Before I moved to the mecca of wellness trends that is Los Angeles, I had never heard of cupping. Fast-forward a few months into my first year, I found it was totally normal—even frequent—to see someone in front of me during yoga moving around with huge red and purple bruises on their back. I always thought it was some kind of "weird" condition.
A couple of years into my LA life, I found myself more and more interested in Chinese medicine and it's healing modalities such as acupuncture, seeding, herbs and more. Turns out, those red and purple bruises come from an ancient healing practice called: Cupping.
Upon more research, it's totally common among athletes and those with autoimmune diseases because the benefits include muscle relief, circulation and detoxification. Now, I was perpetually sore from my new workout regime and overall pretty exhausted, so I figured it was time I ditch the extra cup of coffee and try a new version of cupping. (Yep, I went there.)
I caught up with Janel Gehrke, acupuncturist and LAc over at Santa Monica's Elysia Life Care, to get to the bottom of it all.
How It Feels:
It truly feels like a deep tissue massage. A really deep tissue massage. I was completely relaxed and open to the practice, which is also extremely important. Afterwards, I kid you not, I felt mentally awake and physically open. My upper back wasn't cracking for at least four days (one of my pain points) and my yoga practice felt easier. The marks along my back and shoulders lasted about seven days, but did not hurt one bit.
I may be one of the lucky ones, as Janel explained, " A lot of patients feel groggy after the first session. This means the body is processing an abundance of toxic build up and we mobilized it with the session. In an effort to minimize any potential negative sensations, it’s really important to drink a lot of water after the session and avoid strenuous activity if possible. It is also advisable to avoid consuming alcohol, sugar, dairy, and any other deep fried or processed foods. This allows your body to function optimally and process the toxins at a more efficient rate. "
What Are The Benefits?
"Think of someone who sits at a computer all day. They will likely hold a significant amount of tension in their neck, shoulders and upper back. Same scenario with parents who are lifting and carrying small (or large) children everyday. These seemingly harmless tasks cause repetitive strain on muscles which can lead to what we call in Traditional Medicine 'stagnation,' but ultimately this results in pain," says Janel.
One of the purposes of cupping is to activate the immune system and increase blood flow to a specific area. This fresh blood supply can nourish the tense and starved muscles and remind them what it feels like to be in a relaxed state.
What's Up With The Marks?
"In Traditional Medicine, we use cupping marks as a diagnostic tool," says Janel. Deep, dark purple colors imply long-term stagnation stored deep within the muscle tissue. The decompression created by the cup brings that stagnation to the surface where the immune system can address it. Eventually, when you're free of stagnation, you won't get any marks from the cups. "This is rare, especially when you're driving a lot, on the computer, or not spending enough time rolling out your body from workouts," says Janel.
Would you try cupping? Let us know and dish in the comments below!