What is Closing the Bones?

I had never heard of Closing the Bones until I was 18 months postnatal.  I found the birth of my daughter and the transition to motherhood traumatic and it wasn't until I started to process the experience that I realised how much I'd been holding in. Closing the Bones can be a great way to find closure from my birth story and the initial feeling my way into motherhood.  In many cultures, there is a confinement period, a time when the new mother is looked after and nourished and helped to heal; Closing the Bones is a part of that.  I consider myself pragmatic and mainstream, but I also believe very strongly in Self-Care.  There's no denying the importance of this aspect and the role that more holistic practices can play.  If it can't hurt, why not take the time to be nurtured, so that you in turn can nurture?
Here is an introduction to Closing the Bones by the doula who performed mine, Sophie Messager.  Look out for &Breathe's Closing the Bones workshop with Sanita Ellis and Emma Hayward in 2017!

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, so 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 local doula 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 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), moves hormones, stimulates the immune system, and helps tone muscles and tissues. According to Rocio, our hips also 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.

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, 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.  When Rocio taught us, she stressed the importance of passing on this skill, so that it doesn't become lost. So Maddie and I started offering the massage to our clients, and sharing the knowledge with other doulas. We did a few sharing days, wrote an article about it for doulaing magazine, and this obviously resonated a lot with birthworkers because people started asking us to teach them. So we got together and designed a workshop and have been teaching 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' standard. 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.

Take time to heal

Sophie and Maddie offer Closing the Bones massage in the Cambridge area and we also run Closing the Bones workshops in Cambridge and around the UK.