A Reading of Bamboo

by Nick Churchill
[Transcript from a seminar given to the Czech Homeopathic Society in March 2000]

We're going to have a look at the proving of Bamboo - or in its Latin name, Bambusa arundinacea. This is a major new proving by Bernd Schuster in Germany, and it's going to be a very useful remedy. It was an excellent proving, there were many provers and they brought out a full and rounded picture of the remedy. You really feel when you read it that here is a vivid picture of what this remedy can do. Nine out of ten provings, you read them and there's not really much going on there - just a few vague symptoms, perhaps one or two characteristic ones. Nothing that really comes together or hangs together. Often you can't use the remedy because you're left feeling you don't know it well enough.

When I study a full proving that has properly brought out the image of the remedy, I'm looking to answer the following questions:

  • Which parts of the human body - which organs and systems - does this remedy affect (including the mind and the dreams if these are strongly affected)?
  • What sort of symptoms occur in each part of the body?
  • What are the physical and emotional sensations this remedy produces?
  • What are the themes in the mental symptoms?
  • What are the themes in the dream symptoms?
  • What relation do the dreams have to the mental symptoms?

You see that the first question is, Which parts of the human body does it affect? Most people when they look at a proving or a remedy, they go straight for the mental symptoms. Because they're the easiest to understand and they have the most immediate interest and impact. And of course they are very, very important. But I feel it's a mistake to look at the mental symptoms first because once you've read them it's very hard to focus on the physical symptoms. I find it much better to work the other way around. I'll start reading a proving not on page one but where the Vertigo section is. And when I get to the Sleep and Dreams section I only read the Sleep section, leaving out the dreams. When I've done all the physicals, I then go back and read the mental symptoms. The dream symptoms I read last of all. I just find this is the most effective way to deeply understand a new remedy - or any remedy come to that, as long as you're studying the original proving of it.

I also think it's important not to get too distracted by what the remedy is made of. Because if you see a picture of bamboo it makes you think, What does bamboo mean, what are all its associations? It takes you into speculation just at the moment when you need to stay cool headed. Because you're about take a look at the inside of this remedy, not its appearance, its associations, its uses or its mythology, which are all so to speak on the outside. You can't know the inside until you've studied the proving. You can make all sorts of associations and you will get some useful information, but it won't by itself be enough to prescribe on. So starting with the substance is what you might call the fallacy of the doctrine of signatures. And it seems that many people fall into this trap, unfortunately. I always look at the relationship between the substance and the remedy last of all.

Another place not to start when you're learning a new remedy is with the proving master's interpretation of it, although most published provings have this as the main feature of the book. I tend to find that if you are offered a lot of interpretation with a new proving, it's often covering up for the fact that not much useful information came out of the proving itself. And vice versa. The best provings really are materia medica pura. They speak for themselves. We naturally tend to look to proving masters for guidance about a new remedy, but for various reasons they may not actually be in the best position to give it. Read their interpretations by all means, but I would suggest that you do it only after you've tried to understand the remedy for yourself.

When I take a new proving to study it, I'm first of all looking to see, is it the respiratory tract that's affected? Is it a remedy that primarily affects the female reproductive system or that has a particularly strong influence on the stomach and digestion? Or does it really have a primary impact on the mind, over and above the other systems? - Like Cannabis indica, which unquestionably has a significant impact on the mind. Of course all remedies affect the mind to a large degree but as this stage I'm still looking at the whole body and which systems are very much affected. Because in a sense the mind is just another organ in the body. Each remedy has an affinity to specific parts of the body and it's different in each remedy.

After I've answered these six questions, I'll ask:

  • Taking the physical, mental and dream symptoms together, is there an overall theme that unifies all of them?

This leads into more complicated questions further down the line. Like what is the 'situation' of this remedy, in Rajan Sankaran's terms? Or what is the 'essence' if you're George Vithoulkas? Or the 'verb', the 'stuck motion', which is how Jeremy Sherr likes to look at it. But that comes much later, you can only establish this later on, once you have a good understanding of the symptoms of the remedy. To really understand something you always have to work from the bottom up.

