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The essential family touch

You · Ultimate Health, February 11 by Jerome Burne

Picture of the Mercati family as it appeared in the Ultimate Health articleMassage is a new way to help you heal heartache, anger, fear and depression.

Maria and Trevor Mercati's children know just how to rub mum and dad up the right way - with a good massage.

A bone disease contracted by Maria Mercati when she was five years old left her with a permanently inflamed and painful hip joint. Doctors predicted a life in leg irons or on crutches, but she fought back in her search to keep her hip mobile.

She made her first discovery in Indonesia where her husband was working for the British Council. One of her daughters hurt her neck in a fall. The Indonesian house girl immediately started kneading and stretching the neck, and within half an hour all soreness had gone.

The Indonesians, Maria discovered, have a family tradition of massage. Maria's own family - three girls and a boy - began to enjoy having 'wonderful old ladies come round and give us all a massage once a week'. But once back in England, the family felt vaguely unwell, missing that weekly tune-up.

Maria's old problems returned so badly that her doctor started talking about a hip replacement. She tried massages in this country, but nothing helped. So she went to China, to learn about the ancient massage system, Tuina. Within a week, she was able to go for long walks. She stayed for a month, learning all that she could.

Maria trained her son Graham in Tuina techniques. The rest of the family became involved, on a professional basis. One daughter had trained as an actress, the other had an MA in music, but both found massage more satisfying. Even Maria's husband, Trevor, does it. And the family massages each other; often at the end of the working day.

Trevor says that teenagers can get stressed during exams or when having a difficult time at school, and a few minutes' massage from a parent can make a big difference.