The Art of Massage With Bamboo

By Ernesto Ortiz , LMT, CST

The Art of Massage With Bamboo

By Ernesto Ortiz , LMT, CST

I have been teaching my own modality of hot stone massage for 10 years. This popular type of massage is offered by many self-employed therapists as well as in various spas. But what I am feeling is that we may be turning from the age of stone to the gentler, more flexible medium of bamboo.

In this era of computers, cell phones and fast food, we are in need of something simpler and more authentic. People are learning that the fast pace we keep only produces stress, and are looking for ways to eliminate it. Just look around. Eastern philosophies have arrived in the West. Yoga studios and meditation classes abound in every city. Organic diets, natural medicine, essential oils, and more teas have become the norm for millions of us.

Bamboo fits well into this new paradigm.

Bamboo is one of the most multifaceted plants on our planet. It has earned its reputation from its noble and soft appearance as well as its perseverance under harsh conditions. In the Orient, bamboo symbolizes strength, fertility, youth, prosperity and peace.

I have had the great opportunity to travel around the world. In China, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, I have seen incredible structures made with bamboo. Festivals and rituals have, in many cases, used bamboo as the must essential element in the creation of sacred spaces. Many families grow a bamboo forest around their temples as a secure barrier against evil spirits. People know that bamboo sings with the wind bringing an atmosphere of peace and serenity.

Bamboo is certainly one of the most versatile plants. It has spiritual, mythological and many practical applications. We can eat it (bamboo shoots). We can build aqueducts, furniture, homes, mats and floors. We can create musical instruments, tools and utensils (flutes, marimbas, baskets, needles, fishing nets and hooks are just a few examples). We can also use its fiber for the production of paper and textiles. Bamboo has been used for thousands of years as an herbal remedy in Chinese medicine. In Hawaii and the South Pacific islands, a traditional knife for cutting the umbilical cord of a newborn was fashioned from bamboo since they believe that metal can cause harm to the newborn.

Bamboo has a unique energy all of its own, one that has a special magnetism; this plant emerges from the earth and grows straight and tall, as if it wants to reach the heavens. From this plant and its energy, we make our bamboo tools. When I was in Bali about two years ago, I was walking one early morning in Monkey Forest in the town of Ubud. (Monkey Forest is a park, a temple and the habitat for hundreds of monkeys that roam free and wild.) I noticed one of the monkeys rubbing a piece of bamboo against a stone. He was filing the rough edges and then he started massaging his body with the stalk of bamboo! But that was not all; another monkey came over to the one with the bamboo stick and turned his back. He bugged and bugged until the monkey with the stick started massaging him.

From this primal and natural interaction I witnessed in the forest came the creation of a new style of massage, Tian Di bamboo massage. Tian Di in Chinese means "heaven and earth"; this gives the meaning and primary objective of this therapy as a human being is part of the universe and a universe unto itself. Our intention is to help our clients maintain harmony between their minds and souls. As I was working on expanding this technique, I realized that it would be incomplete if just bamboo was used for the session and incorporated concepts and basic principles from TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). What bamboo will bring to the surface needs to be removed from the body with other techniques. Tian Di bamboo massage as a completed therapy is divided in three major segments: massage with bamboo, cupping, and Gua Sha techniques.

Massage With Bamboo

With the bamboo massage we also work at three levels of experience; they are the potential for impacting and changing our clients' responses. Those levels will overlap throughout the treatment and can be described as the physical, mental-emotional and spiritual levels.

I call the bamboo sticks cho sticks (cho is "bamboo" in Chinese). We view the cho sticks as conducts to all levels of experience. They are the first instruments we use in the Tian Di session. A set of cho sticks is arranged by numerous sizes and cuts of bamboo, varying in lengths and diameters. We have 6", 10" and 16" sticks, cut in specific ways for tapotement, digging and gliding. Bamboo is essential and unique because its walls are covered with silica. This creates an outer cover of tiny quartz like crystal matrixes that are activated when they encounter the right conditions of mechanical stress.

The two main properties of quartz are piezo- and pyro-electricity. This is what produces an energetic charge, so unique that science and industry, as well as the metaphysical world, have been interested and using it for many years. Piezo-electricity is activated with pressure, and pyro-electricity with heat. As we work, we apply pressure to the body with the bamboo stick and the friction that is created will activate the molecular structure in the silica... and bang! We have a powerful tool that is charged and will create dramatic and permanent changes.

