The Rebozo
A transcription of the rebozo workshop given by Doña Irene Sotelo and Naolí Vinaver

Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage

Doña Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage technique

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Welcome to this class. This is the use of the rebozo and massage techniques from Mexico. We will be teaching—Doña Irene Sotelo, and myself, Naolí Vinaver. I would like to know how many of you have ever used a rebozo to serve a pregnant woman, to adjust her, or have ever seen how it is done. I just would like to know how many. Just a couple from here, from this conference. So it is still fresh enough that it won't hurt to get more in detail.

So, let me first tell you what a rebozo is. They come in different colors and types of material, and they are about 1 meter 20 centimeters or so in length [we measured ours at 4 1/2 feet]. I don't know in feet, but they should be long enough to go around a person's body and then overlap a little. The rebozo has been a part of the Mexican culture forever. We've never known it to not exist, and it is a woman's piece of clothing. Usually, it is worn by the woman, very conveniently, to keep from getting cold, and it usually goes like this, overlapping over one shoulder. It is also used to carry babies, as you have probably seen. We teach people how to wrap a baby in many, many different ways, so that every woman, even if she doesn't have children, knows how to carry a baby, because she's going to be carrying her siblings or her nieces or nephews or grandchildren, and so on.

The rebozo is also used to carry heavy loads on the head. So what you do is wrap [the rebozo] like a coil, and you put this on your head to make it like a padding. This is very good service to carry a big, heavy bucket. Then it is just a matter of equilibrium, right? But it doesn't hurt your head. And the head is a very, very strong part of the body. The neck and back carry the weight. My children have always been really big and fat, and I usually carry them on my shoulders. I cannot carry them on my side because my back hurts, and I always put them on my shoulder. And it's their weight going on the same center of your body, so I can go for hours carrying them like that. And that's why many people carry things on their heads, not just in Mexico, everywhere in the world you see that. So if you ever have to carry a big box of books, don't try to do it on your side. Just get down, put something on your head, lift [the box] up, put it on your head and try it out. It's very easy to do.

The rebozo is also used in the midwife's bag. It is a piece of cloth that can be used to wrap around a woman's belly. The woman who's had many babies and has a big belly that falls out onto her lap, well, usually the baby is not well aligned in her body. Actually, she may have contractions and have labor for a long time. Even though she's had babies, baby can't come out because baby's resting outside. It's just out there on the bed or out there in the air, and you need to bring that baby back into her body. The rebozo is a very convenient way of doing it. What I've done is lay the woman down and have gravity pull the baby back inside her, and then I tighten the rebozo around, with the knot on the side, so that she cannot feel the knot if she's leaning. And I just make it nice and tight, usually as tight as I can, because the belly is a huge weight. Then she can get up and have the baby once the baby has fallen back into place. [It positions the baby back over the cervix to help it dilate in labor.]

Every woman has her own rebozo. As I said before, they come in different textures, and many, many of them are made of cotton. Nowadays, many may not be made of cotton, but they are usually the same size. [They are] to be used in pregnancy to rotate babies, to fix the baby's position. We'll get to that as well. It's always useful for them to have some texture, because then they won't just slide, like a sheet would slide, and will have some friction, and it will be easier.

I will let Doña Irene talk about how she uses the rebozo during pregnancy. OK. We will begin with that, and then we will just go on. We have a lot to say.

In Mexico, the use of the rebozo is traditional. It has been used for years and years, for many, many years.

In some communities the rebozo is a symbol of respect. In a small-town village if one sees a girl 13 or 14 years old and she is wearing her shawl, walking through town, men would know that this is a married woman, and she needs to be respected and honored as such.

So then when these women get pregnant, they wrap the rebozo around their waist, like this, because we're talking about rural areas and women working hard. So they do this, and in doing that it provides them with more support. We're talking about women being pregnant three or four months and on, and as they do that, then they can carry huge things of water on their heads, huge things of firewood. Any of the hard work, physical labor, that they do, this is going to help them protect their back, protect their pregnancy.

The traditional midwives utilize the rebozo for the pregnant lady—for the delivery, after the delivery, for all parts of a woman's care.

When the woman is pregnant, super pregnant, and there is a belly 8 ½ months, this is what I do. Here is the belly right here. I wrap the shawl so that the whole belly is inside the shawl as it spreads on the front of the belly. So throughout the day, this is how they have the rebozo wrapped around their belly.

