You may not know what cupping is but you’ve probably seen it if you caught the 2016 Summer Olympics and saw Michael Phelps show up with a bunch of circular looking hickies on his back. The bruise-like marks may seem gnarly but they’re actually quite painless and the result of a traditional Chinese Medicine practice.
Centuries old, cupping is often explained as a massage in reverse. Using jars by fire the technique relies on the pressure produced by the suction of the cups when applied to the skin. The cups (coming in either glass, plastic or bamboo) act like a vacuum, pulling skin, tissue and muscle upward and encouraging circulation. What does that amount to in terms of benefits? A flushing of toxins trapped in the skin, pain relief, and better blood flow. Cupping is popular with athletes because its been known to relieve the type of muscle tension that can inhibit performance. It has also been used to treat migraines, arthritis, fatigue and cellulite.
So, why the bruising?
The bruising comes from the suction and is believed to leave the darkest marks (bluish/purple or red) in areas that are experiencing the most imbalance. They generally are not painful but can last for a few weeks. In other words, this is not a treatment to have if you’re planning to wear something backless in the next month.
Since I had never had cupping done prior to my visit to Tao Foot Spa I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was brought to my treatment room and asked to remove all clothing except my underwear. The cups were placed along my backside (neck to ankles and yes, even my behind). Before the cups were applied I was massaged with oil, starting with my back. Because of how I was positioned I couldn’t see the jars being heated but I could smell the fire and feel the heat as it came closer to my body.
In all honesty, I was a little nervous. But as I previously mentioned, it doesn’t hurt but feels as if you’re being sucked on by a school of pucker fish. Periodically the practitioner would move the cups around without removing them. This helps to further stimulate detox and promote circulation. When the cups were lifted they made a suck and pop sound. This process happened twice. While they sat the portions of my skin that weren’t covered (arms, ears, and scalp) were massaged. I opted out of the foot massage (I’m ticklish).
The process lasted an hour and finished with a short face massage and a complimentary cup of water to help flush out more toxins. Experts recommend to keep hydrated, especially after this type of body work. It’s also recommended to abstain from alcohol for 48 hours after, as you’re body is still in the detoxification process.
I felt very relaxed during the treatment and the feeling lasted till the following evening. As you can see from the photos, some of my bruises came out quite severe but it should be noted the deepest ones were in the areas I carry the most stress (my shoulders and neck). In fact, I have little bruising on my lower half and considering how much the practitioner moved the cups around over the backs of my thighs, that’s saying something. I plan to return as soon as these bruises fade. It’s a great place to go if you’d benefit from massage and other complimentary treatments regularly but need to watch your budget. They’re also fairly flexible in terms of scheduling, so if you’re feeling spontaneous during lunchtime, go for a walk-in. They may be able to accommodate.
This story originally appeared on The Mighty Mite.
Hudson Valley based writer.