By Penny Ellis, Founder, Bali International Spa Academy
CIBTAC Centre of the Year 2015 and Finalist 2014
Considering the many therapeutic benefits of bamboo massage for both clients and therapists, it is surprising that it is not more readily found on spa menus. After all, bamboo was considered a powerful healing tool in ancient China, Japan and Indonesia. Bamboo still symbolizes life, energy, prosperity, longevity and fertility in these cultures.
Today though, it is making an impressive comeback as a bodywork tool and coveted beauty ingredient around the globe. And for all the right reasons!
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 re-growth. 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. Considered to be one of the most multifaceted plants on earth, bamboo has earned its reputation from its holistic and soft appearance, as well as its perseverance under any conditions.
Using Bamboo for Bodywork
For use in massage, sets of usually seven hollow bamboo sticks of different lengths and diameters of typically 4 to 15 inches are organically treated for health and safety reasons.
These bamboo canes are both hard and straight, and at the same time flexible and light due to the silica covering its outer cell walls. Silica is an essential element for maintaining the integrity and health of the skin, ligaments, tendons and bones. Bamboo extract is the richest known source of silica; it contains over 70% organic silica and is 10 times more potent than horsetail silica. Silica has a strong restorative effect on many of the body’s tissues, making bamboo massage even more potent than just the practitioner’s rolling and kneading maneuvers.
Some practitioners prefer to apply the canes at room temperature, while others prefer to intensify the massage by heating the bamboo in a commercial-grade heating pad. Similar to warm stones, the belief is that the extra heat will penetrate more deepely into tissue and muscle layers.
Generally the longer, thicker sticks are utilized for gliding and rolling movements, primarily for larger muscles such as the back and thighs Therapists deploy the shorter, thinner canes to find built-up tension, knots and trigger points, and then vigorously knead these spots for release. Also smaller muscles such as those found in the hands and feet are massaged with the thinner stalks.
Most Eastern-oriented practitioners believe that the bamboo canes, as can the hand on its own, clear blockages to stimulate the flow of chi or energy.
Typically the degree of pressure alternates between firm and soft, depending on the physical and mental issues being addressed in the session. All parts of the body are affected in some manner with the bamboo.
Bamboo’s Therapeutic Applications
The bamboo sticks can be used in various techniques and modalities, giving the therapist a lot of versatility and ability to focus on specific client needs. Many compare bamboo massage to deep tissue massage, but the bamboo can also be used to replicate the strokes used in Swedish Massage.
Depending on client needs, bamboo can also be combined with Thai, Lymphatic Drainage and Ayurvedic techniques. Some masseurs combine it with elements of Shiatsu to stimulate acupuncture pressure points. Even specialists in traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sometimes combine bamboo massage with bamboo cupping jars.
The smaller sticks on their own can be used to apply pressure and activate specific points in hands and feet during a reflexology session.
The creator of Bamboo-Fusion massage, Nathalie Cecilia, a pioneer and leader in the massage industry, combines hot stones with warm bamboo in 90 minute therapeutic sessions. The hot stones warm and relax the body, and then the warm bamboo canes go further into the muscles to release, stretch and relax.
Another variant is Tian Di Bamboo Massage which incorporates principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), specifically the Chinese five elements theory encompassing the principles of wood, fire, earth, metal and water as applied in massage.
Whatever the bodywork philosophy used in conjunction with the bamboo sticks, it will be a deeply penetrating, stimulating massage with the capacity to resolve customer complaints about the state of their health or to sustain their positive status.
Client Benefits of Bamboo Massage
Like any form of massage, there are numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits. At minimum, it produces a deep sense of relaxation, serenity and inner wellbeing. In fact, many believe it to be a powerful and safe therapy to reduce or eliminate the stress commonly associated with contemporary daily life.
Considered a complementary therapy to be used alongside conventional western medicine to treat illness and relieve muscle pain, it also plays a very strong preventative role.
It is only recently though that the benefits of ancient forms of therapy such as bamboo massage are becoming more clearly appreciated and scientifically understood. In addition to managing stress and promoting over-all good health, below are some of the ways customers are believed to obtain relief from or solutions for specific health problems;
- Reactivates and stimulates blood circulation
- Relieves migraines
- Can improve sleep quality and help insomnia
- Helps manage respiratory ailments
- Helps alleviate arthritic pain, particularly in the neck and shoulders
- Improves nervous system functions and sensory nerve perception
- Increases joint and muscle flexibility
- Stimulates cellular activity to repair and intensely nourish the skin
- Breaks down and softens adhesions
- Assists to remove lactic acid to reduce pain
Once you experience it for yourself, you will likely discover a host of other ways that this ancient healing tool and renewable resource will help you live a fuller, healthier and happier life.
A Natural Detox – Move over Toxins
The rolling and kneading of the bamboo sticks stimulates and heats the body, thereby dissipating accumulated toxins. The enhanced circulation moving through the body, heart and lungs also helps to remove stagnant toxins.
Similarly it improves lymphatic drainage and the removal of excess fluids.
Bamboo massage is thus a perfect massage treatment as part of a detox and / or weight loss program.
