The Healing Power of Cupping
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: June 17, 2009
Updated on: November 14, 2022
One day, when being treated by an acupuncturist, a Spanish friend who was visiting me in London walked into the room and remarked that I looked like a bull who’d had a run in with the picadores (the dudes on horseback who stick the bull with many little knives to rile him up before the actual fight). I assured her that although I was stuck with needles, I was faring far better than the bull would in the analogous scenario. In fact, those many little needles have helped me through many an ailment. Eastern medicine has a different approach than Western medicine—it’s more holistic. The root of the problem is addressed, as opposed to a symptom being attended to with prescription medication, only to return. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful as hell for a round of antibiotics or surgery when necessary, but I have been helped tremendously by various practices that help the body heal itself. When implemented by a professional with experience, the benefits can work wonders. Below, we hear from Amy Lafayette.
Amy Lafayette Explains
About five years ago, Gwyneth attended a premiere in a backless gown that sent tongues wagging. It wasn’t the designer of the dress that viewers were discussing; but rather, they were ogling the collection of symmetrical, purple dots that graced the skin of her back. “The marks of Gwyneth” were a sign of “cupping” and sent a flurry of photographs around the globe and even prompted her friend Oprah Winfrey to explore this ancient practice on her show.
The practice of cupping was conceived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China, though ancient medical transcriptions suggest its existence in Egypt as well. In its original application, cupping was prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as pulmonary tuberculosis and rheumatoid pain. In ancient times, animal horns were used to facilitate the practice, primarily to drain snakebites and lesions. The remedial application of cupping has evolved concurrent to the refinement of the cup itself, and now cups are primarily fabricated out of glass or bamboo.
In our practice, we use multiple glass cups, attaching them to the skin using negative pressure by introducing heat in the form of an ignited material. The partial vacuum created by the removal of oxygen from the cup draws the underlying tissue into the vessel. As we often tell our younger patients, the cups will feel like a small octopus grabbing hold. We frequently employ the flashing method for deficient conditions, which relies on the repeated application of single cups on a specific area. We also use the sliding method, a technique that is employed over the dorsal (generally referred to as the back) surface of the body. The cupping method functions to stimulate and promote the free flow of Qi (energy) and blood in the meridians (energy highways). This creates a kind of local congestion that can eliminate blood stagnation that may be causing pain from a deeper layer in the muscle. By creating this suction and negative pressure, cupping is used to drain excess fluids and toxins, loosen adhesions, and lift connective tissue, bring blood flow to stagnant skin and muscles, and stimulate the peripheral nervous system. Indications include, but are not exclusive to, the common cold with cough, asthma, headache, dizziness and digestive disorders. It is a veritable panacea for what ails you. Most patients find the experience pleasant, although they may be left with localized discoloration that will fade and disappear within a few days (up to a week). Curiously, cupping doesn’t always leave a mark, diagnostically supporting that there is no stagnation in that area.
Acupuncture is a licensed and regulated healthcare profession, but cupping and herbology do not require licensure. However, we strongly recommend that a licensed (or certified) practitioner perform this procedure.* We come by way of this 5,000-year-old tradition after 10 years of practice and previous to that, a four-year Master’s practice in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). We completed our training at the Five Branches Institute, where the course of study includes acupuncture and moxibustion, herbology (formula strategy), Tui Na (medical massage), dietetics, and Qigong (martial arts).
Amy Lafayette, L.Ac., and Lisa Sutton, L.Ac., currently practice in Los Angeles.
* Ask your practitioner if your state requires a license to practice. In states that do not currently require licensing, patients should ask their practitioner if they are certified by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies).