“How it looks and how it feels are completely different,” says physiotherapist Orie Matsuo. I’m at her treatment room in Ikebukuro, about to try a session of otonamaki (“adult wrapping”), and she’s talking about the shock factor behind Japan’s unusual new form of therapy.
People find the image of a body tied up in the cotton mesh fabric disturbing or uncomfortable to look at – which has ironically (or predictably?) made the topic a hit on the Net. “But in fact it’s based on the very soothing practice of ohinamaki – wrapping newborn babies up to mimic the feeling of being in the womb, and help them sleep better,” she says.
Matsuo is a member of the company Kyoko Proportion, and has been practicing physio and massage therapy for three decades. She introduced otonamaki to her repertoire after it was launched in 2015 by midwife Nobuko Watanabe, under whom Matsuo trained. The physical benefits of a 20- to 30-minute session include helping the body become more flexible, relieving shoulder and neck stiffness, and broadening joint movements. But perhaps the more interesting effect is how, when you’re rolled up inside that stretchy white fabric, your mind “feels free.”
Keen to see just how free I’d feel once wrapped up, I settle into a cross-legged position on the floor mat, seating myself directly in the middle of the cotton piece of fabric. Matsuo wraps a kind of protective belt around both my neck and waist – although the waist one is optional and next time I’d leave it off as I found it uncomfortable to lie on. She then gently folds the ends up over my head, asking if I’d prefer my face to not be covered. But since I don’t suffer from claustrophobia (and I want to experience maximum freeness), I choose full coverage.
Matsuo talks to me every step of the way, asking if I’m okay, and which position I’d prefer my hands, arms, legs, and feet to be in. (Because communication during the session is important, you’ll need to be able to understand basic Japanese, or take along a Japanese-speaking friend.)
Slowly, she begins to tie different edges of the cloth together until there are multiple knots holding my cotton cocoon in place. She then guides me into a horizontal position, my legs and arms folded up to my chest. For the final tie, she asks me which position I’d like to have my head in – flat against the floor or tilted forwards at an angle. I choose the tilt, but if you’re worried about aggravating any neck pains then I’d recommend keeping it flat.
Being on the inside of the bundle is akin to being underwater in the sense that the outside world is close yet far. However, breathing is easy since the fabric is mesh, and at no point do I feel trapped or anxious to get out. Matsuo gently rocks me back and forth, turning me on my side, and even lifting the bottom half of my body off the floor.
I may not feel one hundred percent free, but I am weightless for a long moment – and if you’re someone who carries the weight of the world on your shoulders, you’ll understand how freeing that can be.
A first 45-minute otonamaki appointment with Orie Matsuo costs ¥4,860 (extra 10 minutes is ¥1,080, and subsequent visits are ¥3,780). To make an appointment, call 03-5879-8120. For more information, visit the Kyoko Proportion website at kyokopro.net (Japanese only).
More Alternative Ways to Relax in Tokyo
City living driving you crazy? Calm your mind with sound therapy or meditation…
Sometimes called a gong bath, this meditative therapy is like a sound massage for body and mind, using vibrational frequencies to help healing and relaxation on a deep, cellular level. It’s great for easing insomnia, anxiety, and stress. To try it out, we went along to a session held in Shibuya by Anne Fong Braillard, who is also a yoga teacher and reiki master. While we lay on comfy futons with eyes closed, Anne played two large gongs as well as different-sized Tibetan bowls, washing us in an epic symphony of sound that seemed to penetrate right to our core. It was beautiful, effortless, and probably the most relaxing thing we’ve done in years.
NO TIME? DOWNLOAD AN APP…
For on-the-go healing, get the Natura Sound Therapy app via tinyurl.com/TWsoundtherapy
The paradox of being stressed is that often the hardest thing to do is sit down and clear your mind. The solution? Join a class so that all you need to do is show up while someone else leads you to lightness. The best thing about the Kadampa Buddhist meditation class we joined in Hiroo is that you’re not actually expected to clear your mind. Instead, our teacher, Janet Yeh, led us through a guided meditation that included visualization as well as practical tools for navigating everyday stresses.
English classes are ¥1,500 at Be Yoga studio on Wednesdays (three times a month) from 7:30pm-8:30pm. For more info, visit www.kadampa.jp
NO TIME? DOWNLOAD AN APP…
For modern mindfulness, get the Buddhify app via tinyurl.com/TW-buddhify
This article appears in the April issue of Tokyo Weekender magazine.
Otonamaki photographs by Yumi Idomoto