“Otonamaki”: Therapeutic Swaddling for Adults

Any parent of a newborn is widely familiar with the practice of wrapping their baby in a soft blanket in order to soothe and help them sleep. Otonamaki, which is defined as adult wrapping or swaddling, is not designed for the same purpose nor does it involve encasing one’s body inside a blanket. This unique Japanese practice was developed in 2015 by a midwife named Nobuko Watanabe as a therapeutic means to alleviate poor posture and stiffness problems.

To be swaddled as an adult means to be cocooned within mesh cotton strips while in a fetal position then gently rocked or rolled around the room by another person or you can rock yourself. Nevertheless, you would still need a partner since you cannot wrap yourself. Warning: total immobility may not be comfortable for those who suffer from claustrophobia or advisable for anyone with existing injuries or spinal issues. Aside from experiencing a feeling of warmth and relaxation, many who’ve tried the technique report an improvement in posture and balance, ease of pain and/or stiff muscles, stress reduction, and better sleep.

Though further scientific research needs to be explored, a slight comparison can be made to the benefits of weighted blankets. Wrapping your body in cotton sheets is most assuredly a little less “crushing” than a weighted blanket but it’s fair to say both methods could yield a sense of relaxation and deep pressure stimulation. A 2020 study revealed that deep pressure therapy, which mimics a hug or squeeze, may help ease anxiety and stress. Occupational therapists often use this approach when working with autistic children.

Since you are to be covered from head to toe, airflow is very important which is why cotton mesh or a breathable stretchy jersey fabric is recommended, leaving your mouth and nose exposed. Avoid tulle since it can rip easily and is not the most soothing against the skin. If you are trying this practice at home, you must use extra caution so as to avoid injury to your back or neck. Adult swaddling is still largely done in Japan where sessions can be booked with a physiotherapist or otonamaki instructor.

Adult Swaddling Guidelines:

  • Place your hands in your lap, and sit cross-legged on the sheet with 10 to 12 inches of cloth extending past your crossed legs.
  • Have your partner raise the sheet behind you, making sure another 10 inches or more of cloth extends above your head.
  • Make certain your neck is supported by having your partner place a roll of thick fabric such as a towel behind your head before tying the first knot.
  • Your partner should raise the sheet behind you, allowing it to drape over your head. Next, match one top sheet corner to the alternate bottom sheet corner. For example, the top left corner would be matched with the bottom right corner.
  • The two corners are then knotted tightly enough to hold you in position.
  • The other two corners are to be knotted in a similar fashion. Any loose fabric should be pulled up and knotted with the fabric draping over your head yet having you completely cocooned.
  • Now, your partner can gently roll your body in a back-and-forth motion. The rocking is part of the swaddling therapy.

As always, consult with your healthcare professional before trying any alternative therapy.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo by Ceyda Nur Canpolat/

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