The ancient tradition of cupping has been getting a lot of press since the start of the summer 2016 Olympics, as many athletes including Michael Phleps and Natalie Coughlin, have been seen donning circular marks on their backs and shoulders.
Cupping has been around for thousands of years and have been used by numerous traditions to support healing. Cupping reduces inflammation, reduce toxins and improves circulation. It also promotes a feeling a calmness and reduced anxiety. Many feel this is because it helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and reduce the “flight or fight” sensation that many people experience on a daily basis.
The earliest records of cupping date back to the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC), one of the oldest living medical documents preserved today. Even Hippocrates mentions cupping in medical literature from 400 BC. Cupping has roots in the Middle East, Asia, Northern & Eastern Europe and North American traditional peoples. Cups can be made from glass, bamboo, animal horns and shells.
Cups are applied to the skin using a flame to create a vacuum, this is referred to as Fire Cupping. Cups can also be applied with a pump like suction that draws the air out of the cup. The skin literally draws up into the cup creating tightness.
Michael Dalder / Reuters
Cupping is known to draw out toxins and purify the body. Some theorize that cupping promotes health by facilitating the removal of toxins. The cupping action draws toxins to the surface of the skin where the immune system is better able to eliminate them.
Others theorize that cupping helps reset the fascia that lies under the muscle and helps keep the shape of the muscle. Tension and stagnation can alter the tone of the muscle and fascia and create “knots” and trigger points. Cupping helps disperse this stagnation.
Regulate Qi flow:
Others believe that cupping works with the Traditional Chinese Medicine notion of Qi flow. Typically cups are applied along the Yang Channels of the back such as the Gallbladder, Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine channels. These channels are often tense and hold a lot of stagnation. Cups along the channel can help improve the Qi flow and reduce pain.
There are many Cupping Techniques that can be utilized.
Tonifying Cupping: Cups are applied for approximately 10 minutes and then removed.
Draining Cupping: Cups are applied for up to 20 minutes and then removed.
Flash Cupping: Cups are applied and then removed immediately.
Sliding Cups: Cups are applied over oil and slid across the muscle or acupuncture channel.
Bleeding Cupping or Wet Cupping (Hajimah or Haracat): The skin is pierced and then cups are applied. This is no longer legal in the USA but is widely used in Turkey and Islamic countries. 3 slices are placed on the skin, to represent Allah, and bled for 3-8 minutes.
Finnish Traditions also utilizes wet cutting as was seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where Mr. Bourdain gets a wet cupping session in a sauna. Mr. Bourdain dubbed Helsinki a “dark and morbid city” which couldn’t have been more apropos for the wet cupping visual. Mr. Bourdain’s skin was pierced with a sharp lancet and dozens of cups were placed along his back. Check out the video if you have a strong stomach!
I stick to sliding cups or flash cupping. Typically, I place an oil on the back and then apply the cups using fire to create the vacuum. I usually work with four cups and slide them along the channels to create a deep massage. People often feel very relaxed afterwards. In keeping with the ancients I avoid cupping if a woman is menstruating or if someone is weak or recovering from an illness. I also avoid cupping if someone has plans to drink excessively that evening as it could make people more susceptible to catching a cold.
Cupping is an extraordinary, sacred tradition that has withstood the test of time. Check it out for yourself!
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