I Tried It: Cupping, the Ancient Healing Therapy That's Taking the Olympics By Storm

Cupping Phelps - Lead

“Kim, I saw you at the gym this morning—have you been (long pause…) cupping?" Exclaimed my Fashion News Director Eric Wilson, who was witness to the red and purple circle bruises all over my back. “Indeed, I have,” I said in an abnormally calm voice, a voice which I can only attribute to the 3,000 year old ancient tension relief treatment that caused those aforementioned bruises.

I’m a sucker for trying anything that will help alleviate stress in my body, yet somehow, despite my obsession with fitness and overall wellness, I had still not tried cupping.

But last week as the Olympics kicked off and the world watched Michael Phelps and other swimmers display pronounced cupping marks all over their bodies, I finally decided it was time I give it a whirl.

The next evening, I found myself lying nude on a massage table at Exhale Spa, ready for Robert MacDonald, the spa’s director of healing, to work his magic on my extremely tight back muscles. “I’m going to try two different types of cupping on you—one old school and one newer aged cupping style that involves fire,” he said. Fire? Now I was officially nervous, but I nestled my head down into the cradle and hoped for the best.

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MacDonald placed one cup at a time on my back, then suctioned out the air in each cup, leading to bulges in the skin as the impurities and toxins were pulled out of my skin. One by one my skin turned red and purple as the suctioning continued. It didn’t hurt, although it looks as though it is nothing short of pure torture. It actually felt like a deep tissue massage on the spots where the cups were placed. After placing about 6 cups on my back and keeping them on for 10-15 minutes, he added the second kind of cup (here’s where the fire comes in), glass cups which are heated up with a flame, then placed on the pack and moved up and down, sort of like a heated massage. These were my favorite kind of cups. I felt my muscle tension melting away under the warmth of the heat.

After a few minutes playing with fire, he then released the suction in the original cups and removed all of them, leaving me with (completely painless but very prominent) welted red circles all over my back. “wait that’s it, it’s over?” I exclaimed as if I thought that something more extraordinary (or scary) was in the cards.

And that it was. He finished off the treatment with a few minutes of massage, then sent me on my way with a soothing class of Chamomile tea.

But the real question: how did I feel? I felt my severe back pain noticeably decrease as soon as I stood up, and a few days later it’s still less than it normally is. The bruising is not ideal for 90 degree summer days when strapless dresses are essential, but in a way, it’s kind of cool. After all, my bruises prove that I am one step closer to wellness, and definitely on trend—Michael Phelps has been rocking his welts like an Olympian, so I’m going to do the same.

Meanwhile, I’ll definitely be back for more.

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