Warm bamboo treatment is a moxibustion technique with two additional components: the application of pressure and rhythm. A short piece of bamboo is filled with moxa wool. When the moxa is ignited, the bamboo gets hot and can be applied to the skin. The bamboo can be held, tapped, pressed or rolled rhythmically on the skin. Additionally, with the use of a metronome, these techniques can be applied at specific frequencies of beats per minute. The treatment can be used as a branch treatment to augment acupuncture root treatment or as a non-pattern based root treatment in its own right. The rhythmic application of heat has proved extremely relaxing and can be used for stress relief, to soften tight muscles, relieve pain and improve the movement and function of ki and blood.
Warm bamboo is simply a piece of bamboo, roughly 2.5 inches in length, filled with burning moxa wool. It is used to apply heat and pressure to the point or area being treated. This is in keeping with traditions in Japanese moxibustion that favour the application of heat directly on the skin over indirect methods. In both Chinese and Japanese moxa traditions, even indirect moxa methods such as heating the skin with a moxa stick emphasise techniques that deploy pressure to ‘press in’ the heat.[i] [ii] [iii] [iv]
The origins of treatment with heated bamboo are unclear. It may be a relatively new technique. In personal communications, Mr. Hiroshi Enomoto of Tokyo based acupuncture suppliers Sankei wrote:
As far as I could see… Ito Zuiho is the first one to teach the technique. In Japan, it is called Takenowa Kyu which means Bamboo Ring Okyu. According to his web site, he was one of the Deshi (disciple) of Yanagiya Sorei, an acupuncture master in the early Showa era (1925-1989).
Who started it is still unknown, but it seems Makoto Yamashita was already practising Short Bamboo in the 1960s. We found no information about Short Bamboo before 1868, which was the year of revolution in Japan. Mr. Yamashita is still alive.
As a name, Short Bamboo (tantakekyu) is not very informative – it is so named to contrast it with Long Bamboo, which is used to extinguish small moxa cones. With the help of a Japanese patient, I started to call this method Ontake Warm Bamboo, which at least in English, is catchier and more descriptive. After experiencing it, patients never forget ‘Warm Bamboo’ and always ask for it again.
I have Mr. Enomoto to thank for my introduction to Warm Bamboo. For me, it was love at first sight! Since 2009 I have used bamboo every day in my clinic and I have been amazed by its versatility as a therapeutic tool and the rapid changes it can bring about. In this honeymoon period I developed a number of techniques, adapting concepts from different Japanese acupuncture styles already shown to be effective, for use with bamboo.
Meridian frequencies and Manaka’s wooden hammer and needle
The late 1500’s saw the development of the Mubunryu style of acupuncture in Japan. Thick gold and silver needles were lightly tapped with a wooden mallet on reactive points on the abdomen.[v] Following this tradition, in the late 20th century, Japanese doctor and acupuncturist Yoshio Manaka developed percussive tapping treatments using his own design wooden hammer and needle[vi]. Using a round ended wooden probe instead of gold needles and expanding his choice of points from the abdomen to the whole channel system, Manaka tapped lightly to stimulate the flow of ki: relieving muscle tightness and easing pain. He developed this technique to treat a wide range of symptoms and also taught patients to perform it at home as a self-administered therapy.
He further developed method by researching specific frequencies of beats per minute for each acupuncture channel. Tapping at the appropriate frequency releases the diagnostic Front-Mu points. This inspirational research advanced the efficacy and range of application of his wooden hammer and needle considerably, and it became an important part of his well-known four-step protocol.
Meridian Frequency Moxibustion
As bamboo rolls back and forth in an inherently rhythmic way, it was an irresistible step to apply the technique with a metronome. The results were surprising. When heat was applied to the channels at their respective frequencies, there were very rapid changes in soft tissue tension, exceeding the effectiveness of the wooden hammer and needle on its own. This extension of Manaka’s work into meridian frequency moxibustion led me to a rapidly expanding repertoire of branch treatments using bamboo.
Moves stagnation of ki and blood.
The most obvious effect of this is the rapidity with which tight muscles get softer, often within a few seconds. Swollen areas and contusions also improve rapidly.
Improves flow of ki and blood in kyo areas.
Weak, cold, dry, lustreless skin can improve noticeably within a minute or so.
Most recipients report an improvement in energy.
The warmth is extremely comforting. Clearly, if tight muscles relax this can improve pain but kyo type pains also improve when bamboo is applied locally, or example, painful shoulders where the muscle tone is poor and the skin feels flaccid.
Calms the mind and relaxes the whole body
One of the most obvious supplementary effects is a profound sense of relaxation during treatment. This is surely a function of the heat from the bamboo but may also be connected to the hypnotic ticking of the metronome.
The Coming Workshop
Next month is an exciting time for us. We will teach this amazing technique for the first time in Malaysia. We are opening the workshop not just to established practitioners of acupuncture but also to TCM students from year 2 and above.
This will be a wonderful opportunity for local practitioners and students to be introduced to many different perspectives from Japanese acupuncture and to acquire a new tool and new practical skills that will add to their repertoire of effective options in clinical practice.
Check out the events tab above to learn more or watch the teaching videos in the sound and vision tab!
[i] Chinese Medicine Times Ejournal, Vol 3, Issue 3 2008, Wilcox L., The Forgotten Art of Moxa Needling
[ii] Wilcox, L., (2008), Moxibustion , The Power of Mugwort Fire,.IBlui Poppy Press, p134
[iii] Mizutani J., 1998, Practical Moxibustion Therapy, North American Journal of Oriental Medicine, Canada
[iv] Auteroche B. et al, (1992), Acupuncture and Moxibustion, A guide to Clinical Practice, Churchil Livingstone, pp 87-88
[v] Birch S., Ida J. (1998), Japanese Acupuncture, A Clinical Guide. Brookline. Paradigm Publication. p.4
[vi] Manaka Y., with Itaya K., Birch S., (1995), Chasing the Dragon’s Tail, Brookline, Paradigm Publication.