So when I pick up the proving of Bamboo I see that the biggest impact this remedy has is on the neck, the back and the extremities. This is its main sphere of influence. And when I come to prescribe Bamboo as a remedy, I will first of all be looking for cases that have a significant problem with the back, the neck and the extremities. In fact, now that I know this remedy, whenever a patient comes in with a problem in these areas, I immediately put Bamboo into the differential diagnosis, because it affects those parts so strongly.

Let's look at some of these symptoms. First of all there is a great stiffness of the neck. 'Very difficult to turn the neck.' Many provers had this and they had it very strongly. There is tension and stiffness in the back and neck. The muscles have seized up and this condition is worse from damp, cold weather and from being outdoors. The problems can extend and the stiffness and tension can radiate into the arms. The stiffness is really very intense, one patient described it as 'like a poker'.

Along with this predominant stiffness there are many other kinds of pain in the back and the neck. Mainly these pains are cramping, aching and dragging pains. What happens is they tend to radiate downwards into the extremities - down the arm into the hands or down the legs to the knees. There are also neuralgic and rheumatic pains in the shoulders. All these pains are better for rest and for heat. This is a strong modality of this remedy. Rhus tox is much better for heat and continued movement, while Bamboo, which is similar to Rhus tox in some ways, is better for heat and rest.

There is a weakness of the hand, difficulty in writing. There are problems all down the back, all the way to the buttocks and the lumbar and sacral regions. Again a cramping pain, tension, a knotted feeling. As well as the strong amelioration from warmth like a hot bath and rest, the back symptoms have a lesser amelioration from coughing and defecation, though it's not as marked.

So this is the main picture of the back symptoms, and I would just add that one prover described a curious feeling as if water was lapping against his internal organs. He described it as 'a wave of pressure coming from my abdomen upwards to my throat'. Another prover described a feeling of burning along the spine and said 'the heat comes in waves'. So we see that somewhere in this remedy there is a relationship with water, even though at this point we can't understand what it is. But it will become clear later on as we study. We'll move on to the extremities now, but I hope you can already see that if you have any patient with back problems, you could think of Bamboo. And then you could look to see if the modalities fit and if the nature of the pain fits. Bamboo seems to have such an influence on the back and the spine that you could think of it in any case of a bad back.

When we look at the Extremities symptoms it seems in some way that they are dependent on the back and neck symptoms, as though they're caused by the back symptoms. Because the spine is so affected in this remedy, of course it is going to have a referred affect on the extremities. And the symptoms we get are first of all are numbness and tingling starting in the back and spreading down into the extremities.

One prover described a feeling that her right hand was thicker than her left. There is a strong feeling of weakness and heaviness. Someone said, 'a totally unfamiliar heaviness of the limbs on waking'. Many of the symptoms are aggravated in the morning on waking. So we have the strong amelioration by a hot bath and rest, and the lesser amelioration by coughing and defecation. We have the strong aggravation from cold and damp, and an almost as strong aggravation in the morning on waking.

Another set of symptoms we have in the extremities is icy cold hands and feet. 'An extreme feeling of coldness starting from the shoulders and radiating downwards'. There is a great deal of radiation in this remedy from the back and the shoulders down the limbs. Along with the icy coldness of the extremities there can also be the opposite - a burning in the soles of the feet. One prover had a feeling of heat in the feet although she was objectively cold. This is an unusual symptom in itself. Of course any proving where you get cold feet you would also expect to get hot feet, because the opposite polarity usually emerges. But generally one end of the spectrum will be much more strongly stressed and in general terms, in whole person terms, Bamboo is a chilly remedy.

A further symptom we get in the extremities is clumsiness and awkwardness. 'Dropping things and bumping into things when walking'. We get twitching in the extremities, swelling of the ankles. One prover said they had the 'feeling of a foreign body in the shoe'. There is itching in various parts of the legs, also in the groin, the top of the legs and the shoulder at the top of the arms. There is contraction and spasms in the hands. The fingernails are altered, there are small indentations in the fingernails.

Another major area this remedy affects is the sciatic nerve. Many provers had strong symptoms of sciatica. You could predict this area would be affected from what we know already of the remedy. In some way the remedy must affect the nerves as they come out of the spine, and then these pains are referred to the distant parts of the body. There are so many symptoms of sciatica. One prover says 'painful electric currents running down the sciatic nerve to the hollow of the knee. So intense that the whole body trembles and shivers'. At the same time the prover had a feeling of coldness in her face and a sense of nausea. It led to a state of complete collapse and she had to be helped into bed. Another prover could hardly walk in the morning, she was walking stooped, bent over. 'Weakness from the hip down to the knee as if beaten'. These pains are worse for motion and better for pressure. They come in the morning around 7am, and there is also a corresponding aggravation at the opposite end of the day, around 7 to 9pm.

