Cupping is an ancient healing modality originally practiced by Traditional Chinese Medical practitioners that is becoming more mainstream today thanks to celebrities who have had it done and promote its positive benefits such as Gweneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham. One of the earliest documentations of cupping can be found in a text titled, “A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies,” written by a Taoist herbalist, Ge Hong, which dates back to 300 AD.
Originally, hollowed out animal horns and bamboo were utilized as cupping instruments but currently glass cups or plastic suction cups are the instruments of choice. With glass cups a cotton ball is doused in rubbing alcohol, secured with forceps, lit, inserted inside the cup and quickly removed. The fire from the soaked cotton ball pulls out the oxygen from inside the cup creating a vacuum for it to adhere to the skin’s surface. Different sized cups are placed most commonly on the patient’s back and can either be left in place stationary, applied in a sliding motion with massage oil or used in a popping motion where the practitioner puts the cup on the back, removes it, goes to another spot on the back, removes it again and so on for a few cycles. The treatment can last anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on what the goal of the treatment is. The longer the cups are left on the body the more relaxing and sedating the effect will be. This is typically used for patients who have chronic pain, muscle tension and high stress levels. Cups left on for a shorter duration or if used in the popping motion are more stimulating to the body and acts more as a supplement to boost the body’s immune system.
By creating suction on the skin, along certain acupuncture meridians, it opens up the skin’s pores helping to stimulate the flow of blood, increasing circulation, balancing and realigning the flow of qi (your body’s natural life force energy), it breaks up obstructions in the channels, and creates an avenue for metabolic wastes to be drawn out of the body. As mentioned previously, cupping is ideal for people with chronic pain, muscle tension, stress and as a preventative measure against colds and flus. It can also be used to help alleviate lung problems such as the common, cold, chest congestion, asthma, and bronchitis. Emotionally it can help with anxiety and depression. Through sedating the nervous system it helps to reduce hypertension. In addition to these ailments, cupping can even be used cosmetically to reduce the appearance of cellulite.
The experience of getting cupping is overall very relaxing and calming. It feels somewhat like a reverse deep tissue massage (because the skin and muscles are being pulled instead of pushed) and has been said to effect muscles up to four inches deep from the external skin. Sometimes, if the suction is too strong it can be uncomfortable but you can communicate this with your practitioner to loosen up the cups for you if this is the case. There are some precautions you should be aware of before getting cupping done: the suction results in marks on the skin that appear as bruises, though not painful, your friends and loved ones may be shocked upon seeing these marks and ask what happened to you. You can simply tell them you had a painless healing treatment done by your acupuncturist and that they should give it a try too! It is best, however, to keep these marks covered and protected from the elements until they fade away because your pores are more open, leaving you more susceptible to wind, cold, rain and heat from the sun. The marks can last anywhere from a few days up to a couple of weeks. Every-body is different, so the marks will dissipate depending on their circulation, the quality of foods they eat, how much toxic build up they have and how chronic their condition has been. Keeping active, getting plenty of rest, eating whole foods, avoiding sugars, dairy, heavy sauces, alcohol and meat will aid in the fading away of the marks as well as soaking for 10-15 minutes in a warm Epsom salt bath.
With the fall season approaching us, it is the perfect time of year to start getting regular cupping done to help prevent colds and flus. Try it out and see how your health will start gradually or dramatically improving!