Closing the bones is a traditional postpartum massage ritual. It is most known for its Mexican and South American heritage, but versions of it exist on all continents.
Depending on the culture, a closing the bones ritual involves different elements. There is a massage, done using scarves or with the hands or both, and a ritual tightening of scarves around the body. In some cultures, such as the Mexican, North African, and Russian version, the ritual also includes the use of a steam bath.
The closing the bones I offer is a blend of Ecuadorian and Mexican traditions, with modifications created together with osteopath Teddy Brookes. The ritual starts with rocking the whole body with rebozos (a type of Mexican shawl), massaging of the abdomen, hips, ribs, chest, and shoulders, followed by more rocking of the pelvis, and finally wrapping the body tightly with 7 rebozos. The video below gives you a taster of what the ritual looks like.
In the Mexican version of the ritual, as shown in this video by Mexican midwife Naoli Vinaver, the ritual starts with a whole body massage, followed by a steam bath, a period of sudation under lots of blankets, and finally the sequential tightening using rebozos.
What does closing the bones do?
Closing the bones is not just a massage, but a specific kind of bodywork designed to help speed up and enhance the healing process and changes that the new mother’s body undergoes after her baby has been born. A closing the bones massage helps healing by providing healing movement in the joints, muscles, tissues and fluids. It provides much needed space to simply rest and be and be held, as well as for emotions to be honoured, witnessed and released. Finally, it provides closure, and brings the energy back to the mother.
Having massaged hundreds of women for over ten years, some as early as 24h post birth, and some as late as 47 years post birth, I know the following: This ritual provides a space for physical nurturing, but also maybe more importantly, holds a space for whatever needs to be expressed, witnessed and released. It is different for every person, depending on what has happened to them. For some it is a joyful honouring, for others it is a space to acknowledge and let go of difficult emotions.
I have seen very significant shifts happen in people after it, either physically or emotionally or both.
- Very early post birth, it speeds up the healing process. When the uterus is still high in the abdomen and the internal organs are still working their way down in the abdomen, I can feel under my hands how ‘open’ the new mother is, how everything is shifting.
- Many women have told me that their hips, or back, or both felt much better, more mobile, comfortable and more ‘together’ after the massage.
- It is a very relaxing and nurturing treatment and people look more ‘glowy’ and relaxed afterwards.
- Sometimes the level of healing is so powerful it is difficult to believe. Once I massaged someone who had had a caesarean 15 years ago and whose skin had been numb between her pubic bone and belly button since then. The day after the massage, sensation returned to her skin. I have also seen years old diastasis recti (separation of the stomach muscles) disappear after the massage.
- People often have big emotional releases during the ritual. It helps whatever emotion pain was held to come out.
- Many times after the massage people tell me that something significant happened in terms of transition: They got their period back for the first time since the birth, they moved their toddler into their own room, they had a big row with their partner which cleared the air etc.
- It can help move energy that is stuck and therefore provide very deep healing. Once a mother told me that she felt the “brain fog” she had had since her toddler was born 2 years ago being lifted after receiving the massage.
- Once I massaged a mother who was stooped forward since the birth like an old lady and couldn’t stand up straight. During the massage she had a big emotional release. Afterwards she could immediately stand up straight again.
Loss, and baby loss
- Women have repeatedly told me it was extremely helpful for them to integrate a loss, and particularly for perinatal loss.
“I came along to the Closing the Bones Training about a year after my baby had died. Towards the end of the ceremony, as I was being rocked deep shudders started going through my body and as the rebozo was pulled tight around my pelvis I felt a huge emotion that even now I am not sure what to call it. It felt as though the protective bubble I had formed around myself moved away and with that my baby – as if I was releasing him. Sobs racked my body. All the grief, the anger, the exhaustion, all the disbelief of what had happened came pouring out. I hadn’t realised how much I was holding on to. I felt the women form a circle around me and felt what it was like to have a safe space held for me, allowing me to just be there in my wild tumult of emotion. I heard someone singing the most beautiful song and someone stroking my hair, hands touching me sending love and support” Rosie
- Being the older sister of a stillborn baby and someone who had recurrent miscarriages I have somewhat specialised in giving this ritual after loss. I massaged my own mother, over 40 years after the loss of my baby brother, on the anniversary of his birth, and it was very healing. I wrote a blog about how closing the bones can help after baby loss.
Not just for new mothers
- I have given this massage to maidens, to new and not so new mothers, and to crones. I believe it can benefit anyone of any age or gender.
When is closing the bones done?
There are variations depending on the culture, but is it usually done within the first 4 to 6 weeks postpartum. The version I learnt is done as soon as possible after the birth, and with straightforward vaginal births, I have done it as soon as 24h post birth, and that’s when I found that it was the most beneficial. However it is never too late and I’ve seen women having very powerful healing experiences with it years after birth.
What does science says about it?
As you can imagine and as is the case with much traditional wisdom around the postpartum, there isn’t a lot of published research or written words on the subject. In the research for my book I found a couple of pieces of published evidence to back up this process:
French midwife Juliette Danis, chose to study the subject in her thesis. Juliette used a simple binding around the pelvis, applied the day after the birth for an hour. She used questionnaires to evaluate its effect on pain in the pelvic area on a group of 160 women. 64% of women described an improvement in their pelvic and perineal pain after the treatment. 79 out of 80 of the women who received the binding said they would recommend it. Juliette explains that the care given to the women after the birth using massages or wrapping has a positive effect both physically and psychically, and that it symbolically helps to redraw the contours of the body.
Wrapping after the postpartum used to be recommended in the UK too. In the book ‘An Introduction To Midwifery’ (Donald 1915) the authors explain in detail how to bind the pelvis and abdomen and says that “The binder is used merely to give external support to the loose abdominal wall.”
To have some form of validation behind the techniques, I practised the techniques extensively with osteopath Teddy Brookes, who gave me some wonderful insight about the effect of each of the massage mouvements on the various joints and organs, how the body benefits from them, as well as reassurance about how effective and gentle they are.
Closing the bones is a beautiful healing ritual, and the most powerful form of postpartum bodywork I know. I want as many people as possible to know about this. My vision is a world where postpartum bodywork becomes the norm once more, and closing the bones something every new mother expects and receives after birth.