Along with acupuncture, cupping is an effective healing tool that’s a part of Chinese medicine. It’s an ancient technique that uses the action of suction for therapeutic effects. Ironically my first encounter with this Chinese technique occurred in Russia.
In the summer of 1993, my mother and I traveled St. Petersburg to visit my brother, Brek, who was teaching English and learning Russian. From St. Petersburg, the three of us took the overnight train to Moscow to visit with friends of Brek’s host family for a week. By the time we arrived in Moscow, all the travel had caught up with me, and I came down with a bad chest cold.
Wanting to help, the woman we were staying with offered to cup my back. She said that cupping would help open up my chest and clear my cough. At the time, I’d never heard of cupping, but was sick and curious enough to give it a try. And so she cupped me; using oils and glass cups on my upper back, sliding the cups while retaining suction. At one point she asked for feedback through my brother, who was translating, as she spoke no English. Because it was my first experience with cupping, the sensation was strong and I didn’t quite know what to expect or how long this would go on. I replied that it was a little intense and asked if she could slow down. And my dear brother replied back to her, “She loves it, keep going”!
When I think about it now, I laugh (and have totally forgiven my brother). But the bigger story is that despite leaving the characteristic red and purple marks on my back, the cupping released my lungs and helped to clear up my cough and phlegm.
In addition to being used for upper respiratory conditions, cupping is an effective treatment for a number of conditions. It’s often used for muscle pain, tightness, and spasms. Cups are commonly applied to a patient’s back. It helps increase blood flow to your spinal nerves that affect your entire body, and as a way to open up the energetic points and pathways along your back that also affect the function of your internal organs. Cupping may be used to effectively treat digestive problems, Bell’s palsy (a type of facial paralysis), and skin conditions, such as shingles and acne. And many patients request cupping because it’s relaxing and provides a general feeling of overall well-being.
Today I use a variety of cups and cupping techniques at BodaHealth to help people with all kinds of symptoms and conditions. But little did I know that day in Moscow, that just a few years later I would be learning how to do cupping for my own patients!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.