Creating calm, relaxing moments can be just as important as upbeat, active periods in sessions. Therapeutic activities linked to a theme, such as massage, meditation or chanting, enable participants to relax and de-stress. With massage in particular, the close nature of the activity helps to build trusting relationships and connections with others. These types of activities can be challenging to create; many participants find it hard to sit down, let alone relax, and many have an aversion to being touched. It can cause great anxiety, withdrawal and even challenging behaviour. However, there are several strategies that can be employed to encourage this close interaction, particularly with the use of various mediums such as warm water, oils and material at points of contact.
Create a soft, safe, welcoming environment, perhaps using tea lights or lanterns for lighting.
Fill the space with blankets, quilts, cloths and cushions to make it seem inviting and safe
Singing, chanting and gentle music will enhance the relaxing atmosphere. The soothing sound of an instrument is another brilliant tool in the therapy box. Calming Indian bells and/or gentle gongs are useful in this context.
Using incense and lavender oil adds aroma and relaxing scents to the experience. Use soya as a safe base oil and carefully follow diluting instructions.
Surprisingly, even lavender can cause allergic reactions. If worried, stick to 'sensitive' hand creams and body lotions, which work just as well.
Have bowls of warm water, oils and lotions to show participants. Smell the scents, immerse fingers and toes and dab on skin.
For those who don't like the feel of lotions/oil, try using the plants themselves (e.g. lavender or rosemary) to stroke, tickle, smell.
Encouraging some participants to allow touch can be a long process. Some find it easier to cope if you sit beside or behind them while participating in this activity.
Reverse roles and encourage participants to dab oil on you and massage you instead. Or simply start by holding hands and develop into stroking
Enjoy the time together, even if it involves just lying side by side, relaxing, or gently rocking together while enjoying the stillness....and the music.
Once a connection is made, extend to gentle massage of hands and feet. It is useful to have some baby-wipes handy for clearing any mess.
Looking after someone more vulnerable than yourself can be very therapeutic. For this life-like baby dolls were introduced with surprisingly successful responses.
Soft furry animal puppets can also calm and relax many participants
Using therapeutic techniques within an arts based setting can enhance the overall experience, resulting in perceived changes in behaviour, as anxiety levels decrease and enjoyment begins. This all depends on the developing relationship between the facilitator and participant and the recognised safety of the space.