In a mountain cottage in Bulgaria, near the border with Greece, Petra Peevska has her patient Maria place her feet in a hot, salt-water foot bath and expose her shoulders and upper back for treatment. Then, using her highly skilled hands, Petra begins to feel the pained muscles of Maria's upper body. After a short time, she finds what she is looking for and, with a flash, Maria's cupping treatment begins.
Petra is a deft and experienced cupper. For decades, she has relieved the ails of residents in her small town of Shiraka Laka using techniques passed down through hundreds of years.* Cuppers like Petra exist all over the globe, in hospitals and clinics in the large cities of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas where cupping therapy has been researched and systematized, and in small cottages in secluded spots like Shiraka Laka where cupping's folk-healing traditions have been preserved.
Cupping is the technique of placing a hollow tool on the body's surface and creating suction in order to draw the flesh up into the tool, away from the bones. It has been used for pain, rheumatic conditions, common cold and flu, digestive complaints, infertility, and more. Numerous tools have been used throughout cupping's long history, including hollowed-out horns, polished bamboo cups, ceramic cups, and glass cups like the ones we use at Turtle Tree.
The exact origins of cupping are not clear, but the impulse to apply suction to an aching area is easily observed. Our two-year-old daughter displays it when she injures a finger during play, intuitively placing the sore finger in her mouth and sucking. Early humans would likely have done the same to insect and animal bites, placing the wounded area in their mouths and extracting stingers and venom with suction. One can imagine how this instinct may have been nurtured and developed into a more complex therapy.
Cupping has deep historical roots. Hippocrates used cupping therapy in ancient Greece. Records from ancient Egypt suggest it was used during the time of the pharaohs. References to cupping in China date back to somewhere between 190 and 140 BCE.
Cupping is a therapy of the people and has appeared in numerous cultures. It can be found in Israel and other parts of the Middle East under the name Hejama or Hijama. In Northern Africa, hollowed-out animal horns have long been used to withdraw poisons and extract infectious material. The tradition still exists and thrives in rural regions of Northern Africa, areas underserved by conventional medicine. In China, Vietnam, Thailand, and many other places in Southeast Asia, families carry on unique cupping lineages that stretch back hundreds of years.
What is it like?
We often say that cupping is like a reverse massage. Massage presses downward into the body, cupping lifts upward. It is not meant to be painful. You will feel your muscles and skin lifting up into the cup, and although it may feel strange at first, it is usually quite pleasant.
Sometimes cupping leaves temporary marks on the skin. You may have noticed these marks on athletes at sporting events and on certain celebrities who have chosen to make a spectacle of it in the media. Not everyone will have this reaction as each person's unique state of health determines whether and how the marks will appear. If marks do appear, they should dissipate in a few days.
PS: Now through the 1st week of January 2022, you can add cupping to your acupuncture visit for FREE.
*Petra's story is adapted from a case study by Bruce Bentley in the text Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy by Chirali, et. al. Edinburgh: Churchhill Livingstone; 2014.