Along with the sciatica there are many sudden sharp, stitching pains in different parts of the extremities. Especially in the knee or the foot, but also the fingers, arms, forearms, you name it, and also in the legs. The left knee particularly is affected by the stitching pain. There are strong symptoms of rheumatism and also some of gout. A characteristic quality of these pains is that they are wandering or wave-like pains, coming in waves. But it's especially this radiating pain and the left side seems to be particularly affected. Pains also as if dislocated or beaten, and several provers had a feeling as though they had pain from over-exertion, like Rhus tox again. Really I think this remedy will compare very closely with Rhus tox. I think it will be prescribed very, very frequently.

Not all the other parts of the body are strongly affected, but some of them are. The head is one. There are a lot of headaches in this remedy and again this may well be referred pain or due somehow to the problems in the back and the spine. The particular nature of the headache is a pressing pain, and it can either be pressing from outside in - one prover describes a feeling of a band around the forehead - or it can also be a pressing from inside outwards. These headaches are worse for physical exertion and cold wind, and also for bending the head forward. One prover said 'a pain like a stick in the back of my head', so again we see some connection with the spine. There is an amelioration from pressing the head with the hands, but these headaches can go as far as being very bad migraines. One prover said 'I feel like death, I just want to rest, I don't want to see or hear anything'. This prover actually had a bad aggravation from lying, the head symptoms were very, very strongly increased. So here the amelioration is from rest but in a lying position. The time modality is pretty much the same, early morning or early evening.

The eyes are not so strongly affected but there is a strange symptom in the eyes: they feel as though they are being pressed or pulled into the head, pressed from outside or pulled from inside. Or like with the head, the pressing can go outwards. And the vision can be either very much improved or made very much worse.

Then we get to another area that the remedy affects very strongly and this is the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. In this area it produces symptoms very like colds and 'flu. You could think of giving Bamboo in certain 'flu cases, though obviously it would be very nice if there were back symptoms too. In the upper respiratory tract we get sneezing, a blocked nose, a watery discharge, burning in the nostrils, which are blocked with mucus, and a 'feeling of the nose as if tickled by a feather'. Frequent sneezing and itching of the nose. A very marked feature of the blockage of the nose is that it alternates sides. This could be a very useful clue in prescribing it for colds and 'flu. Can I just check is it normal in colds and 'flu for there to be an alternation of sides or is it quite unusual? [answers from the audience] Some people say yes, some people say no. OK, be careful with that one then.

There's dryness and a numbness of the nose. A strong sensitivity to smells. One male prover said 'I am sensitive to smell like a pregnant woman'. The face is much affected, there are flushes of heat and redness. Not to the extent that it would immediately make you think of Bambusa as a remedy for menopause but more as it comes in colds and 'flus. There is some tightness in the mouth and jaw but you would expect that, given the tension very close by in the shoulders and neck. The provers looked unhealthy, with dark rings under the eyes and a paleness of the face. An unwell look. The skin of the face feels very dry and tight. One prover said that their skin felt very thin, which is curious. That's something an old person might feel. The mouth is also affected, with a watering of the mouth. It is full of saliva, one prover had so much saliva in their mouth it felt as if it was running out when he talked. Or alternatively there is a very dry and thirsty mouth. A soreness of the oral mucosa and the tongue, and a feeling as the tongue was burnt. Also a foul taste in the mouth.

Staying with the upper respiratory tract, the nose and the throat, which all go together, there is a great deal of roughness and soreness in the throat. Difficulty in swallowing, having to clear his throat a lot, very much a feeling like you have in a cold. There are many different symptoms in the throat, particularly a burning sensation and several provers describe a feeling of influenza. There's a very strong sensation of a lump in the throat which may actually be caused by buildup of mucus in the throat. The mucus is difficult to hawk up.