Stubborn Muscle Pain and Tension Melt Away with Bamboo Massage
Similar to deep tissue massage, bamboo has the ability to release tension in major muscles through intensive kneading. It is especially effective for runners and cyclists experiencing tightness in their legs, feet and IT bands as it softens and breaks down muscular tensions. It can enhance sports performance and endurance with just a few sessions which is why more sports massage specialists are adding it to their portfolio.
For women whose legs feel heavy and tight, the rolling and kneading with bamboo will soothe and alleviate discomfort, thus giving more vitality to their movements.
Given the stretching and elongating of muscles during the process, It is also of great benefit to anyone suffering from shortened muscles due to postural imbalances.
For almost anyone suffering from neck, shoulder or lower / upper back pain or stiffness, the effect of the bamboo’s rolling, gliding and intensive kneading will give them a new lease on life with increased flexibility along with less soreness.
Bamboo massage can accelerate rehabilitation for many injuries and the release of endorphins provides the body with a natural pain killing boost.
It is recommended that for targeted problem areas that weekly sessions for the first month are most impactful. After the issue(s) are resolved, monthly sessions are sufficient unless the massage is purely for rejuvenation, relaxation and stress reduction.
The Spiritual Connection
For those inclined to feel connections between long-held traditions and the natural world, a bamboo massage can have a powerful effect on the mind and general wellbeing. Bamboo is a renewable and sustainable resource with ancient roots, so a respectful therapist can nurture these links to create an even more profound experience. Even those who do not connect deeply with these elements, report that it was a totally fulfilling experience with a warm feeling of optimism lingering for several days.
For the more open-minded, the Asian belief in bamboo’s strength, flexibility and versatility will resonate clearly, and enhance the mental and physical values of this bamboo-centric body work.
Bamboo Extracts, Creams and Lotions for Healthier Skin
Bamboo itself has medicinal properties and benefits that go far beyond the rolling and kneading of the canes. It can actually improve skin texture, making it suppler just through gliding. We focus attention below on the skin, but the extract is also well-known for maintaining healthy hair!
Bamboo Extract Oil
Bamboo’s bio-extract is obtained from the pith of the bamboo cane. Normally used throughout the massage, the extract contains antioxidants that help minimize wrinkles and naturally boosts youthful radiance. It deeply nourishes dry, devitalized skin lacking elasticity.
The silica from the bamboo extract also helps the body absorb essential minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
For clients with eczema and psoriasis, the oil helps alleviate symptoms as well. Combined with marine collagen and sweet almond oil it nourishes and restores dry skin to produce a more vibrant texture.
When the bio-extract is blended with Rose Hip Oil it too is wonderfully healing. Rose Hip Oil is rich in Omega-3 and has a high content in essential fatty acids which are important in the regenerating process of the cells’ membrane and therefore the renewal of skin tissue. It increases hydration and acts on premature aging of cutaneous tissues, thus delaying and combating the appearance of wrinkles.
Rose Hip Oil is also very effective in treating scars, recent stretch-marks, sun burns and age-spots.
Whether bamboo extract is used on its own or in combination with other potent agents, it will help your skin look and feel as radiant as you do after a bamboo massage.
Bamboo Creams and Lotions
Bamboo face and body cream balances the hydrolipids within the skin, so it’s beautifully soft and rich. It is quickly absorbed as it restores the skin’s elasticity and tone for all day radiance. Its aroma is fresh, creamy and deciduous.
The bamboo extract offers anti-irritant properties that soothe your skin when applied directly through creams and lotions.
Advantages for Therapists
There are many benefits for the practitioner as well. Using the bamboo sticks minimizes stress on the arm, hands and fingers, while still allowing for deeply penetrating maneuvers. The bamboo helps to apply the desired pressure without the masseuse over-straining, thereby relieving them of short or long term back, shoulder, arm, wrist and hand pain. As the hands and wrists are particularly susceptible to injury, the energy transmitted via the bamboo will help maintain their strength and good condition.
Once therapists start working with the tools and learning how to feel through the bamboo, the sticks essentially become an extension of the arms, hands and fingers with no loss of range of motion. It becomes easy to locate muscle tension and treat trigger points, just as in conventional massage using only hands and fingers.
Many techniques and modalities can incorporate the use of bamboo canes to assist therapists stay effective and pain-free over a longer duration.
Using the bamboo tool gives increased strength and stamina to apply deeper, firmer pressure, thus ensuring clients will return for more. Other advantages include;
- The bamboo tools are inexpensive and long lasting.
- There is a wonderful quality to the material; it has a luxurious feeling for the therapist and the client. Both will feel very energized and revitalized, but also relaxed.
- The bamboo is easy to heat and clean, unlike hot stones since there isn’t a crock-pot or water involved
Particularly for therapists at risk of injury or chronic pain due to intensive traditional massaging, the use of bamboo offers a healthier, safer alternative with no loss of ability to treat each customer as an individual.
It is also ideal for therapists wishing to attract and retain more loyal clients with an exotic, yet effective complementary therapy. Bamboo massage could be just the cutting edge difference for those willing to learn new skills.