Cupping therapy is an ancient art that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It has been well documented that indigenous tribes of Africa, the Pacific Islands and America were among the first to use cupping therapy, originally using animal horns from American bison or water buffalo. The indigenous tribes used them for removing snakebite venom, relieving infections and skin lesions, as well as removing poisons from the body.

How does Cupping Therapy Work?

This year I found myself spending an extended period of time on the Big Island of Hawaii, a place many bodyworkers feel compelled to come and practice their work, and I have been upping my bodywork repertoire. I had not used cupping before and decided to include it in my new regime. I have just finished my fourth session and I am a huge fan!

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Denise Murphy, who owns Malama I ke Ola Holistic Health Centre in Kona Hawaii, and who has specialized in cupping for decades. Ms. Murphy has been taking me on my bodywork journey, introducing me to both cupping and acupuncture.

Ms. Murphy shares that “by way of myofascial decompression, cupping works like an inverse massage. The suction from the cup gently (or vigorously), lifts the tissue like a small vacuum, helping to separate and detangle myofascial knots, adhesions, and compression of the tissue layers, thereby stimulating microcirculation and reducing inflammation. This allows the blood nutrition and oxygen to invigorate and repair damaged tissues, reduce pain, and improve strength, all the while pushing toxins out to the surface to be carried away.”

“When the stagnant fluids in the tissue are stimulated below the surface of the skin, up to 4” deep, the old, lifeless, blood and lymphatic fluid is pulled to the surface of the skin, appearing as a dark circle remaining for a few days, carried off as waste by your body’s circulatory system. This is not a bruise, for it was not resulting from a trauma-induced event. It is more like a fantastic detoxification of old fluids from the deeper levels that allow new oxygenated blood to breathe new life into exhausted tissues!”

What are the benefits?

There are many therapeutic benefits associated with cupping such as releasing muscle tension, increasing blood flow, invigorating soft tissue, helping with lymphatic flow, removing edema (excess fluid), supporting the immune function, breaking down scar-tissue and promoting toxin release. As cupping affects tissue up to four inches deep, it is considered one of the best deep-tissue therapies available.

Among all the incredible benefits listed above, Ms. Murphy adds that cupping can help with fertility; some of her clients became pregnant after regular cupping sessions. She attributes this to the therapy’s ability to induce ovulation, help women who do not ovulate or have anovulatory cycles, balance the thyroid gland, remove blockages and inflammation in the fallopian tubes, remove defects in the luteal phase, help with endometriosis, aid with hormone imbalances that cause the formation of cysts in the ovaries (PCOS), regulate menstruation and ease painful menstruation and cramps. Wow!

For non-fertility concerns, cupping causes a noticeable and immediate increase in mobility, and the elimination of most or all pain and stiffness involved in the condition treated. It can help to resolve edema, break up and resolve phlegm in the lungs for a bronchial cough and speed up the healing process. For immune support, as well as athletic endurance and stamina, it helps to support and stimulate the circulatory systems that can influence these very areas.

Who can do it?

Young and old, professional athletes or the everyday sportsperson, patients recovering from illness or injury, adults and even toddlers over the age of two!

How does it feel?

Cupping is not painful – it feels like you are being squeezed by a large octopus! Surprising at first, and pleasant by the end of the session, this very safe and beneficial treatment can be enjoyed by all. By repeating cupping treatments, even a few times per year, you will noticeably continue to improve your results. Five to ten sessions tend to achieve the most noticeable benefits.

After your session, please be mindful that you should not be exposed to the cool air for six to eight hours, as your pores have been opened. You will need to drink 20% more water, and meals should be light for the next 10 days to assist your body in the detoxification process. The cupping marks disappear within about a week and are not painful. The markings on the skin are not an injury, but merely an indication of deeper level detoxification. The darker color will lessen over time with subsequent sessions as the toxins are released in layers to be dispersed.

Types of cupping and the equipment used

Pistol handle valve cups have become popular for some practitioners. These do not require fire, are not expensive and most portable. They require pumping by hand with a pistol connected to the valve on a clear Perspex cup.

Silicone cups have a mild action. They are soft and gentle to the touch and are used for facial rejuvenation and cosmetic sessions. They are also effective for cellulite treatments.

Glass cups evolved from earthenware cups and are favoured by many practitioners as they are easier and faster to use, more comfortable for the client and have a greater strength of suction. Glass cups can also be left in place for several minutes, as a “moving” treatment with a lubricant such as oil, or as “flash” cupping where the cups are moved quickly and repeatedly for 30 seconds at a time.

The glass cups are always used for fire cupping, as well as “wet cupping”, if bleeding is desired for particularly stubborn fascia tension, acute illness, or painful areas.  Wet cupping is considered extremely effective, especially for acute conditions as sprains & strains.

Thankfully we can find alternative medicine practitioners in the West that practice cupping therapy. Ask your friends for referrals in your area! There is bound to be someone who has tried cupping therapy and can recommend a great practitioner.

We took a pause over the month of August to regroup, reconnect and practice stillness. Here’s why you too should be Discovering The Power Of Pause.