There's a marked amelioration from hot drinks. We can see that it is definitely a remedy that has 'flu-like symptoms. Of course in the 'flu very often your back is affected, with all kinds of aches and pains in the back. Mostly cases like this tend to get Eupatorium perfoliatum. It's known particularly for a pain in the bones, but it also has a bruised and sore feeling in the muscles. Bamboo will definitely be in a differential diagnosis with Eupatorium perfoliatum in such cases. And in terms of the modalities, it's going to be a little bit hard to differentiate them. They are both worse for cold air, from 7 to 9 am and from motion, but Eupatorium is better for cold drinks, whereas bamboo is better for hot drinks.

Another area that is affected is the digestive tract, although not as strongly as the other two areas we have already discussed - that is to say the back, neck and spine in first place and the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract in the second place. In the stomach we get insatiable hunger or hunger with no appetite. There is quite a strong aversion to fat and also to beer and an aggravation from beer and wine. Quite a lot of nausea. A desire for wine and cheese, for spicy food. A desire to smoke, though that's not really a stomach symptom. It seems there is a desire for stimulants in general, including coffee.

The abdomen is significantly affected. There's a lot of wind. One prover had a 'feeling as though a big bubble in the navel was moving around'. Another prover couldn't bear the pressure of her waistband. Pains were ameliorated by a hot water bottle. The gall bladder seems to be affected, there's a tenderness in the gall bladder region and bilious complaints. That's probably why there is an aggravation from fats. Along with the flatulence there is diarrhoea. One prover said it came out 'like a fire hydrant, like a gush of water'. Two provers had 'an imperative urge' which they could not resist, they had to go immediately. There is bad smelling flatulence and some constipation though not as much as the diarrhoea. The stool tends to be greasy and fatty.

In the chest, the remedy affects the lungs and the sternum as well as the heart region. There is a stitching, burning pain and stiffness, a dragging in the heart region and a feeling of a lump near the sternum. The symptom of a lump does appear in quite a few different parts of the body, the top of the head for instance, and it has become something of a keynote for the remedy.

Another important area of affinity is the sleep. Lots of sleeplessness, restlessness, tossing and turning. When the provers lie awake at night there is a tossing and turning in the mind. 'Constantly turning ideas over in the mind'. Provers seem to wake between 3.30 and 4.30am, that's the main time, though it can be earlier or later. There were a lot of problems with sleeplessness.

In terms of generalities, as I said, it's a very chilly remedy with a desire for a hot water bottle or a hot bath. So the patients you see who need this remedy are unlikely to be feeling hot. If it was a patient with a bad back you would generally not expect them to be a warm blooded person. However in the acute state there can be quite a lot of fever with perspiration and flushes of heat.

It may be that when the remedy comes to be used in practice a lot it will turn out to be a menopausal remedy because of the flushes of heat, it's just a little difficult to tell right now. One prover wanted to sleep naked and run around naked. Another prover wanted cool fresh air, but mainly the amelioration is from heat. So that is the physical side of the remedy taken care of, we've done the first part of the job. Four major areas are affected: In order of importance they are the back, neck and spine; the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract; and in equal third place the digestive tract and the sleep. From the back, neck and spine you can make a sub-section 'Head and Extremities', because they're dependent on them. They're in the same category.

So at this point it is safe to ask what is bamboo, what does it look like? [holds up a picture of bamboo; answers from the audience] Of course it is famous for looking like the spine. So it's no surprise to see that it affects the spine so strongly, that it's the major area of impact. But it wouldn't have been a good idea to look at the picture first of all and say 'Oh this is bamboo, it must affect the spine', because that would have closed your mind to thinking that it has such an affect on the upper respiratory tract and other parts of the body.

Now having done the physical symptoms we need to look at the mentals and the dreams. I said in every remedy the mind may or may not be strongly affected, but that we tend to give too much weight to the mental symptoms. In Bamboo the mind definitely is strongly affected. And the picture that comes up mentally is one of depression and apathy and listlessness. Despair and anxiety. This comes up very strongly. There seems to be a clear situation in this mental state, it's very easily detectable. We'll come to it at the end, I'm sure you'll be able to see it.