For your clients, it is a new way of feeling. As they get worked on with the cho sticks the energy that is contained within the walls of the bamboo is transferred to them, creating a series of unique and new sensations. Most people describe these as: tingling all over, feeling connected to the earth, feeling like the bamboo is bending and conforming to the body.

There are many benefits for the practitioner as well. Using the cho sticks minimizes stressing and straining the hands and fingers, while still allowing for deeply penetrating maneuvers. At the same time, as we hold the cho sticks, that energy is transmitted to us, which will help us to maintain strong and healthy hands and wrists, the areas most susceptible to injury in our profession. Once you start working with the tools and learning how to feel through the bamboo, they become an extension of your hands and fingers. But the bamboo is also a channel for us, taking our massage to a more meaningful level, giving our work a new depth and dimension.

Physical: When we apply the piezo-electric principles to the body, the electrical and thermal energy activates peripheral circulation. Enhanced circulation will remove stagnant toxins and move blood throughout the body, heart and lungs, improving internal respiration. Oxygenated blood will return nutrition and healing aid to the cells and tissues of the affected areas. This enables your work to be deeper to relax and realign muscle fibers without causing micro-tears. Working with the cho sticks is like creating a ying-yang, cause and effect. It is giving your client's body space for healing.

Mental-emotional: Emotionally, this therapy provides a total sense of relaxation. While the client's body is feeling the warmth and flexibility of the bamboo, an earth dance will take place around the table with the musical sound of the cho sticks. Stagnant emotions will surface once the client feels relaxed, nourished, and has reached a point of trust. The love that we, as therapists, bring to the session will encourage our clients to freely release and process all their "negative stuff." With a clear mind and resolved emotions there will be balance and connection. The client will experience a healthy relation between the heaven above and the earth below.

Spiritual: Tian Di therapy will reach whatever level of spirituality you are at. If you don't connect with the cho sticks on a spiritual level, if you don't bring that body/mind/spirit awareness to your session, two people are loosing: you and your client. While on the table, it is not unusual for clients to express their experience in profound terms. Even for those who are not able to connect as deep or as high, there will be an experience. They will be able to feel and understand that something profound has taken place. It is not unusual that the effects of Tian Di therapy continue for days after the session. It is as if you have opened a portal and allowed the newness of the experience to enter and linger there.

Cupping and Gua Sha

These techniques work more at a physical level. They come as an aid to finish the work done with the cho sticks. They suction and sweep away what has surfaced from the treatment. Cupping involves placing suction cups on the skin with a vacuum-like device to deeply work on acupressure points along the channels and meridians. (The original cups were made of bamboo but today there are cups made of glass and plastic as well.) The technique is very effective to relieve stagnation. Stagnation refers to congestion or accumulation of fluids, lymph, qi or blood due to lack of movement of any kind.

Cupping is the opposite of massage. In massage therapy, for the most part, we do compressions. We do skin rolling, we lift some, but it is superficial. With cupping, however, we suction and lift. As we glide slowly with the cups, the suction is able to penetrate far deeper than with any other tool we may have. Cupping therapy can aid numerous conditions, ranging from chronic pain, stiff muscles or joints, fatigue, emotional and psychological states, and even some problems with organs. Cupping has been found to penetrate the tissue four inches into the body, stimulating blood flow, helping tissues release toxins, and supporting the lymphatic system.

Gua Sha dates back over 2,000 years ago. It uses round-edged instruments made of horn, stone, bone or pieces of jade, to work along the surface of the skin to promote vitality and flow. In Tian Di therapy, we use jade and horn as Gua Sha tools. In Chinese, Gua (gwa) means to scrape or extract and Sha (shaw), means sand or toxins. So we literally scrape or sand off toxins from the body as they surface from the bamboo and cupping treatment. This ancient method is used to promote qi or bioelectric vital life energy, blood circulation and removal of toxic heat, stagnant blood and lymph fluid from the body. Any patient that suffers from stiff joints, chronic pain, poor circulation, stiff muscles, lymphatic congestion, fatigue, and more will benefit from this treatment.

These three techniques together, bamboo massage, cupping and Gua Sha, make a complete and powerful Tian Di session. The beauty of it is that you as the therapist can choose to use one, two, or all three methods during the session depending on the needs of the client.

As the world expands in knowledge, we expand and we learn more. We receive inspiration and guidance to use tools made out of natural resources. We slowly move back to basics and we impart the benefits of nature to our friends, clients, family and the world.