When Michael Phelps prepared to dive into the pool this past summer at the Olympics, millions of spectators were stunned by the rows of large purplish circles that adorned his back. In an instant the ancient modality of cupping resurfaced on a global stage. The record breaking olympic gold medalist practices cupping therapy to heal and support his muscles, joints and immune system which are pushed to the limits all year long by his intense training and then days of competition during the games.
Save Michael Phelps, I knew nothing about cupping and wanted to learn more. I sought a master practitioner in New York City and was introduced to Anton Lee, a third generation licensed acupuncturist with extensive cupping training. Acupuncture is an integral part of cupping. Anton educated me on the basics.
What Is Cupping?
Born of a culture that considered surgery, the act of cutting the body, an affront to their ancestors, (I found this particularly interesting as Judaism forbids the practice of tattoo and most piercings precisely for this reason) until the introduction of antibiotics, cupping was the principal modality of healing not only muscular pain in the body but ailment of major internal organs as well. In fact, prior to the introduction of antibiotics boils were the leading cause of death. Cupping was partly developed as a method for removing the toxic fluids that were contained within the boil. With the introduction of antibiotics cupping began to fall by the wayside where it would become classified, at least in western medicine, as an alternative therapy.
You will read almost everywhere that the practice originated in China. Not true! Anton insisted. It has been practiced all over the world for a few thousands years throughout Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. Cups were made out of whatever natural resources were available in the region. In the middle east, cups were made of goat horns, while in China they were fashioned from Bamboo. The modern day versions are made of glass and silicone.
What Does This Have To Do With An Olympic Athlete?
Every time we move energy is created which makes blood and fluids circulate through the body. This in and of itself is a good thing. But like anything, too much of a good thing can turn bad. When muscles and tissue are over exerted, it creates a trauma. When there is a trauma to the body, typically blood and fluid flow to the affected area in an effort to repair it. If The body is functioning healthfully, it is extremely efficient and directs energy, blood and fluid to where it is needed to support and heal the area. When this excess fluid is not completely absorbed by the body it can get deposited onto the muscle. This fluid bonds like glue to the muscle and creates a blockage. This can be in the form of a knot that you might get in your neck, or back. This causes pain and is toxic to the body. Just as the person loses his or her typical range of movement, this blockage is stuck. If you’re not an olympic athlete, you may be be susceptible to extreme weather, which can also cause trauma to the body. When it’s cold we condense our bodies physically and this energy creates stagnation. This stagnation is perceived by us as pain.
How Can We Break Up The Blockage?
By hand. A needle is inserted at the point of pain (Acupuncture is an integral part of cupping) to create the movement of energy, fluid and blood, within the tissue – to break up the proverbial “glue”, then a cup is put over and suction is applied to draw it out into the skin. The skin is not only the largest organ of the body, but the largest filtration organ of the body. Just like the liver filters blood, the lungs filter air and the stomach filters food, similarly the skin filters excess fluid. Skin contains millions of micro vessels – this is why, when we get cut, we heal so quickly. Using the skin’s filtration system the body disposes of what it does not need and recycles what it can use.
The more toxic your body is the darker the cup marks will be. In general men tend to present with darker marks as women’s bodies are cleaner due to the menstrual cycle which circulates and cleans out blood and tissue from the body regularly.
My Mini Consultation
Anton is the real deal. Towards the end of our almost two hour meeting, Anton turned to me and asked if he could take my pulse. He told me that I am a worrier. Worry and stress cause the digestive system to slow down. The stomach is considered the mother organ as it filters food that is then distributed to the other organs of the body in order to nourish them. The odd thing is that I have colitis. It turns out that cupping can be used as part of a regimen to heal colitis and other digestive ailments. He also told me to keep an eye on my posture as bad posture wreaks havoc on the body – yes, causing trauma. The odd thing is, as soon as I walked into Anton’s office, I became acutely aware of my posture. It almost felt as if he was communicating telepathically to me nudging me to sit up straight.
Just Scratching The Surface
Cupping is a practice that is tailored specifically for each individual depending on his or her needs and there are many more tools involved in the modality that I did not delve into here. Above I have merely scratched the cupping surface. To schedule a consultation or appointment with Anton, please call Yasmine Djerradine Institut de Beauté at 212-588-1771.
By: Alyssa Barrie Weiss, Twitter: @AlyssaBarrie