I Tried Cupping and I'm Addicted

Call me Phelps. Michael Phelps.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Do you remember way back when the 2016 Olympics happened? I realize this is essentially ancient times at this point and I don't remember much from the whole thing (all I care about is the rowing!) but I DO remember that it got everybody talking: what are those marks all over Michael Phelps? Phelps had been cupping, my friends. And while I realize that that sounds exceptionally sexual, cupping is actually just a massage technique that can do wonders on your body. 

Being a yogi and general health enthusiast, I was pretty stoked to see cupping in the mainstream news. In the yoga world, I feel like everybody is a cupping convert. When the Olympics hit it felt like when you tell your friends about a new band you love, they all roll their eyes, and then six months later they won't shut up about said band. I knew that cupping was incredible, but I was SO excited to see that other people were starting to realize the good that it could do for their bodies.

After getting in my car accident I've been in a lot of pain. It is a dull, lingering pain that makes everyday life unmanageable at times. I'm the type of person that starts to feel insane if I don't get a solid sweat session in everyday, so after a few months of minimal movement I was starting to feel less and less like myself. I've been getting therapeutic massage a few times per week to help with my injuries and have found an incredible massage practitioner who totally understands my need to not just feel better, but to be able to move like I used to. After we both felt like my injuries were getting worse, not better, she suggested that we try cupping to see how it felt.

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Holy. Shit.

This could not have come at a better time. The night before my cupping appointment my neck completely cramped up in the middle of the night. I woke up yelping in pain and couldn't move my head from side to side, so I was basically Robot Lizzie. I felt stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable. I tried to do yoga, but my neck barked at me and I was almost in tears when I got to my appointment. Recovering from whiplash has been a slow and frustrating path, so I went in without much expectation. At the very least, I hoped to feel a little more mobile.

You guys, it was amazing. I've had cupping done once previously, but it was just to try it out and not to target a specific area. HOLY SHIT this was so good. I am so excited. I can't wait to tell you all about it. 

Fresh outta cupping.

Fresh outta cupping.

What is cupping?

Cupping (or sometimes called cupping therapy) is a massage method that goes way, way back. This is not a new thing. It is thousands of years old, and v famous medical human Hippocrates himself even wrote about it. It's still considered to be a form of alternative medicine. Essentially, cupping uses suction to treat muscle pain. I've heard it described as the opposite of massage: while massage works to rub into your muscles, cupping is essentially trying to do the exact opposite by pulling your muscles out. One friend also told me that cupping is thought to get to parts of your body that massage can't always access. Who knew?!

How do they do it?

I could go on and on about the process of cupping, but then this post would turn into a novel and neither of us would ever finish it. Essentially your practitioner lubes you up and then targets the areas of tension in your body. I feel the most pain in my neck and shoulders right now, so she started placing the cups across my upper back. The cups are made out of glass and look vaguely like big syringes.

Using suction, the pump attached to the cup starts to create a little vacuum inside of the cup. The skin gets sucked out and makes a little bubble, similar to when you were a kid (ahem, or a grown-ass woman) and you would put a plastic cup over your mouth and then inhale until it stuck to your face. The cups stay on for up to 15 minutes, sometimes way less. My practitioner also moved some of my cups around to help her massage my shoulders. While the cups were in place, she massaged my lower back. I realize that 15 minutes with cups attached to my back might sound like an eternity, but I swear it flew by.

Does it hurt?

Not at all! The only uncomfortable aspect of cupping that I've run into is that when your back is covered in cups, your skin is stretched tightly across your chest which can make it a little awkward to breathe deeply. After cupping I look like I lost a dance battle to an octopus, but it doesn't hurt one bit. I was definitely a little tender afterwards in my neck and shoulder area, but I attribute that more to having been smashed pretty hard a few months ago and my body adjusting to what normal should feel like. Touching the cupping marks after the appointment also didn't hurt- they were just a little bit tender to the touch, similar to a light bruise. 

How do you feel after?

As mentioned I was living in a robotic state (read: my neck was stiffer than stiff), but immediately after my session I felt mobility through my upper body that I hadn't felt in weeks. I could move my neck! I could roll my shoulders! I was advised not to do any intense working out for 8 hours after, so I stuck with some light yin yoga at home and was careful not to demonstrate anything too vigorously while I was teaching that night. I can get really into teaching sometimes (I just love it so much), so this was particularly important. Just like you should after a massage, I drank lots of water and supplemented with some electrolyte drops to make sure I was adequately hydrated. The next day- after an incredible night of sleep- I was able to practice yoga poses that I haven't been able to access for weeks. My marks lasted for a few days, but had faded within the week. I am so addicted, you guys. It might not be for everyone (is anything, though?) but my body responds so, so well to cupping. I'm so glad I tried it.

V official bathroom picture taken a few days after my appointment.

V official bathroom picture taken a few days after my appointment.

I should add- while you can buy some kits for cupping online, I would 100% recommend going and seeing a professional to get this service done. When done well, cupping is amazing and will make your body feel relaxed. When done wrong (or with the wrong preparation), cupping can cause gnarly blistering on the skin, painful bruises, and other uncomfortable problems that are avoidable. You get what you pay for, but the cost is totally worth the relief you'll feel. Also dudes, I am not a doctor! This is just my own experience and what worked for me. 

Have you tried cupping? Let me know! Also, if you have any other questions about this whole octopus-attack method of massage, give me a shout.

Have a rad day,