In some states, I have met some people in some communities who wear their rebozo very tight around their waist—all the time—as a means to keep a little tiny waist. So the entire pregnancy occurs down here and never changes the waistline or affects it. I have known of women who have had 10 babies, and they still have a tiny little waist.

Those times when the woman is some weeks along and the baby has gotten bigger and the muscles, these ligaments on the side, are sore, during the prenatal visits the traditional midwives are able to help with those discomforts.

I need a volunteer, or someone who can be a model.

Our model is 8-1/2 months pregnant. Her back hurts, her side hurts, she feels tired. When [the woman comes] to the prenatal visit, first the belly's massaged, the midwife talks to the baby, the woman gets massaged and then after that [the midwife] does what I'm doing. The woman leans back a little bit, the rebozo is wrapped around the lower back, including the buttocks, and the midwife hangs onto the ends and rocks the woman gently as she leans back onto the rebozo.

She rocks back and forth a little bit, and then [the midwife] takes the rebozo and puts it on the front. The top of the rebozo is always going to be loose, and nice and snuggy down at the bottom. The rebozo is wrapped on the woman's belly, the entire belly, and then she takes the ends to the back and she gently ties upward. The tightness is happening at the bottom of the belly, loosened on the top.

Question: You know how when you did the back and held it on either side and pulled. When you put it on the front, are you going to do some of that pulling, too?

Answer: When you're doing it from the front, you just do a gentle, upward pull.

After that's done, [the woman] sits on the chair comfortably. Then I starts massaging so that she'll rest. I want to make the woman feel comfortable, and this is what God tells me to do, so I just do these things.

As [I'm] doing this massage, there's a popping that the woman can hear—and I hear it, too, when I do it. That promotes circulation, and that's a good thing.

Then I press down on the forehead like that. Of course, I'm always using oils, and that makes it a little bit easier.

You can even add a little bit of pressure on the forehead, with the fingers like that, going all the way down on the sides of the neck, down into the shoulders, nice and gentle. This is very gentle. It doesn't have to be hard. You're doing this with a lot of love so that the pregnant woman feels really good, loved and cared for, wonderfully. You just continue to rub the shoulders.

After [I've] done all that, all the massaging, and the belly with the rebozo work, and then the head and the face and the shoulders and all of that, and all this sweet talking, and the woman is all relaxed, then [the woman says], "Oh, I feel so good, I feel so good." Then [I] go on into the dialogue. Every time I like to ask the woman, "When did you have your last period?" She goes through all the information. I like for them to just go over and over it, even though it isn't like I have forgotten, I have it written in here, but I like to go over and over it. "When was the first day of your last period? When were you doing this kind of stuff, and where are you in terms of your pregnancy?" And I do a lot of talking, every time, about eating right, eating a lot of vegetables. I encourage a lot of dark green, leafy vegetables, a lot of fruits, a lot of fluids, more than usual, and I do this all the time, over and over. Usually [the women] feel so good, they want to come back right away, and they look at me, "When do I come back?" when they already know it's in another month. But they're hoping I'll say, "Oh, next week, in three days." "I feel so much better" they say, "When can I come back?" And they look at me with a certain look.

So that's how you handle the rebozo in the traditional midwife's way. For a long labor or for a face presentation, for a baby's head that wasn't flexed, this is what the traditional midwife does. The rebozo comes in handy again for that. You have to lie flat on the floor, on your pelvis. This is what the head is going to do to flex, which is what you want when it is a face presentation. So the technique I'm using here is to cause the baby's head to flex and put itself in the right way. I'm putting the woman flat, and the rebozo is under her pelvis, and I bend over the woman and gently rock her. This is done, as you can see, very, very gently, so that the rocking, that's what the baby's doing, rocking.

Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage

Doña Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage technique

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Question: How long is this done to cause the baby's head to do that?

Answer: About 10 minutes or so. It doesn't take very long. And this is done between contractions. Remember, this is for a long birth, or when you notice that this is a face presentation.

This is for posterior birth. Do what I'm doing. I'm going to demonstrate how to use the rebozo for turning posterior. I've got the woman on the floor, resting on her elbows. The rebozo is spread on top of her buttocks, pelvis, and rocking the pelvis from side to side. So this is the movement that you do. Again, nice and gently.

Question: Can you do this technique when the woman is seven or eight months pregnant and she's got a lot of back problems?

