That Other Use For Cups : Alternative Chinese Therapy

The 'cupping' technique often uses cups made of bamboo

The ‘cupping’ technique often uses cups made of bamboo

There exists a place where cups are not merely used for drinking. This place is China.

A traditional alternative therapy in the heart of the orient requires a number of cups, some oil, and a small flame. And, a willing participant.

On our way back from visiting the pandas at the Chengdu Panda Base we happened to wander past a massage parlour. Where usually we wouldn’t even look twice (budget travel doesn’t always allow us such luxuries) I did notice a sign for ‘scraping and cupping’. Intrigued, I grabbed Angelo and explained about this hilarious technique I had seen on a blog post by the Planet D. The idea of the therapy is that it helps to open the meridians so the the energy of the body can flow freely. It also helps stimulate blood flow and the release of toxins from muscles, and can help with deep tissue injuries. That was it. For the next half an hour we would submit ourselves to thousands of years of Chinese culture – just for a laugh.

We both stripped off our upper clothing and lay down on the massage beds. A quick massage with oil was followed by some rigorous scraping down. After almost a year on the road I was very glad to not see what I can only imagine would have been coming off my back. I would definitely not describe the experience so far as being pleasant. The piece of wood catching every notch on my spine as he scraped it down my back…

But then came the cups. While Angelo got a mix of bamboo and plastic cups heated with a small flame and placed on his back, I was treated to a series of plastic caps, each with a small valve at the top for a small hand pump that sucks the air out. Placing each one on my back and then vigourously pumping the air out of it (much like the air out of a wine bottle at the end of a hospo shift), it suctioned itself onto my back and started pulling my skin and superficial muscles into the bowl of the cup.

“Oooh, aahhhh, A-Ange have they started y-yours yet? Aaahhh it friggin’ hurts!”

Imagine 20 giant tentacles on your back. No wait, no one can imagine that. Imagine 20 people with giant mouths simultaneously giving you hickies on your back. Sucking so hard that the skin across your chest is tightened and you can’t breathe properly. I felt like a sumo wrestler was sitting on my back. Each little cup made my skin sting as it pulled my skin into it. Then slowly, slowly the stingingness faded, but an incredible tightness remained, and all of your muscles are tensed.

Just as I got into a rhythm of breathing through the pain, he went around and tightened them all again – including a couple that had popped off me with the appropriate cork-out-of-a-bottle sound. I endured this for about 10 minutes until he pulled each one off with a satisfying ‘POP’. I waited for instant relief, but it was actually just as uncomfortable pulling them off as my muscles were tense in some areas and released in others making me wriggle about in awkward fashion on the bed.

A quick wipe down – yes, shit comes out of your skin – and an even quicker massage was the rest of the experience. But the golden prize was getting to carry these bad boys around with me for another two weeks:

Angelo: in the process of having his cups removed. Me: the bruising afterwards

Angelo: in the process of having his cups removed. Me: the bruising afterwards

Have you heard of this technique before or had it done? What’d you think of it?

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