First of all there is a depression with a strong fear of poverty. Anxiety about the future but in its financial aspects - What does the future hold for me? One prover said 'There's just a huge mountain of things to overcome'. 'Anxious about not being able to deal with what is in store for me over the next few years.' 'Everything seems uncertain to me.' There is a depression with a feeling that the prover would never get well again. Sadness with weeping. One prover said, 'Emotionally very sensitive, I feel inferior in some way. I can't help crying over trivial things'. Provers felt deserted by their spouses. There's a general feeling of betrayal and desertion. One prover said, 'I never feel I can wholly depend on my wife. She has never fully opened up to me'. And yet this man also says, 'I find too much closeness in the relationship suffocating'. So there is both the desire for closeness but a problem with it at the same time.

That same prover said something that is an interesting theme in the mental symptoms. He said, 'I feel as if my emotional foundations are lacking. I say something and feel that what I am saying is not quite right because I am not in touch with my feelings at that moment. It is like a separation between emotion and intellect' . This seems to be a deeper aspect of the mental state. The same prover said later on, 'A sense of not having any emotional attachment to certain things. It is as if there is something missing'. Naturally this state would lead to depression. There's a female prover who says, 'I think I am starting my mid-life crisis. Very touchy and vulnerable all day. A feeling of pointlessness'. Another prover said 'Depressed when there is no work'. Or, 'Depressed with no real interest in life.' 'Don't want to go out, want to be left alone.' 'Helpless feeling, tearful, depressed, black despair'.

There's quite a strong theme of wanting peace and quiet. Several provers just wanted to be left alone on their own and not have to do anything. Of course this reflects the physical state of amelioration by stillness.

So the mental picture is of one of closing down, a lack of activity. Various other aspects of that come out. There's a lot of listlessness and apathy - a great deal, it would be in bold type in the repertory. 'Indifference, no desire to get out of bed.' 'No inclination to do his work or the housework.' One prover said, 'I couldn't care less about anything. All I could do was laze about in bed. Don't want to get up'. This is a very strong feature of the mental state. There's also quite a great deal of irritability. One person said, 'There's no pleasing me, nothing pleases me'. And, 'Constantly arguing about trivial things.' 'Everything seems too noisy for me.' 'Irritability in company.' 'Things get on my nerves.' So you can see, in this state of stillness and quietness the patient is very easily disturbed by any stimulus. And these symptoms are worse at around 6 or 7pm. So we can see there is a strong time modality in this remedy of worse at 6 or 7am and 6 or 7pm.

There is a sluggishness of thinking, a confusion of mind, difficult concentration. One prover said, 'I cannot even remember my friends' names'. 'Utterly forgetful.' 'Totally incapable of concentrating.' 'Like in a dream'. Another prover said, 'Things keep coming into my head and I don't know if I have dreamt them or experienced them. I feel as if memories of dreams are entering my consciousness'. And this is an interesting observation; 'I feel as if there is no separation between the dream world and the real world'. Somehow this seems to reflect or accompany the dislocation between emotion and intellect that the prover described earlier. Because of some kind of weakness of mind there is no separation between emotion and intellect, between the dream world and the real world. It is not a violent separation of the two, it's more of a weakness that causes this to arise. There is a lot of forgetfulness, a befuddled feeling, spelling mistakes of various kinds. Two different provers found their food was very bland and boring and had to add things to it to make it seem more exciting.

There was a strong sense that their life was going by and they had not fulfilled what they wanted to do. One prover said, 'I am dissatisfied with my whole life, although there is not reason to be. I want to do everything afresh, to do again things that I have neglected for so long'. 'I wish I were more persistent at pursuing my own interests without suffering a bad conscience. I feel cut off from the right kind of life. All I have are obligations, work, earning money. My needs fall by the wayside. There is no chance for my soul to take flight. No freedom from and freedom for other things'. So you can see this really is quite a crisis. If someone comes to a point in their lives where they feel as strongly as this it's a crisis and perhaps a turning point. Another prover said, 'Discontented with my condition, totally dissatisfied with myself'. One male prover shaved off the beard he had had for thirty years. He even shaved the hair under his armpits. So he must have been feeling pretty bad!

