As a Holistic Health Practitioner it is always useful to have a variety of techniques and therapies in your healing tool box. One of my favorite techniques I utilize is Cupping Therapy. There are many health benefits to the patient, not to mention that five minutes of cupping is equal to thirty minutes of deep tissue massage.
During a typical massage session a therapist will push into a muscle to alleviate tensions in the body. It helps to think of Cupping Therapy as the reverse of regular massage. Using suction, cupping provides a gentle pulling (rather than pushing) on the muscles for a more complete release of fascia, nerves and adhesions. It may seem new, strange or trendy, seeing as it is now under celebrity endorsement. The truth is that this technique has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional Maya Medicine* (TMM) for thousands of years. It is used by both cultures to disperse wind out of the body, improve blood stagnation and promote vital Qi flow.
The first types of cupping tools were made of bamboo, clay or animal horns; followed by the use of glass, plastic, rubber, and silicone. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is common to place many stationary cups on the body along various meridian points on the patient. Often these cups will stay in place for 15-30 min. Due to Qi, blood and tissue stagnation toxins are often brought to the surface of the skin resulting in a temporary skin discoloration where the cup was placed. This temporary reddish discoloration is not a bruise and is only a sign there has been diminished oxygen and blood supply to the tissue.
Another method involves always moving or running the cups on the body. It is commonly used in Traditional Maya Medicine and is the one I prefer to use in my holistic practice. To run the cups, massage oil is first applied to the skin, allowing for the cup to glide over the muscles and release adhesions. Running the cups also greatly reduces any chances for skin discoloration.
I was first introduced to Cupping Therapy in 2008 when I took a seminar on the different styles and applications for clinical use. After this seminar, I began to use the plastic stationary cups and silicone cups that could be moved on the body using oil. Although these methods had many benefits, the style never completely resonated with me. I had all but set aside Cupping Therapy from my healing practice. Little did I know that two years later I would fall in love with Cupping Therapy on a trip to Mexico. I was studying Traditional Maya Medicine from a well-known Traditional Healer named Rita Navarette Perez from Mexico City. She taught me the art of fire cupping, or Ventosas as it is known in TMM. I also had the honor of experiencing a personal fire cupping session from Rita and was amazed at how great I felt in such a short time.
Fire cupping is very safe when done by a trained practitioner. Furthermore, the addition of heat has a soothing effect to the nervous system. Why is this technique so effective? The cups are vertical or round glasses, similar to a regular drinking glass. In order to create a heat vacuum, a flame is placed in the glass very rapidly (1 sec.) then taken out and the glass is immediately placed on the body. The result is a gentle warming heat and mild suction of the skin into the glass. Oil is also used to be able to run (move) the cups on the body – getting a wide area of contracted and congested tissue to soften quickly. Let me tell you, this feels amazing!
Just beneath the skin are layers of fascia or connective tissue that attach to every muscle in our body. Fascia is fibrous and sticky, helping to hold muscle tissue and organs in place. Overused muscles cause inflammation and a build-up lactic of acid to occur. When fascial tissue gets bound it creates adhesions and causes muscle soreness, joint restriction, nerve pain, and reduced blood flow and oxygen to the tissues. Cupping allows separation to occur by gently pulling on multiple fascial layers to free adhesions and nerves, thus restoring oxygen to the tissue. It produces a profound vasodilation reaction, drawing blood to areas of pain while promoting metabolism within the skin tissue for better functioning of sweat and sebaceous glands. It also flushes toxins and lymph, activates synovial fluid in joints, and has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Common conditions treated by Cupping Therapy include: sciatica, chronic headache and back pain, anxiety, fibromyalgia, poor circulation, nervous tension, respiratory infections and colds, arthritis, muscle and joint pain.
Here are some of the benefits of Cupping Therapy:
- Loosens adhesions
- Improves circulation and reduces inflammation
- Expels congestion and stagnation
- Promotes the free flow of Qi
- Strengthens immune system by promoting lymphatic flow
- Releases impaired nerves
- Pulls toxins to the surface of the skin
The good news is that you don’t have to travel across the world to experience these great benefits. Along with Centered Spirit, a Traditional Maya Medicine practice, there are many acupuncturists in the local Kansas City area that utilize cupping in their treatments. It is exciting and healthy to add new forms of bodywork into your lifestyle enhancement program. I hope you get the chance this year to try…and maybe fall in love with Cupping Therapy.
By: Alex Jackson