I Tried Alternative Therapy For Past Trauma — They Used Leeches & Beat Me With Bamboo

Photo: Yaroslav Astakhov / Shutterstock
back massage on woman using bamboo canes

Los Angeles is most well-known for movie stars, fast cars, and palm trees. But with a yoga studio and metaphysical shop on practically every street corner, LA has been a spiritual hot spot for at least a century.

I feel grateful to live in a place that allows me to experience a variety of diverse offerings in the mystical and magical realms. When I feel in turmoil, depressed, or overwhelmed, there are healers and alternative therapies waiting to help.

In the fall of 2013, I took an extra deep dive into my spiritual and healing studies, along with my friend Julie. We were ready to release our childhood wounds and relationship woes, letting them dissipate into the cosmos — hopefully coming out enlightened on the other side. Or at least have some fun trying.

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How I found an alternative, life-changing trauma care

When Julie and I started this fascinating journey, we approached it as something to do together, girlfriends bonding over a new hobby. We attended several interesting classes and workshops such as pendulum use, connecting with your spirit guides, crystal healing, and Yoga Nidra.

One day I stopped in at one of my favorite places, the Healing Tree. They have potent teas, healing herbs, tonics, and my new favorite beverage, homemade kombucha.

The owner, Moe, a boyishly good-looking young doctor of Chinese medicine, conducts various healing modalities in the back room. I hadn't met him but had heard from other patrons that he was an amazing healer and raving testimonials about something that he invented called Percussion Therapy.

Many of the clients claimed that it was "life-changing."

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The first leg of treatment

Well, that day, he just happened to be there, so I introduced myself. He carefully looked me up and down and said, "I read auras. You have some stagnation of energy around your right leg."

"Really?" My right leg had been bothering me lately, especially at night. An excruciating pain shoots up and down. It makes it very difficult to sleep. How could he know this? I decided to trust him and explained my symptoms.

"Yes, well, I can see that. The right side is the male side."

"The male side?" That sort of made sense. My hubby Adolfo and I had been going through a particularly arduous time. He hadn’t taken too well to my exuberant interest in the mystical. 

"Dr. Moe, what can I do?" I asked the handsome young "doctor" that Thursday afternoon. "How can I un-stagnate my energy? Do you think that your percussion therapy would be helpful?"

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Dr. Moe's prescription for stagnant Qi

With a nod, Dr. Moe confidently affirmed that it would. I immediately booked an appointment, after all, $105 to get on the road to unclogging my aura and even possibly changing my life. What a bargain!

After taking a quick look at my tongue and taking my pulse, he then led me into an even smaller room that had a massage table in the middle. There were shelves and a glass cabinet against one wall, which housed a dozen or so cups. I knew immediately that they were for something called cupping therapy.

I had read about the therapy but had yet to try it. The application of suction cups of various sizes on the body allows for the fascia (connective tissue of the body) to separate from the skin and muscles in order to unblock the stagnation of Qi, (energy) thereby promoting healthy circulation. 

By focusing on the superficial and middle layers of tissue, the process detoxifies the whole body and various organs as well as clearing emotions.

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What was in the jar on the shelf?

Another shelf housed a large glass container filled with water and what I was pretty sure were leeches.

The dark slimy creatures looked like stubby slithery worms swimming around. They disgusted me, and I quickly focused my attention on undressing down to my underwear and T-shirt.

Lying on one side, Dr. Moe began to "scrape" my upper right leg quite forcefully.

"Before I utilize the bamboo sticks, I use this wooden tool to scrape the skin, which allows the free-flow of stagnant Qi to move. This detoxifies the body, emotions, and various organs, and focuses on the superficial layers of the skin and tissue," he explained.

The scraping alone felt like it would bruise me. I was relieved when it was over — but then he picked up two bamboo sticks.

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The (ow) unexpected (ouch) benefits of (yow) bamboo beatings

Dr. Moe commenced to strike my leg as if he were Buddy Rich, and the tympanic section of my body stretched all the way from a couple of inches above my right ankle up to the hip. He jammed on my upper leg, sounding like fleshy tomatoes splatting against a wall.

The tapping, or beating, was not done with much force, but the pain astonished me. I have never felt such excruciating agony in my life. With every tap, my skin burned as if it has caught fire.

I took deep breaths, moaned, whimpered, and then let out a few screams, followed by coyote-like yelps.

"Dr. Moe, what exactly is this doing?" I asked through clenched teeth.

