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. Innate postpartum care emphasizes the following pillars of postpartum wellness in the “45 day lying in period”:
- Nutrition – Every community in India has their own specific postpartum diet they use – some foods restricted, others encouraged
- Massage – Belly massage, leg massages and belly binding
- Warmth – Not to get exposed to cold, hot baths, therapeutic steams have been culturally used in India for generations
- Family/Community – Comes together to both help the new mother and celebrate the new baby
While each community has its traditions and its roots in both the art and the messages of benefits passed on from generation to generation, there are some very powerful rituals across the world, which seem to help the mother’s recovery in the sensitive postpartum period.
Closing of the bones is one such postpartum healing ceremony. Created to nurture the mother after her passage through giving birth, and her journey into motherhood, it is setting of a sacred space, and way to nurture her physically and emotionally as she goes about her enormous work of motherhood.
Having its roots in Ecuador and Mexico, I learnt this amazing technique from two amazing teachers, Mirjam de Keijzer and Thea van Tuyl – both expert doulas, and who teach the art and science of Rebozo (a Mexican shawl) use across the world. When they performed the ritual on me, I felt like I could let go, it was a magical, almost other worldly experience.
What is the Postpartum Ritual: Closing of the Bones?
Many women find that when they have given birth they feel ‘broken open’. The body, mind and spirit have to open and let go from a deep place to bring a new soul into the world. We open ourselves to the most dramatic life experience and sometimes traumatic experience.
The pelvis is a complicated piece of engineering, with bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia helping both stabilise the body and allow for motion.
Emotionally, the pelvis is the home of the second chakra, “Svadhisthana”, which is closely associated with emotions and with the unconscious. The hip muscles are programmed to be easily activated for “fight, flight or freeze” response. When the body suffers a trauma, our instinctual reflex is to clench these deep muscles. The problem is, we don’t let go. These unresolved emotions and trauma can be felt upon the hips as adrenalin crystals, that are released during the massage.
During pregnancy, the hips, open, becoming wider and wider to accommodate the growing baby, and prepare the body for birth. It is vitally important to help the hips close post birth, otherwise, mothers suffer from pelvic instability as a result, and they “leak energy”.
The closing the bones treatment involves the use of a traditional shawl called a “Manta” or a “Rebozo”, to rock and articulate the mother’s hips, followed by a complex abdominal and pelvic girdle massage using a warming oil, and then finished by tightly wrapping the cloth around the woman’s hips. Receiving this massage and ceremony after the first 40 days postbirth (once the lochia has ceased), stimulates blood flow which in turn; cleans, renews, moves fluids, balances hormones, stimulates the immune system, and helps tone muscles and tissues. In addition, it helps pop and release the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ adrenaline crystals in the hips, thus promoting emotional release, which allow for the mother to set foot into her present of mothering her baby with ease and calm.
Various hand massage techniques are utilised, using oil around the pubic bones, belly and around the hips, helping to draw the woman’s energy back to her creative centre, her womb. The Rebozo is then used for closing the hip bones by a method of wrapping.
Beyond the physical aspect of closing the bones, there is a spiritual aspect to the massage, which provides a safe space/ritual for the mother to feel nurtured and release emotions associated with the birth and motherhood.
The Closing of the Bones Ceremony is designed for mothers from postpartum and beyond. The ceremony is open to all mothers at any time who wish to find some closure for themselves no matter how old your child is. Most women find it most beneficial between 6 to 12 weeks postpartum.
In a warm and quiet room, a sacred healing space is created for this ceremony. Lights are dimmed if possible, a mat and some blankets are placed on the floor, there is soft music playing. When the woman to be blessed is ready, we start with some energy cleansing and then she lies on a mat on the floor.
With the help of a Rebozo, the hips of the woman that have widened and open to accommodate the growing baby and to give birth are gently rocked and pulled back into place. The gentle rocking movement, has a soothing effect. We are also honoring the work these hips had to go through to bring a new life into the world.
Some warm oil is applied all over the skin of the belly and a gentle massage begins. The movements are rhythmic and relaxing, bringing the energy of the woman back to her center. We are lovingly taking care of this area where a baby grew. Both giver and receiver acknowledge this great achievement.
For the last part of the ceremony, a woman’s body is tightly wrapped using five rebozos. We wrap and honor different parts of her body—feet, knees, hips, shoulders, head. The woman is then left to rest as we hold this sacred space for her. Some energy work can be done to bring her back to center, balance her energy and relax her.
Closing the Bones is a practice that can be transformational for any postpartum mama–whether you are 3 days or 30 years postpartum–who is looking to find more peace within. This is a profoundly powerful tool, which acknowledges the immense challenges a woman has undergone in pregnancy and childbirth, and assists in bringing her spirit back into her body. Women who are honored in this way, experience a sense of calm and grounding. Our hope is that more women , will learn about this wonderful practice, and participate in a Closing the Bones ritual after birthing.
Thanks to Dr Vijaya Krishnan and her team at the Healthy Mother and Sanctum Natural Birth Centre (in Hyderabad) for bringing us this wealth of knowledge.
Dr. Vijaya is the founder of Healthy Mother Sanctum – one of the first modern midwifery led birthing centers in India. Sanctum is proud to have an average track record of more than 90% natural births.