Answer: Yes, but gently, gently. For that, then you do it like this. What I'm talking about is just taking the rebozo, not spread, just holding the ends.

Yes, the baby does come out, and the baby just goes right back.

If you're thinking that the baby may be out of place or is face up, there are other things we can do for comfort measures. I always tell them, "Please do your hula. Do your hula." And then a lot of women, not just in labor, even during the prenatal period, say, "Well, you know, when I start to do my dishes or cook, I go like this [rocking and rotating hips] because it feels good."

This is for after the birth. A lot of people like to have baths done after delivery. In the community where I work there are a lot of different groups that come to see me, and I have to listen to them, because all of them have their own very particular ways—what they are used to, how they like to be attended to, their rituals and things. So some of the women from the state of Puebla like the herbal baths, and they like to be squeezed or massaged with the rebozo, and they request it. So after the woman has had her nice herbal bath—the bath has to be very warm—and the woman has been all warmed up, then she lies down on the bed, and I do this massage with the rebozo. Usually, it's the husband who helps do the massage. The husband is tugging on one side, and I'm tugging on the other, and we work together, slowly beginning to apply pressure until there's a good amount of pressure. You hold it there, and hold it, and then slowly release again. Then you move it downward to another part of the body, and you do the same thing until you have massaged the whole body. It takes about 45 minutes to complete this massage. So right now I'm going to do it fast.

Around the waist I do it a little bit stronger than the rest of the body. To help the bones go back in place is why you do it stronger there. That's why the women, when they say, "Doña, after my baby's born I want you to squeeze me and do this. I want you to close my hips back up," that's how they request it. And I know what that means. And the woman who's being the model right now says that that feels really good.

Question: When after the birth is the other massage done?

Answer: At least a week. Sometimes I just do one, and when I go home the relatives—the mother, her mother—continue to do it. That's the last one. You even do the feet. We get meticulous. We do the toes.
You can't do too many, but at least one or two more get done at home by the relatives of the women.

The bath's different, and I'll show you something more effective. There was another question about the herbs. There are eight herbs: lemon tree leaves, orange leaves-we're talking trees-even the blossoms you can throw in there, rosemary, eucalyptus, rue, basil, chamomile, Santa Maria. Mexican stores may have some of these. You have a tree; you just pull the best ones. The amount is however [much] you can do. Whatever the heart says, as far as the amount goes.

Question: What is good for when the sacrum hurts so much and is so painful after delivery?

I don't know if you know here about ventosas, and I can try to describe what a ventosa is. It's something my grandmother used to do, too. That's where you take a glass, a regular drinking water glass, put a little alcohol into it, swish it around, empty it, light a match, and then there's a potion that is created and the flesh sucks into the cup. You do that, and after a while there's a way to break the suction, and you're done. And that's called a ventosa. So for that, I do ventosas.

For the coccyx, when it's very sore, after delivery, how many times have we heard "Oh, my coccyx hurts so much?" So, ventosas.

Here's what I do with the sciatica. Who has sciatica? She's near. That's easy. I am having the woman lie flat on her back. The sciatica is a nerve that starts from the top of the hip and continues all the way down to your heels. Lie face down. So the woman is on the floor, face down. I use rosemary oil for that. Remember, when you start touching a woman, do it gently. When you do this and the woman tells you after you're done that she doesn't feel it anymore, then you know you've got it. The experience teaches us as we go along, right? As we do these things. She, for example, is young. So it's different with her bones and the bones of an older person who has a problem with sciatica. We learn the differences as we do this over and over on the different ages of women's bodies.

The left hand rests on her upper back, over the spine, and then with the right hand, I massage on the sacrum. I'm checking right now to see if this is really sciatica or something else. Is this sciatica or does it have to do with the spine not being aligned properly. So right now I'm diagnosing. After I feel here, where it hurts, the left hand doesn't move. While the right hand is doing the searching, the left hand is pressing gently down, and then I go with two fingers up the spine and feel what happens when I do it. There's a little deviation right there. Did you see that? My fingers jumped. So her spine is not quite aligned right there. My fingers jump up to the side as I go in there. It almost makes like a Z, like for Zorro. The spine does not go smooth all the way.