So you see the picture is of a real feeling of depression and dissatisfaction. 'Don't want to be responsible for everything and everyone all the time. It's too much for me'. One prover said, 'My brain is entirely empty and hollow'. 'Irritability when my daughter was too demanding.' It is not a remedy with aversion to the family, it's more just an irritability at any disturbance. One prover was thinking about Conium a lot, and its relationship with cancer. It's quite interesting because the mental picture of Conium is not very dissimilar from Bamboo, in the sense of its closing down, a loss of vitality. A consciousness of the suppression of one's needs and instincts. Another prover made an interesting comment, 'I meditated in the morning and this made me very sad and cry a lot because my will is subject to higher forces. I have a sense of despair because I can only go with the flow of the times and yield to events, because everything is the will of destiny. I know nothing and I am insignificant. What I want is unimportant'. Lastly the same prover had 'Despair at night that death will separate me from my children. Grief and rejection when thinking about my past life'.

So what is the situation of this remedy mentally speaking, suggestions please? These mental symptoms seem to point strongly to a specific situation that someone could find themselves in at one particular time in their life. Is it a remedy for a young person? [from the audience: - No, it is not. It is a time when people go on pension.] Exactly, it seems to be a remedy for just this time of life. When the active part of one's life is over and there is nothing to look forward to. Just regrets about the past and anxiety about the future. A desire for peace and quiet and an irritability when disturbed. You can imagine somebody sitting in an armchair feeling grumpy and moaning. This seems to be the state of the remedy, but it doesn't mean that you only give it to people of this age. You could find person in their twenties who is behaving like this, who is behaving as though he was 65 years old. It would be more strongly indicated in a 25 year old than in a 65 year old when it is normal perhaps to be a bit like that. But equally I think it will be a very common remedy for people approaching old age. Many elderly people have problems with their backs or sciatica or rheumatism. When that woman said she was approaching her mid-life crisis, it shows how the proving transported the provers to somewhere different in time and space. It suddenly made her feel older.

Do you remember the Circle that we talked about before? I told you the last time I was here about this method of analysis. It recognises that all events and qualities in nature, in time and in human life are cyclical. They correspond with each other and can be plotted on a big circle. Everything from birth all the way round to maturity and old age, the time of day or the season of the year. Colours, qualities, types, conditions. And there will be a correlation between them. Then we can plot each remedy on its specific part of the Circle. We can do this quite easily with Bamboo. The time aggravation is between 7-9am and also 7-9pm, and the situation of this remedy is old age, retirement. That's down here as well. So already we have this kind of alignment on the Circle and it is also confirmed by the physical symptoms. This axis is very much the axis of contraction, of bitterness, of approaching darkness and a decline towards death, which is at the bottom of the Circle.

This axis here is the axis of structure and fluidity - structure on this side and fluidity on that. So we're a little bit beyond that axis but very close to it. The way that structure relates to this remedy is that there's too much structure. All the muscles have seized up, the neck is tight, the mind is closed and contracted. So really this remedy fits very nicely on the Circle in about this alignment. And because it fits so well, of course it has its opposite. Although most of the provers had a feeling of hopelessness and depression and despair, there was also a secondary reaction of increased optimism, the ability to get things done and to put their affairs in order, to look after their own needs. I'll just give you a few examples: 'I feel more composed and in a stronger relationship with myself. More aware of my feelings but less dependent on them.' 'I feel a lasting positive change on the medicine.' Other provers were more relaxed, able just to take things more easily. 'Burst of energy. I say what I think whether or not people like it'. 'More independent and self-confident.' 'Able to give up smoking.' 'Nothing feels like pressure.' 'Well balanced and communicative. I feel great.'

So you see this is the complete opposite of the main mental state of this remedy. And it may be that you have to prescribe this remedy in this positive mental state to someone with severe back problems. However I think it is much more likely that in the pathological state you will see this depressed mental picture. The positive state may well be the reward that the patient has when you give them the remedy. In the sense that if they are able to resolve this problem in their lives and to free themselves from this stuck point, then they will get the reward of moving out of that situation. So a person who is retiring, who feels that there is nothing left in life, that all they have to do is sit in an armchair, if you give them the remedy they might suddenly jump up and enjoy their retirement and free time and do all the nice things they wanted to do for so long but couldn't. It's a very clear cut mental state.

Who can guess what the dreams are about? [from the audience: - About water.] How did you know? [speaker: - Because there was a lot of waves and water in the back.] That's very good, I didn't think anyone would guess. Water keeps appearing in the physical symptoms - remember the saliva in the mouth or the diarrhoea gushing out...