The Cupping Renaissance
A case of ‘flavour of the month’ or a re-birth of folk medicine?
We turned to two holistic experts to investigate the buzz around cupping.
The milder temperatures are here at last to usher us Northern Hemisphere folk out of a deep, dark winter. Shorts, t-shirts and vests are dusted off for pale limbs to dose-up on Vitamin D.. revealing a growing display of perfectly circular, red and purple marks on shoulders, arms and backs. These unique patterns, neat but far from discreet, are now highly recognisable signs of ‘Cupping’, even to those who have never experienced this style of treatment first-hand.
For those who are new to the term, Cupping is a form of alternative medicine that has been practiced across Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin American for thousands of years; there’s evidence to suggest it was used by Ancient Egyptians as early as 1550 B.C. The therapy involves the application of small, domed devices to the body, creating a vacuum effect through the use of heat or a hand-held pump. A suction effect is created as the pressure within the cups build. The aim is to relieve muscle tension, improve energy flow and promote cellular repair by increasing blood circulation to the area where cups are positioned.
Interestingly, despite its ancient origins, there remains a lack of scientific study around the use of Cupping as a technique, most likely due to the challenges of acquiring research funding. It has also been been described as ‘quackery’, ‘prescientific’ or ‘pseudoscience’ by certain corners of the modern medical world. The wide-spread popularity of Cupping, however – and indeed the personal and professional insights of practitioners such as Bertrand and Boniface – certainly speaks to the fact that patients are consistently experiencing positive results.
“On the whole, Cupping is a folk medicine. It’s [often] practised by people who don’t need medical education in order to apply it successfully…You can make it complicated in order to be very efficient: you need a deep understanding of how to use it and what it does to the body. But essentially you can be very efficient with a basic education. It’s extremely accessible” – BERTRAND COURTOT
Having practised now for 20 years and trained under renowned Chinese Medicine Practitioner and Lecturer Bruce Bentley, Bertrand has great admiration for the way in which Cupping evolves around the world. He observes two main branches of the technique which speak to its ability to be used quite freely and successfully by different kinds of people. On a folk level, the technique has been practised within families and small communities for thousands of years; sometimes with parents, grandparents or local doctors having limited knowledge about its full potential. Despite this more simple approach, results can often be achieved safely and effectively when applied with care, which is why it continues to be passed down through the generations.
On the other hand, therapists looking to gain a much deeper understanding will often be guided by philosophies of traditional Chinese medicine. Within this school of thought, qi – a ‘circulating life force’ – is of the utmost importance. It is thought that infections, pain and disease occur through blockages, invasions and disruptions to the flow of energy through the body. A Chinese Medicine practitioner will map or position cups according to certain meridians, and assess the different shades of marks left by cupping to determine diagnoses.
There’s certainly a market for this kind of therapy.. whether you’re drawn to the more folk roots or a commercialised form. Bertrand suspects that indirect celebrity endorsement through the likes of Gweneth Paltrow and Michael Phelps has greatly contributed to Cupping’s rise in popularity. I’d also hazard a guess that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has given many of us a renewed appreciation or curiosity for holistic practices and the ways in which they can offset the stress of modern life.
Wondering if Cupping is for you? Let us leave you with a few factors to consider:
- Finding ‘the one’
Regardless of the kind of Cupping you’re seeking, we’d recommend choosing a therapist that can demonstrate reputable training or a knowledge of Chinese Medicine. Word of mouth is particularly useful, but if you’re in doubt, feel free to ask us for recommendations!
- What’s on the menu?
As Cupping practise evolves through different time periods and cultures, varying styles have emerged. Certain methods use pumps or silicone cups instead of fire to create the suction affect. There is also a method known as Hijama, or ‘wet cupping,’ which sees blood drawn from the body through small skin incisions. An integrative doctor will be able to advise on which techniques may best suit your individual needs.
- Embrace those marks
Many people misinterpret the marks left by this kind of treatment, which is why Bertrand and Boniface prefer not to use the word ‘bruise’. The marks left on the body through Cupping should have a number of healing benefits, and also act as a guide for practitioners to determine a diagnosis.
For example, a darker coloured mark will usually indicate chronic pain, a high level of toxins and stagnation in the area.
- Be mindful of potential limitations
Treatment is not off-limits for pregnant or menstruating individuals, but it would not be appropriate to practise cupping on the the abdomen or lower back in both of these cases. For Seniors or young children, Cupping is not recommended.
- Get the full story
You can listen to the full version of the podcast with Bertand and Boniface by heading over to your Podcast Video Library now!