- To relax tense muscles
- To draw out impurities into the circulation
- To bring infections to the surface
- To draw out chills
- To remove excess heat
- To break up phlegm
- To reduce symptoms of hayfever and sinusitis
- To reduce the colouring of old bruises
- To invigorate the energy
What is Cupping?
Cupping is an ancient therapy that probably originated more about 3500 years ago. The earliest known record on cupping is a carved relief of medical instruments used by the Egyptians around 1500 BC.
Cupping was used extensively by Roman, Celts, Turks, Slavic’s, Mayans, Aztecs, Indians and by healers throughout the Far & Middle East. The earliest recorded use of cupping that is from the famous Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.). Some of the first suction vessels were hollowed out animal horns, used to drain toxins out of bites, pustules and skin lesions from the body. Bones and gourds were also use by ancient healers, and most are still in use today in some non-industrialized societies. Bamboo, earthenware and metal were also used as cupping vessels before the invention of glass.
Cupping is a time-honoured treatment that is used by millions of people worldwide because it’s safe, comfortable and remarkably effective for easing the symptoms of many health disorders.
How is it done?
A cup is positioned at the area to be treated and, depending on the type of cups being used; a vacuum is created within the cup to draw the underlying tissue into the cup. The suction level can range from light to heavy, and the movements performed by the therapist can be stimulating or sedating. The produced vacuum creates a suction effect that increases blood circulation to the local area, relaxes muscle tissue and helps relieve pain.
Traditional cupping, still widely used, involves the insertion of a flame into a glass cup to heat the air and create a vacuum, whereas the manual vacuum cups employ a hand pump.
Glass cups are generally used for traditional cupping, although bamboo cups can also be used, and more recently, silicon cups. The vacuum pump method is more often used now, although many practitioners still prefer the traditional glass cups.
With the vacuum pump method, clear plastic cups are fitted with a valve that attaches to a small hand-operated pump, allowing the practitioner to suck out air to the degree desired. This does give greater control over the amount of suction needed. The modern name for suction cup therapy is BAGUANFA.
Cups are generally left in place for ten minutes although the time can range from 30 seconds to fifteen minutes. The cup is removed from the skin by pressing the skin on one side, allowing some outside air to enter and thus release the pressure, or by releasing the valve.
How is it done?
Traditional cupping is done by putting a flame in the cup to warm the air, then placing the cup on the affected area. As the air cools, the skin and underlying tissue are drawn up into the cup.
The degree of suction is controlled by the amount of heat (flame) put into the cup or by the amount of suction applied to the plastic cups. It is important to get the suction right. Too much in certain areas (e.g. over the kidney area or on the belly) can deplete the vital Qi of the body; too little (on very congested muscles) won’t give the optimum therapeutic effect.
Sometimes, while the suction is active, the cup is moved, causing the skin and muscle to be pulled. The suction is naturally much less to allow this to be done comfortably. This is called gliding cupping. This ensures that the entire area is decongested, which can’t be done with stationery cups.
In order to allow the cups to move over the skin easily, oil is used, usually containing “blood moving” or heating herbs. The cups are applied and moved over the affected area, causing a small but significant amount of heat that can make the skin look sunburnt afterwards. But it will quickly recover and you will feel the benefits immediately. Permission is always sought before cupping or any procedure and if you are not comfortable with the idea then it won’t be done.
Cupping is applied to certain acupuncture points as well as to parts of the body that have been affected by pain, where the pain is deeper than the tissues to be pulled. Cupping is most often done on the back, but can be done almost anywhere on the body that will give enough suction grip.
How does it help?
Cupping helps remove any stagnation (of blood or qi) in the body and opens the meridians so that qi can flow freely. It also helps to rejuvenate certain meridians and organs that are not functioning at their best by activating the lymphatic system, promoting blood circulation, and promoting tissue repair.
The suction of the cups releases rigid soft tissue by stretching it up and away from underlying structures, thus loosening areas of adhesion and/or restriction, activating muscle spindle reflexes that relax contractile tissue and help to realign the fascia contractile tissue and help to realign the fascial structure.
Cupping helps relieve stiff and aching muscles and activatse the secretion of synovial fluids, which ease joint stiffness in ways not possible using the compression of traditional massage. It concurrently creates localized expansion of tissue, producing a profound vasodilation reaction – drawing blood flow to areas of poor circulation, raising skin temperature, promoting metabolism within the skin tissue for better functioning of sweat and sebaceous glands, flushing capillary beds, draining stagnant blood, toxins and lymph, and re-supplying vital nutrients, via improved circulation.
Further, it stimulates the nervous system reflex to the cerebral cortex, contributing to an increased rate of recovery from pain and disease.
Cupping can affect the body up to four inches into the tissues, causing the tissues to release toxins, activate the lymphatic system, clear colon blockages, activate and clear the veins, arteries and capillaries and activate the skin.
The pulling sensation helps to release muscles and calms the sympathetic nervous system, thus allowing a deep relaxation to move through the whole body. It is not unusual for a patient to fall asleep while being cupped.
Cupping is diagnostic, in that the way the skin reacts tells the practitioner what the cause of the energy blockage is.
- Redness/heat means heat release (usually due to acute or chronic infection or inflammation)
- Black means severe blood congestion (old dead blood)
- crimson or purple means moderate blood congestion
- blue (with the skin chilled) means deep cold release
- blisters on the skin afterwards means there is a lot of toxic “dampness” in the underlying tissues. This is rare.
- No change to the skin means the pain or condition is caused by qi stagnation and not blood/heat/cold/damp stagnation.