Rocking the hips with a rebozo
Most cultures around the world have an innate understanding of the vulnerability of a new mother and the need for her to be cared for and nurtured to recover from growing and birthing her baby.
Many of the postpartum traditions include nourishing foods and a period of confinement, and some kind of bodywork technique, ranging from massage, to binding with a cloth, helping the new mother regain her strength and energy.
These practises seem so global and multicultural, surely there is some wisdom in them? Why have we forgotten them?
Europe used to have them too, but sadly, because these traditions were passed orally, they got lost within a few generations.
So today if we want to reclaim this traditions, we have to re-learn these techniques from more traditional cultures around the world.
Closing the bones is such a technique.
I learnt closing the bones together with Maddie McMahon, from Dr Rocio Alarcon, an ethnobotanist and Shaman from Ecuador, at a doula retreat in North Wales in 2013. Rocio learnt it from her mother, her grandmother and traditional shamans from the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Rocio getting ready to close Maddie’s bones
Rocio explained that if we did MRI scans of pregnant women we would see how the hips open during the pregnancy, becoming wider and wider, and that after the birth it is paramount to help close them back to their normal width, otherwise mothers suffer from pelvic instability (Rocio attributes the many women suffering from hip issues in our society to the lack of closing the bones massages post birth) and leak energy.
In traditional cultures, the 40 days of the postnatal period represent a sacred time. In Ecuador, women are given this massage within hours of the birth, and receive it again at least 5 or 6 times during the first 40 days postpartum. The massage stimulates blood flow which in turn cleans, renews, moves fluids (it may also help with milk supply/lochia), stimulates the release and circulation of hormones, stimulates the immune system, and helps tone muscles and tissues.
According to Rocio, our hips support the weight of the spine and head and they are therefore the seat of unresolved emotions and trauma, which can be felt upon the hips as crystals, that need to be popped and released during the massage.
Rocio demonstrating part of the abdominal massage
The closing the bones treatment involves the use of a traditional shawl called a Manta (also known as a rebozo in Mexico) to rock and articulate the mother’s hips and lower spine, followed by a complex abdominal and pelvic girdle massage using a warming oil, and is then finished by tightly wrapping the cloth around the woman’s hips.
When Rocio taught us, she stressed the importance of passing on this skill, so that it doesn’t become lost. After the retreat, Maddie and I started sharing this knowledge with local doulas. We did a few sharing days, and wrote an article about it for doulaing magazine, This practise obviously resonated a lot with birthworkers because people started asking us to teach them. So we got together and created a workshop and have been facilitating it since 2014. We are delighted to be helping to keep this tradition alive, and we have trained over 150 birthworkers and therapists in this technique. Our hope is that one day enough women around the country will have heard of this lovely and important ritual and expect to receive it after birth.
Being a scientist by training, whilst the traditional aspect appealed to me, something in me needed the technique to be validated by some kind of “modern” standards.
I was lucky to be able to gain extra validation of the technique after practising the technique on Cambridge osteopath Teddy Brookes. Teddy was able to validated the effectiveness and gentleness of the closing the bones massage on various joints and organs, which was very reassuring and satisfying for me. Teddy’s comments have been added to the handout we give to people attending our workshop.
Beyond the physical aspect of closing the bones, there is also a spiritual aspect to the treatment, which provides a safe space/ritual for the mother to feel nurtured and release emotions associated with the birth and motherhood. Having experienced receiving the massage ourselves and given it to many new and not so new mothers, we have both experienced and witnessed how powerful this ritual can be in releasing emotions in a safe way, even many years after the birth itself.