effort, and I am also reminded of the strength of the people of the Tohoku Area.

Finally, the exercise support team is working hard to provide these support activities through the cooperation of several coaches – Mr. Koyama, a specialist in Russian martial arts and the Feldenkrais Method; Ms. Komatsubara who is an expert in yoga and Thai massage; our own superman Mr. Fujita and Ms. Kai, who contributed his expertise in body talk techniques and Shonrenji Kempo. Once again I would like to express my gratitude to all those who are involved.

Exercise Therapy Specialist Dr. Hiro’omi Sensui

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