So now, first I'm going to work on that to get it to sit right. I'm suspicious that it could be that the problem stems from the problem on the spine. So now that we find this problem, we warm it up. We massage it and warm up that whole area with the massage. How much pressure you do depends on everybody in every situation. In learning to read the body, you wait for the body to give you the feedback—how much pressure, how hard, how soft to do it. So, I'm done massaging. Do you have pain? "Actually, I have pain in my knee." Right now in the knees, you feel it? "In the front." If there's pain right here, behind the knee, as I was doing that, that means there's sciatica problems. After I massage that area where I was massaging, you pop the spine, and everything's popping. That's fixed. Now I want you on your side, facing me.

One leg up, bottom leg straight down. It's a lot of rosemary oil. I'm feeling for something, feeling the area. I take the rebozo and make a big ball, and put it there. Does it hurt? That's where the problem is with the nerve. So I make a ball with the rebozo and put my elbow on it and put my body weight on it as I press straight down and ask the woman if it hurts. Does it hurt? Yes. This is the sciatica. This is the sciatica, the nerve. The nerve is a little tense. So this is what I am doing to the sciatica with that massage. I use the rebozo and press with my finger so that when I let go, it's more relaxed, looser. I usually do this for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes of that massage with the rebozo all balled up and my elbow applying direct pressure, I now take my hand and put it right there, lining her up, nice and straight, straight on. I tap her head and go back to the abdomen and make a fist. I put it directly over the umbilicus, pressing downward. Not when she's pregnant. You don't do it this way. This treatment is only for a non-pregnant woman. But you do it with the woman being on her side. Then I gently go to the head and pull on the head gently, and I press in a certain way, about the clavicle, pressing with my two thumbs, pressing on the clavicle on both sides. Very gently I take the head and pop it slowly, very gently. I rotated the head this way and popped it. Do like chiropractors do. The classic pop. I ought to know how to do it. It's amazing how healing our hands are. Sometimes if nothing else, just rub your hands and make a friction, because our hands are healing and sometimes, just by gently touching like that, the oil just complements that. It makes things just flow even easier. Our hands are healing medicine. We carry this medicine everywhere.

The model said, "I feel like a new woman."

Question: Where did you get your knowledge? Was it from other healers and midwives or all from God, or both?

Answer: Everything came from God. People would come with pain, whatever pain, and I would just go and work on these people, trying this, trying that, to help them to feel better. When I work with people, I don't work with any fear. I don't worry that I might do them harm. I do it gently, and I am told what to do. I trust. And I believe that there is, and I have, this extra sixth sense that tells me what to do, and God speaks to me.

There are a lot of people that I've seen, wonderful techniques and wonderful massages-Japanese style and all kinds-but I always go back. I have to stick to the one from Doña Irene. This is my thing, this is what I have, and this is where I need to stay.

I remind you that I've been telling you that the women teach you, the experiences teach you. Sometimes when somebody would come to my house, and I didn't know what to do, I didn't tell her, "I don't know how to help you." If somebody says, "I need your help, I'm in pain for this," and I didn't know what to do, I didn't convey this to my client and say, "Well, I don't know what to do." I would just think, OK, I need to, I need to, in the name of God, I need to do something. So I'd go and get some oil and rub it on, and I'd start touching the woman. She's feeling good and feeling that healing energy, and right away a person would give me feedback: "Oh, that feels so good. I feel so much rested already." And by giving that feedback, that is how I knew.

So we'll have to pay attention, attention to when the woman comes, the person comes, what's going on, opening to all our senses, and then we'll know what to do, essentially.

Oh, and another thing that I consider very important is to gather the pulse. You've seen me with my whole fist pressing down hard on the umbilicus. That's really important. This is for when women are edgy, jumpy, nervous—to gather them, if you will. Imagine this thing that we carry around, and it's tilted. So this is just to give you that image. I need it every day so that I can stay calm and centered if someone is grouchy; yes, for centering, for gathering—so that's what I mean, gathering the woman, putting her in her center.

Question: What do you do for nasty period cramps?

Answer: I give them a tea, of that herb that we've heard of before—malope—and that helps it so that it gets things stimulated, and then the woman gets her period. Usually it's the type of blood that is thick, sort of coagulated, and that's why it was having a hard time coming down.

Question: Why is it coagulated like that? What makes that happen?

Answer: I believe that this is because women consume too much cold things, ingest cold things into her system, so things get cooled off here and it creates, I guess, maybe a kind of stagnation where things are not flowing as they should.

Sometimes you can also give the woman an oregano tea or chamomile tea. We're talking about menstrual period cramping. This isn't something you give a pregnant woman.

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