Healing with Love and Compassion (2004)

Healing with Love and Compassion
Written By Bindu Shajan Perappadan / The Hindu
February 3, 2004


NEW DELHI, FEB. 3. Her whispers may not calm the raging seas or even paint the dark sky blue, but if the pachyderms she “heals” could speak, they will tell you that her whispers are like melody and her touch almost divine. Healing with love and compassion, U.S.-based touch therapist Elke Riesterer is now here in the country at the invitation of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

On Tuesday, this tall and frail looking healer was at the elephant colony near ITO bridge here in the Capital performing “magic” with her fingers. “Animals are much like human beings. They sense love, hate and fear even before you begin talking to them. And so it is very important that you remain completely relaxed in order to help these animals relax,” said Riesterer talking about her work.

A trained massage therapist, Riesterer measures stress levels among captive elephants and is at present working with elephants at Oakland Zoo. “I try to make their life a little better,” is all that she has to say about her mission.

Talking about the two elephants introduced to her at ITO, Riesterer said: “The animals here are far too tense. This is mainly because of the conditions they are kept in. Chained to a spot with little access to water and food along with long working hours, the elephants don’t seem to be very happy. They need to be given more free space and attention. And even though the therapy could not continue for as long as I wanted, the elephants seemed to enjoy it,” said the touch therapist. The mahouts too agreed with her and added that the elephants did seem more relaxed in Riesterer’s company.

As a part of her project here in the country, Riesterer will now travel to Kerala, Assam and work with the captive elephants at Amber Fort in Jaipur.

About how it all began, Riesterer said: “Touch healing is a big part of my life. Massage helped me ease the scoliosis I was fighting against as an adolescent and later I became a certified massage therapist. I started off with healing my horse and later during my trip to Africa, I worked with orphaned elephants and rhinos which were being treated at a game reserve.”

Riesterer works on an animal for anything between 15 minutes and an hour. She begins with their feet, often a problem spot for large roaming animals forced to a sedentary life. Then she works up each leg and progresses to the animals’ massive ears (home to reflexology points) and then massages the face and the tail. But the most important part of the process is gaining the trust of the animals. “You learn from the responses and body signals. Animals give you all kinds of signals when they like something. When they accept the touch, the signals of relaxation are clear to see – a glaze look in the eye, a trance sign and then the head drops. Elephants are highly intelligent and they know that a person is around them to give them comfort,” explained Riesterer.