Tian Di Massage

So… I took a continuing education course in Tian Di Bamboo Massage last fall.  I had figured that I would sit through a weekend of Frou-frou spa massage techniques and collect my mandatory continuing education credits and be on my way.  But, I learned a lot and have really come to love working with my bamboo sticks and Chinese therapeutic cups!

The first thing anyone says when I mention bamboo massage is, “ Are you going to beat me with the sticks of bamboo?”  My response?  -Only with the tapotement reed bundles!  …And then ensues a long explanation of what Tian Di massage is… Tian Di means “Heaven and Earth”.  It is a massage combination of massage with bamboo sticks and Chinese medical cupping techniques, based on watching monkeys working on each other with sticks in the wild.

A 90-minute Tian Di Massage that goes through progressive sizes of bamboo sticks, with strokes running the length of the entire body, which are then followed with cupping the length of the body, the client rolls over and we repeat everything on the other side. The session works out the tight spots, leaving you calm and relaxed like a bowl of Jello.

Here’s what you need to know about bamboo massage and Chinese cupping:

Bamboo massage

I learned quickly how to maneuver the muscles around the bones, and that I could “feel” my way through the sticks… I also learned how much both bamboo and cupping could really help with fascia issues.

Fascia is the connective tissue that connects everything together in the body, like the skin to the next layer below.  This tissue weaves through the body cradling organs and wrapping muscles to bones.  Wherever there are sore muscles, or “problems”, usually the fascia had gotten all wadded up, and some sort of manual therapy in needed to smooth it out again.  Most people who get myofascial release are expecting some serious, “deep”, sometimes painful, therapeutic work to relieve pain or serious tension.

The bamboo sticks are great for getting a lot of pressure and relief without “digging in”.  In Bamboo massage there is usually no “pinching” like myofascial release techniques can have, though they could be used for “poking” like in trigger point and acupressure.

The broad rolling surface of the bamboo spreads out the pressure and kneads the layers of skin, much like rolling out bread dough. The attached tissue progressively relaxes, getting more and more relaxed with each successive pass.  For deeper and deeper effects, there are progressively smaller circumference sticks.

Bamboo rolling can be so relaxing.  It can even have a strong sedating effect on the body, even with heavy pressure. (An occupational therapist has told me she used rolling pins, rolled up and down the back to calm children with behavior problems.)  There must be something about firm, but gentle pressure that can calm the nerves.

Chinese Cupping

The other part of the Tian Di Massage is Chinese cupping.  Cupping is one of the tools of acupuncture and can be used in patterns for assorted health issues, much like acupuncture needles.

Cupping actually pulls the skin, fascia and tissues instead of the push pressure in regular massage, and has lots of applications. The skin (and everything attached to it) unwinds gently, depending on how much vacuum pressure is in the cups.  (The more pressure the more you feel it.)  Cupping can really benefit someone who is too tender for a lot of pressure, like with Fibromyalgia.

The cups I use are hard plastic suction cups and I use a pump to pull out the air and the result is a vacuum.  Some acupuncturist’s use glass jars and makes a vacuum with fire to deplete the oxygen in the cup, thereby causing a vacuum. …For all you chemistry buffs out there! I like the plastic cups because I can control the pressure, and there is no risk of burns.

Cups can be left in one place for a specific pain treatment or slid across the skin to have a more general effect.  I don’t pretend to know everything with Chinese medicine, but I do like the effects in what I have seen using cups!

Sliding the cups along the muscles acts much like the bamboo, kneading the body.  The sliding technique is great for treating fibromyalgia.  Ladies, it can also help to smooth out those dimples of cellulite!

For most people who are seeking relief from pain, they don’t care how it’s done; they just want the pain gone.  Cupping is really great for relieving serious and recurring pain from sports injuries or previous traumas.  It gets the circulation going in areas that have ischemia (low blood circulation).

(I have seen from working in an acupuncturist’s office that therapeutically, if the cups are left in one spot with lots of pressure, they can cause bruising. The bruises are superficial and can turn any number of colors: from dark bluish purple to maroon, to bright red, and even grey.  Sometimes condensation appears inside the cups.  It just depends on what in going on deep inside the body according to Chinese medicine.  The bruise markings are usually gone within a week at the most, and the relief is worth the temporary octopus attack markings.   Anyone conscious of the markings can always have the cup sliding instead.)

Because of the benefits, I now incorporate the cups into any massage if I see a need for them, and the client wants them.  Some cups can be used for sinus pressure and skin blemishes, but I leave most of this to estheticians.

Gua sha tools are sometimes used to smooth and scrape the impurities out of the superficial layers of the skin and loosen more fascia tissue as a finishing technique.

All in all, I just love the benefits of Tian Di massage!  Try it out!


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