Bamboo Massage

Long before paper was invented, the Chinese recorded their history on thin slivers of bamboo. In fact, the material was used in a multitude of ways, ranging from musical instruments to elaborate decorations, artwork, and even agricultural tools. Since bamboo was incorporated into so much of daily life, it wasn't long before it was used as a form of creative and spiritual expression, which quickly took on ritual and healing connotations.

Chinese, Indonesian, and Japanese festivals, rituals, and myths abound with bamboo symbolizing life energy, prosperity, longevity, sexuality, and fertility. In China, stalks of bamboo still symbolize eternal youth, strength, prosperity, and peace. What may seem like a new technique, bamboo massage, has ancient roots and perhaps deeper associations than simply bodywork. Today, bamboo massage is touted as Bamboo-Fusion, Tian di Bamboo Massage, or simply promoted at high-end spas as the latest in exotic treatments or for massage therapists as a new tool, but bamboo can be seen as much more than a new trend or accessory.

Bamboo massage is a technique that incorporates bamboo stalks of varying lengths and diameters to provide deep-tissue work. (The Japanese name for bamboo is take, while the Chinese call it chu. It is from this word that the cho sticks, used by some bamboo massage practitioners, take their name.) Some practitioners combine elements of shiatsu, traditional Chinese medicine (where bamboo cups or the ends of the stalks are used in specific ways), Thai massage, lymphatic drainage, and even ayurveda into the technique, and sticks are sometimes heated or essential oils are incorporated into the massage. The massage itself promotes circulation, sensory nerve perception, and lymphatic drainage and provides a deep sense of relaxation and well-being. An added benefit for the practitioner is that using the bamboo sticks helps to reduce stress and strain on hands and fingers while still allowing for deeply penetrating maneuvers.

Bamboo Structure and Benefits
Although bamboo matures fully in approximately seven years, most bamboo flowers only once in 60 to 120 years, with large heads much like those of sugarcane. After blooming, all the bamboo plants of the same species die, which occurs worldwide at the same time. Overall, there are more than 1,200 species of bamboo, all of them related to sugarcane and corn. Bamboo is, in fact, a giant grass: the bamboo stalk can be cut, leaving the root system intact for rapid regrowth. This makes bamboo a highly renewable resource. In a favorable habitat, it can grow as fast as one foot in 24 hours and will grow back to full-size in a few years.

In addition to its sustainability, bamboo is also recognized for its suppleness and resilience. With its unique combination of strength and flexibility, bamboo lends itself to a variety of uses. Because of its hardness, bamboo has been used for bridges, floors, furniture, gutters, masts, utensils, and vessels. Because the fiber is soft and can be finely crushed, it can also be used for clothing, bedding, and towels.

Part of what makes bamboo hard and straight, yet flexible and light, is that its outer cell walls are covered with silica. This creates a crystalline-like matrix, much like that of a quartz crystal or our own connective tissue. Some practitioners believe that releasing tension or fascial adhesions held within this matrix can help restore and rebalance the body's electromagnetic field. In his article, "Bioenergetics of Man," for the Academy of Applied Osteopathic Association, osteopathic physician R.B. Taylor writes, "Manipulative pressure and stretching are the most effective ways of modifying energy potentials of abnormal tissues."1

If we look closely at what's just beneath the surface of this statement, it takes us directly to what's beneath the surface of both our bodies and the structure of bamboo itself. Crystalline-like matrices are known to exhibit two very specific properties: piezoelectricity and pyroelectricity. Piezoelectricity is activated with pressure and pyroelectricity with heat. On a physiological level, these two properties are believed to contribute to some of the healing effects seen in bamboo massage.

Piezoelectricity is the ability of some materials (notably crystals) to generate an electric potential in response to applied mechanical stress or pressure across the crystal lattice. The word itself is derived from the Greek piezein, which means to squeeze or press. In the case of massage, pressure along the fascia, which is also a crystalline-like matrix of tissue, would generate this same effect.

Pyroelectricity is the ability of certain materials to generate an electrical potential when heated or cooled. The name is derived from the Greek word pyr, meaning fire. As a result of a change in temperature, positive and negative charges move to opposite ends or poles of the material (the material becomes polarized), thereby establishing an electrical potential. Very small changes in temperature can, in fact, produce an electrical potential due to a material's pyroelectricity. Thus, heating a bamboo stick and applying pressure with it could create this effect. This pyroelectric effect is also present in both bone and tendon.

All pyroelectric materials are also piezoelectric, the two properties being closely related. These two properties could, therefore, be easily stimulated as pressure is applied using the bamboo sticks to penetrate deep into the tissues. "Skillful manipulation [in bodywork] simply raises energy levels and creates a greater degree of sol (fluidity) in organic systems that are already there, but behaving sluggishly," writes Deane Juhan in his book Job's Body.2

Stimulation of the tissue by the bamboo sticks is believed to relieve this "sluggish state," by dissipating the heat that results from an accumulation of toxins and poor circulation, much the same as what would occur through deep-tissue work, trigger-point activation, or various acupressure techniques. Some recipients of bamboo massage have described these releases as a whole-body tingling or a warming sensation.

As therapists and clients search for new approaches to massage therapy, bamboo massage may be at the forefront, offering a basic solution: a technique that not only makes use of a renewable and sustainable resource, but also reconnects us to ancient approaches. This reminds us of what it means to be connected and interconnected--respecting our needs and those of the natural world that support those needs. This may be the gift that this seemingly simple material offers: strength, flexibility, and versatility, without depleting our world or ourselves. 

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1 comment:

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