Have you heard of cupping? A few summers ago, I was wandering an outdoor market in Southern China when I noticed a woman with red welts all over her back.
While it isn’t commonplace for me to see welts on anyone, these were particularly unusual because they were circular-shaped and seemed to form a pattern on her back under her tank top.
Inquisitive as I am, I didn’t have to look too much further before I saw it, in the flesh (pun intended).
Fire Cupping: A Hot Way To Relax
By: Elizabeth Toy
Right in the middle of a lawn, under the shade of a tree was an elderly man who had spread a mat on the ground. A 20-something-year-old woman lied face-down on the mat, her bra unhooked. Clearly, this was nothing out of the ordinary, as locals walked by without batting an eye. Meanwhile, travelers like myself paused, wide-eyed. Holding a lighter in one hand and a small bell-shaped glass cup in the other,
He used the lighter and held the flame in the cup before quickly placing the cup, rim-side down, onto the woman’s back.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! As soon as he placed the cup down, the skin under the cup began to rise. After some time, it seemed like her skin filled the cup! I was grossed out. Nonetheless, the woman showed no sign of discomfort, much less even a hint of pain. In fact, she looked very relaxed and almost like she was asleep!
Later, I discovered this practice is known as fire cupping.
What is cupping?
In Chinese medicine, cupping is a therapy that applies heated glass cups on the skin, creating suction to stimulate the flow of blood. Today, there are different types of cupping, some of which forgo the flame and instead use a mechanical pump to create suction, but the traditional method uses fire.
Where are its origins?
Cupping has origins that trace back to China and Africa from thousands of years ago, but is still practiced in many countries today.
Variations of it have also been used in Europe, Greece, and North America. You may have recognized the markings on Olympic athletes this summer, such as Michael Phelps, along with many others who used cupping therapy during the games.
Did you see what Ibtihaj Mohammad did that changed history for during this year’s summer Olympics?
Why do people do it?
Cupping therapy breaks the capillaries underneath the skin and as a result, increases blood flow to the area, and is believed to:
- stimulate circulation
- speed up healing
- rid the body of toxins
- bring relief for the common cold or flu, respiratory, and digestive problems
- relieve pain and sore muscles
- help relax the body and relieve stress
Did you know that lavender can help relieve stress as well? Find out how here.
What does it feel like?
I never tried fire-cupping until a few days ago. I was a little nervous because it looked painful, but as it turned out, I had a great experience and it didn’t hurt. I went to Balance Care Wellness Group in Glendora, California on Friday afternoon for a 30-minute cupping treatment session. Here’s how it went:
Dr. Liao led me into a clean exam room and left me to change. Since I wore a dress, I couldn’t change into the gown left for me, so instead, I adjusted my dress so that only my top was bare and lied face down on the exam table.
When he came back, he first explained what would happen, and then pressed into my back to observe where I needed more treatment (the right side, between my spine and shoulder blade was extremely tight!) and explained he would focus more on that side. Then, he began…
Using a pair of tongs to hold a cotton ball, he lit it on fire into the inverted cup, and quickly placed it onto my back. The rim of the cup was warm and I immediately felt the suction increasing under the cup.
He repeated this process until my back was covered. This took less than 5 minutes. He then turned out the light and stepped away while I relaxed to a CD of nature sounds in the dark. After about 15 minutes, he returned to change the position of the cups and then stepped away again.
When he returned, he removed the cups and I was done. I could see that the treatment left the now-familiar red circular welts on my back. He explained the marks would go away in 7-10 days and that I should not shower for the next 2 hours nor expose my back to cold. My back felt sensitive but I undoubtedly walked away feeling much more relaxed. The persistent knot in my upper back that even masseuses couldn’t massage away wasn’t gone, but it definitely felt much less tight.
Tips before you go:
- Wear a 2-piece outfit, meaning, wear a top and a bottom rather than a dress for ease of changing.
- Leave your troubles and electronics behind to avoid distractions so you can better relax.
- Get comfortable. Position your body and head in such a way that your muscles can be relaxed and the suction will be more effective.
Dr. Liao was professional and made the experience comfortable, easy, and was very informative during the treatment. I asked many questions and he answered them all. He even offered to perform the treatment in such a way that would reduce the markings, but I didn’t mind; I wanted to experience fire cupping the way it was meant to be.
Does it work?
While there is no scientific proof that cupping is effective, many practitioners of Eastern medicine and users of cupping treatment are firm believers that cupping does produce the aforementioned benefits. Dr. Liao advised me– if used in conjunction with acupuncture, cupping is even more effective.
So, have you ever tried cupping or would you try it? Tell us all about it below!
*Featured photo: MindBodyGreen