He gave me a variation of the same answer. "Allowing trauma, emotions, and inflammation to be expressed out of the body to allow for circulation. This detoxifies the body, emotions and various organs, and focuses on the deepest layer of muscular tissue," he explains.

I gasped, "Oh….really? This hurts, Moe!" Teeth gritted again. "Do your other clients scream as well?"

"Hahaha, sometimes they do," he admitted. "I had one guy let out a primal guttural howl like a wild animal! It was crazy!"

That didn’t seem at all crazy to me.

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Freeing the Qi

Dr. Moe continued the mild beating. "Oooh… here it comes, here it comes…."

"What? What?" I asked.

"The emotion, the trapped Qi. It’s coming up and being released. Can you take it for a bit longer?"

I seriously didn't know if I could, but I was determined to release my resentments, frustration, and pent-up anger. I was determined to get my $105 worth of pain.

Moe could beat out every hurtful word Adolfo had said that lodged in my cells. I was ready to release the words that went all the way back to the bullies in my sixth-grade class that made my life miserable for a year, pulling out chunks of my hair and degrading me for being different.

I was committed to this healing. I wanted to let go of past pain, my brother’s death, and regretful storms of arguments with my mother, missing my deceased father, spiteful judgments of my shallow clients and guilt over unsaved money over the years. Let it all come up and be released, yes, come … if I didn't pass out first.

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Relief ... but then came the cups and leeches

When the tapping was over, I let out a sigh of relief. I felt triumphant. I might as well have climbed Mount Everest. I made it through.

Dr. Moe instructed me to turn onto my stomach so that he could apply a few suction cups on my back. Well, heck. Gwyneth Paltrow did it, I guess I could too.

He left the room while I took off my shirt and lay on my stomach. Dr. Moe began to attach the cups. I didn't realize that they were basically "screwed" on. It was a tad uncomfortable, but after what I went through with the beating, I didn’t complain.

Once the cups were all screwed on, about half a dozen of them, Dr. Moe says, "Well, are we going to go all the way?"

"You mean … the leeches?"

"Yes, give it a try. Leech therapy is very effective. The leeches secrete an anti-coagulant substance from their saliva. This action allows for toxic blood to pass freely in order for the free flow of Qi to occur."

I hesitated for a minute wondering if I could handle having one of those creatures sucking my blood. At least, I wouldn't be able to see anything since I was lying on my stomach. And if Demi Moore could do it, so could I. They don’t call LA “LA-LA-land” for nothing. And we are proud denizens.

"Go for it, Moe!"

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The search for 'bad' blood

The bloodsucking had better be included in the original fee, I mentally groused.

Dr. Moe gave me an enthusiastic, "Okay then!" and fished a leech out of the glass jar. I felt the wetness of the creature as Dr. Moe gave it a slow tour of my shoulder blade area.

"Hmm … the little guy doesn't seem to want to attach here. There is no bad blood to suck." He moved the critter down to my upper hip and the thing sank its teeth in.

"Okay, he found some!"

"How does the leech know which blood is bad?" I asked.

"The leeches have an agreement with us, with nature. Isn't it marvelous?"

As I lay on the table with the cups screwed to my back and a leech sucking my blood, Dr. Moe picked up his bamboo sticks and gave me a little extra treatment on the back of my lower legs. Surprisingly, it didn't hurt, which meant there was no trauma trapped in that area.

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Finding empowerment in the karmic gauntlet 

Once I was finished and standing at the cash register, Dr. Moe suggested a few herbs that would assist the cleansing process. Still under the euphoria of having survived, I agreed to purchase the four bottles of liquid magic, for an extra $75 and also made a second appointment for another session of the percussion therapy.

"It can take up to five or six sessions, depending on how deep the trauma is," he explained.

I figured this wouldn't be a one-shot deal. But I was in for the long haul. "I will be here, Dr. Moe."

Maybe bamboo beatings are not for everyone, but I can honestly say that I feel I accomplished something with Moe drumming and whatnot on my body. It’s as if the beating broke some chains, and the suction cups and leeches were able to draw forth a more authentic me — as weird as that sounds.

Maybe the procedure is actually some kind of karmic gauntlet, a rite of passage with a tremendous placebo kick in the keister more than it is a treatment with actual medical benefits. Whatever it is, I am more empowered now to cope with whatever negativity comes knocking at my door.

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Marla Martenson is a transformational life coach, matchmaker, author & tarot reader.