Closing the Bones Rebozo ceremonies – Sacred Postnatal Rituals for the Mother
A period of postpartum separation from the world is a global practice. In Japan it’s ‘Sango no hidachi’, for Koreans as ‘Samchilil’, which means ‘21’. In Latin American countries it is called la cuarentena, i.e. 40 days (the source of the English word quarantine). In the modern world this sacred time is often compromised with work and financial strains along with body image concerns to ‘get back into shape’ in these weeks rather than cocoon yourself away from the world with your baby.
The 4th trimester
This time period after birth is also called the 4th trimester. This time deserves to be sacred as mother and baby and her family adjust to their new life. It is a time when mother and baby need both appropriate support and peace to bond and heal and to adjust. She needs healing soups, replenishing and nourishing meals & snacks, calming and lactation-boosting teas. She needs the presence of welcomed wise women who can support her on her own terms. She needs healing loving touch, she needs privacy and space. Yoga practice for women in this period is of connection to their baby, the yoga of breastfeeding and of mindfulness and the most subtle of practices including breath awareness.
In the UAE, I’ve heard stories of women who have had almost their entire (very large!) family visit them in hospital days after giving birth to visit the new baby creating enormous stress for the mother.
In contrast, there is a nourishing global ritual called ‘Closing the Bones’, a ritual and massage using woven (rebozo) scarves practiced in South American countries such as Mexico and Ecuador which is growing in popularity to support woman postnatally. In most villages in Ecuador, women are given this massage within 6hrs of birth and receive it 5-6 times in total during the first 40 days. These traditions are present all over the world, such as in India, Pakistan and Sri Lankan villages.
I open at the Close
Rock me sweetly
Rock me gently
Release, restore, rebirth
I am mother
I am whole
I am made new
I am me
Amo, amas, amat, a mother, a me
Benefits of a Closing Ceremony
The ritual is offered to honour the woman who has opened heart, womb and soul to the bring forth new life and welcome the woman into a transition to a new stage of life. The ceremony is a time out for the mother, a time to have a silent communion with herself and reflect on her emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual journey to motherhood. It supports the transition from inner world to the outside and release emotions associated with the birth and motherhood. It is a time of the closure of a chapter and to feel the loving hands of another woman nurturing you when you most need it.
Everything about birth is about opening, expansion and receiving life. Intentionally creating a ceremony to close a chapter of life is profoundly healing and an act of deep self-love and community support. The rebozos wrapped around her act as a nurturing symbolic closure, a sense of her return to her own life as foetus in the womb space, to be deeply held, secure and warm.
‘On a purely physical level, the sifting of the hips with the Rebozo and the subsequent oil massage of the abdominal area help to loosen the lower vertebrae (which have been compressed during pregnancy) and release tension and stagnant energy that has built up during pregnancy in the hip area. The technique also offers an effective way to help mobilize the pubic bone back into the correct position whilst stimulating shrinkage of the uterus and helping to move the uterus and bladder back into their pre-pregnant place. All this can prevent serious hip problems in older age. The massage also stimulates the blood circulation which in turn cleans, renews and moves fluids (and may greatly help with milk supply and lochia), moves hormones, renews the immune system, tones the muscles and renews the tissues.’
Sophie Messager, Closing the Bones Practitioner Trainer, UK
When can a closing ceremony take place?.
- At the end of the traditional 40 days of postpartum
- to mark the end of a breastfeeding journey (it can be the most powerfully nurturing ceremony to ‘reclaim’ your body in some ways as yours again)
- To honour milestones such a baby turning 1 year old in celebration of all the work and love the mother has given unconditionally
- Years or decades after having given birth (with the same effects)
- After a stillbirth, pregnancy loss or abortion
- After a hysterectomy
- In any situation where closure is required by any person!
Ideas for the Closing the Bones Ceremony
Before the ceremony day
- Plan to gather a small number of women (for 2-4+ hours) who form a meaningful part of the pregnant woman’s life and birth, planning a private and safe space accessible to the mother. (they are the ‘sisters’)
- Ensure the ceremony is appropriately timed for the baby and there is someone to support and care for the baby who knows him/her well and someone to care for any older siblings
- Ask the mother to have a change of clothes if the ceremony is not at her house
- Ask sisters to assist by bringing:
Herbal Bath Essences, Flowers, A plate of healthy, nourishing food to share, a poem or written offering, an image.
On the ceremony day
- Create a calming space with an altar, flower decorations, pillows, candles, sage, palo santo etc. Ideally the space will have a bathtub
Shopping list and preparations
- Flowers, Altar Objects
- Candles and cleansing herbs (sage) or appropriate scents
- 7 Rebozo Scarves, Ideally in the 7 chakra colours (ideally these would have been sourced ethically and handmade to be filled with love)
- Massage Oils and Bath Herbs
- Instruments for Sound Healing etc
Introduction/opening and ritual ideas
Welcome the woman so she is comfortable, ensure the baby is well cared for.
Sit in circle, open the circle, call the directions & ancestors
- Air – East 2) South/Fire 3) West/Water 4) North/Earth 5) Above and Below
Invite the mother to share on her experiences (perhaps of the birth) in a circle of sisters or with the temple keeper of her ceremony if only she is present.
Invite the mother and attending women to contribute poems, insights and sharings
The rebozo massage and the cocoon.
A rebozo is a long multipurpose piece of woven cloth from Mexico. It is used prenatally to encourage a baby to position correctly, during labour to ease delivery, for the closing the bones rituals and for baby carrying.
The techniques involve gentle, loving rocking movements which are soothing for the mother. Gentle massage may also be added before this if you have trained to do this.
Wrap the rebozo scarves tightly around her from feet to crown (in chakra colours if available) using a small wooden pole to tighten) to cocoon the woman.
At this point you can offer her silence as the women sit and attend her energetically, sound healing, song or chanting.
Herbal Flower Bath
This stage can come before or after the rebozo massage according to the climate/weather and the woman’s preference. The woman takes a deep cleansing beautiful bath filled with herbal essences and flowers. She drys, dresses (perhaps in a different colour) and returns to the circle. Herbal essences can be prepared in advance:
Closing the circle
Dedications and calling the directions.
Sharing from the mother and each woman
Sisters all choose a tarot card from a pack and offer reflections
Sharing of nutritious food and drinks
Have you had a closing the bones ceremony? Do share your experiences.
Join our Postnatal Yoga Day in Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Bali to find out more and experience the ceremony.