What is cupping?
Although cupping may sound scary at first, as a therapy, cupping is one of the most tried and tested healing techniques in recorded history proving it a safe and fantastic alternative to deep tissue. In China, archaeologists have found evidence of cupping dating back to 1,000 B.C. And, the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, describes the use of cupping by the early Egyptians, as far back as 1,550 B.C.
Today cups are most commonly used either as an adjunct to acupuncture or as an alternative to myofascial techniques or deep tissue massage. In early history Animal horn or bamboo was first used instead of the current glass cups used today.
A vacuum is created in a glass cup with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol. The cotton ball is ignited and inserted into the cup which will evacuate some air, creating a vacuum. The cup is then quickly placed on the skin over tight and congested areas of the body.
Because cupping opens up the meridians and chi flow in the body it has a powerful sedating effect on the nervous system, and many people find it profoundly relaxing. This is why it has been used in conjunction with acupuncture as a healing tool to assist needles to open chi points. When the cups are heated by a trained therapist they can be just as effective as moxa burning over an acupuncture needle. As a practitioner I often like to give reiki over the cups while they on the body to assist any stagnated energy to re-balance and re-energize the body.
Cupping may look like medieval alchemy, but its effect is similar to that of an intense, vigorous massage. Clients describe the feeling as a pulling of the skin but at the same time can really feel the muscle stretching and relaxing.
What are those marks on the skin?
Don’t panic. The marks will disappear in a few days. Many people unaccustomed to Chinese medicine are at first disturbed by what appears to be bruises on the skin. The marks are purely cosmetic as there is no tissue damage present which can normally be associated with bruising. The marks are created by the vacuum within the cup which draws up toxins from thick, dark and stagnated blood through the pores. We’ve all seen or know what a love bite is or “hicky as they are commonly called. In the same instance these marks look very unsightly and similar looking to a bruise but are simply caused by vacuum. In the case of a love bite, the vacuum which draws toxins to the skin surface is caused by negative pressure in the mouth and not the cup.
To understand how these marks are formed on the skin it is important to explain how toxins can gather in the body. Most commonly a toxic area is created by a muscle which has been in spasm state for a while. This tight area of the body tends to encapsulate an amount of blood and tissue fluid and makes it hard for the body to flush the area with clean fluid. The blood encapsulated in these toxic areas is thick, stagnated and much darker in colour than healthy fresh blood. This can be verified in an acupuncture technique called bloodletting where a small prick in the skin is made to exude a drop of blood. The blood from a congested and toxic area is black and doesn’t look quite normal. Some acupuncturists refer to this blood as sludge blood. Cupping thankfully doesn’t require blood letting to flush out this “sludge blood”, Instead it uses vacuum, pressure and heat to remove the toxins from the blood and disperse them back into the tissue fluid and up through the pores of the skin which manifest as red marks on the skin.
To sum up from a Chinese medicine point of view, the darker the colour of the marks, the more toxic the area of body is. As a practitioner I have noticed people who do regular saunas, and eat healthy diets do not get any strong marks from cups as their blood is healthy. Because of it’s powerful detox effect on the body it is very important to drink plenty of water after treatment.
Does it Hurt?
As a general rule cupping is pain free. However, with clients permission I often use strong pressure cupping for remedial treatment of musculoskeletal issues. The strong pressured cup has moments of muscle ache as the connective tissue is stretched. This is sometimes required to effectively shift muscles which have been tight for months or possibly years. There are 3 different pressures I choose to use with cups:
1) Light cupping is beautiful, warm and relaxing and has no pain as it is equal to a light therapeutic massage and does not leave any marks. This level is more relaxing than remedial.
2) Medium pressure is also pain free and at this level you can really feel the muscle and connective tissue stretching and relaxing. The body chi opens and the body is energized.
3) Strong pressure is used for clients who wish to nail the muscle problem fast. This is a powerful musculoskeletal adjustment and as with most strong deep tissue has a 24 hour period of possible muscle ache after the treatment. It’s effectiveness is truly amazing.