Can reliving the womb experience help develop a healthy body and happy mind?

I have a pretty good memory, to the extent that I can recall a trip to the emergency room that, according to my parents, took place when I was about two years old. But even still, my memory isn’t sharp enough to recall whether or not being in the womb was comfortable.

As such, my reaction to otona maki, a wellness/fitness trend in Japan that could be translated as “adult wraping” or “adult swaddling,” comes purely from how it looks to me as an adult, which is that it seems like an almost perfectly even mix of baffling and frightening.

▼ Only the bottom right image is from a horror movie.

Reportedly first developed in Kyoto, otona maki has been around since at least 2015. It’s getting renewed attention in Japan, though, thanks to being featured on a recent episode of TV news program Shin Joho 7 Days from broadcaster TBS.

In otona maki, participants lie down on a large, sheet-like piece of cloth. An attendant then wraps them up snugly, leaving their face completely obscured their knees tucked up near their waist, and their overall posture resembling the fetal position. The only openings are two small gaps near the participants’ midsection, left over from how the cloth is tied.

▼ A separate video report on the practice

While wrapped up, participants rock gently back and forth, with occasional assistance from the attendants. Once the session is up (sessions seem to be roughly an hour), the participants are unwrapped, as though they’re being born.

As a new and rather obscure wellness program, the health benefits, if any of otona maki are yet to be confirmed. However, proponents claim that it’s good for relieving stiffness in the shoulders and lower back, as well as relaxing and stress-reducing.

However, most people in Japan remain highly reluctant to try it for themselves. Many online commenters have voiced concerns about being unable to move or undo the binding under their own power, while others chimed in with:

“Is this some kind of fetish?”
“If people get carried away with this, I could see something really bad happening.”
“If they don’t come untie you, will you eventually run out of oxygen?”
“It’s only a matter of time until someone gets killed doing this.”
“I think I saw this in Resident Evil 7.”
“All set to become nutrients for the Matrix.”

Aside from looking like a scene from a horror video game or movie, at least one person thinks otona maki looks like something the grocery store.

Between the visual creepiness and imagined danger, otona maki hasn’t become a major part of the fitness landscape in Japan. It’s not really something you can try at home by yourself, and finding facilities with regular sessions is difficult. In the downtown Tokyo area, the Suitengu Kosetsuin Osteopathic Clinic, located in the Ningyocho neighborhood, advertises 50-minute sessions for groups of one to three people. Three-person groups are charged 2,980 yen (US$27) each, two-person groups 3,980 yen each, and solo participants 7,980 yen.

And yes, the math does work out that the total cost for two people is 20 yen less than a solo session. But hey, if you can find a pal willing to try this with you, maybe the clinic thinks you deserve some kind of reward.

Sources: Jin, Toyo Keizai/Reuters, Byokan Sunday, Suitengu Kosetsuin Osteopathic Clinic