This particular sequence was developed as a way of introducing touch and massage to clients, students and newcomers, who are reticent about being touched and massaged for the first time. It appeals to the basic instincts of being cradled and rocked. For the more experienced practitioner it is a way of deepening the experience and, through group work, exploring some of the subtler meanings of a subject that is all too often treated as a perfunctory, mechanistic, relaxation service.
The ritual and reverential feelings this technique evokes touches something quite beautiful and primeval within us all. There are so many ways you can explain and develop this idea; wrapping the mummy, swaddling the baby, peeling the onion, a snake shedding its skin, a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, etc. Both children and adults (big children) instinctively relate to the concept.
Most of the techniques can be adapted for one participant, apart from Step 6, Rebirth – The Infant’s Cradle which, for safety’s sake, requires 4-6 people. For the illustrations of this sequence we shall work with the idea of ‘The Pharaoh’s Rebirth’ although, as we point out, any other suitable storyline would suffice.
Step 1: The Pharaoh
Have the recipient lie on a large, strong linen sheet, with feet together. Cross their arms into the ‘pharaoh positon’ (left hand on the right side of the upper chest, fingers touching the shoulder, right arm over the left, fingers touching the left shoulder).
Take your time as you fold one side of the sheet across the recipient’s body, conforming to their outline. Fold the other side over and tuck in all around. The feet should be loosely bound in and the sides and top of the head swathed with the face uncovered. Sit quietly for a minute to let them savour the experience. Slowly ‘unwrap the mummy’ or ‘unpeel the onion’ until the sheet is fully extended on the floor. The recipient should experience a profound release of tension. It is akin to a snake shedding its skin or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Step 2: Ascending the Throne
Unfold the arms from the ‘pharaoh position’ and lay them by the side of the body. The two participants nearest the head gather the sheet in a secure grip and lift the recipient into a partial sitting position (45 degrees).
Step 3: Crowning the Brow
Flowing on from the previous movement, the principal participant should step behind the recipient and support the back with shin and thigh. With hand cradling and crowning the brow, the body can be raised to an almost upright position. This should allow the brow to be gently stroked three times in an elevating and uplifting fashion. Use your control of the sheet to roll the back to the floor vertebra by vertebra.
Step 4: Rolling
Fold the recipient’s arms and place the hands lightly on the abdomen. Two participants roll the recipient to a 45 degree angle with the others taking no more than a supporting role. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly roll the body to the floor. Pause, then repeat the sequence, rolling the body to the other side. Slowly roll the body to the starting position and relax the arms by the side.
Step 5: Ascending to the Gods
Firmly clasping the feet, raise the legs very gently into a near vertical position, depending on the flexibility of the recipient’s spine. Ensure that the chin is squarely on the chest and the spine is in alignment. Hold for 2-3 complete breaths before relaxing the spine, vertebra by vertebra, once more to the floor.
Step 6: Rebirth – The Infant’s Cradle
Adopt a secure stance with knees slightly bent, feet in line with hips and a straight, but not rigid back. Take a firm grip of the sheet and, using the power of your thigh muscles, lift until the recipient’s body is well clear of the floor. Gently rock backwards and forwards like a cradle rocking in a gentle breeze. Continue for as long as is comfortable. The principle participant should watch for any signs of strain and give a sign or word to co-ordinate a controlled return to the floor.
Step 7: The Blessing
Cross the recipient’s arms, once again, into the ‘pharaoh position’. Rewrap the body as before and kneel close and in a near circle. In turn, place your left hands in a stack onto the recipient’s solar plexus. Do not press or apply great pressure. Then, once again in sequence, place your right hands onto the stack. Close your eyes and bestow a loving blessing on the recipient and your fellow participants. One by one, slowly remove the hands. Leaving the body still wrapped for a few minutes, sit quietly and reflectively. Gently unwrap the body to complete the sequence.
a) The sheet can be scented with essential oils, with the rejuvenating qualities of frankincense and myrrh.
b) It helps if there is limited verbal communication such as a word of direction from the principle participant, although gentle background music is an option.
c) The whole sequence is best practised several times until the sequence is a wordless ballet of movement. This can be a training/learning experience for all the participants. It would certainly help if everyone has had the opportunity to experience being the recipient.
d) With four participants, have two either side of the body. With six, two either side, one at the head one at the feet. It is as well to discuss in advance the roles you will each play. The key/directing position is at the head. It does not necessarily require greater strength, although sensitivity and good balance are prerequisites.
It is important that the recipient has complete confidence in the competence of everyone present or they will not be able to relax, which is one of the key points of the exercise.
credits: Photos from our book: ‘Easy Steps to Massage’ (Grange Books) and from a Yoga Explorers Day at Shibumi Yoga Centre. Our thanks also to our hard-working models; Yogini Rosalind Widdowson, Swami Tantramurti Saraswati, Anna Blain, Verity Blain & Zoe Sargent.