What Is Cupping Therapy?

09.12.2019

Our new silicone cupping enhancement.



In a $4-a-cup New York coffee shop last summer, it was hard not to notice the two beautiful women who sat down casually to chat under the backyard trellis, both just happening to wear skinny, scooped-out tanks that exposed a half dozen large, perfectly round bruises stamped across their chests and backs. Super casual—and a major statement. 

But what does it mean? Bruises are rarely something to advertise, and even more rarely a sign of health or wellness. In this case, the bruises were from cupping, an ancient body therapy that’s been used for literally thousands of years and—more pressingly—does not need to leave marks at all.  

What Does Cupping Therapy Do?  

This is a simple question with a beautifully simple (and, for me, slightly mind-bending) answer. Think for a minute about the basics of what the body is capable of doing: arms and legs move up and down; torsos bend; fingers point and curl. If you’re lucky enough to be healthy and fully able, you can control the shape and motion of your body in almost endless combinations. But what if you want to get inside your body and make an adjustment? More specifically, what if the muscles in a certain area are compacted and tight? A traditional deep-tissue massage is one answer. The massage therapist’s fingers press down into muscles and spread them out in a beneficial direction, encouraging them to expand and release tension.  

Cupping therapy is another option, except it doesn’t press muscles down and out. It pulls muscles and other tissue up. In other words—here’s the mind-bending part—one way to think of cupping is as a reverse massage. “We have in our brain as massage therapists: ‘Compression, compression, compression—press down!,’” says Monique Blake, Mynd’s National Director of Body. “And cupping is the opposite. It’s creating more space.”  

How Does Cupping Therapy Work? 

The main mechanism of cupping therapy is suction. At Mynd, technicians use soft, rounded silicone cups, squeezing them in the right spot to create a vacuum. They then apply the cups to trigger points on the body or glide them along the body. (Everyone needs to try the cupping gliding therapy technique at least once—it feels great.) Depending on where a cup is placed, skin, muscle, and other tissue get pulled into the cup, encouraging circulation and creating space. Cups vary in size depending on the area being treated. 

What Is Mynd’s Approach to Cupping? 

Two other common methods of cupping involve cups made out of glass, where a small fire is lit and extinguished within the cup, causing a natural vacuum, and rigid plastic cups, which are attached to a suction machine. These two types of cups are often used as part of alternative medicine geared toward the ancient Chinese concept of meridians and Qi energy. (They may also involve an acupuncture-like technique in which small incisions are made in the skin.)  

The soft, silicone cups that Mynd Spa & Salon uses could be applied to the meridian lines, too, Blake tells us, “but for us, the focus is really the musculoskeletal system, the lymphatic system, and the nervous system. We’re looking at cupping therapy more from a Western-anatomical versus an Eastern-anatomical perspective.” (Also important to note: During cupping therapy at Mynd, incisions are never made in the skin.) 

What Are the Benefits of Cupping Therapy? 

The style of cupping therapy that Mynd technicians use is “really great for unraveling the fascia,” Blake tells us. And what’s the fascia? “Think of it as a body stocking. It’s this thin sheet of connective tissue that covers all of our internal organs, sits underneath our skin, and responds to stress—perceived or real—by tightening or becoming thick and dense. When it does that, it creates restrictions in the body, whether it’s musculoskeletal restrictions or emotional restrictions. So we want to find a way to keep the fascia soft and flowing.”  

Cupping therapy is one option, says Blake. By creating space in the fascia, cupping increases blood circulation, which, she notes, “is very healing. We want to have blood flowing through the muscles, because that’s what nourishes the muscles.” 

Mynd technicians use cups in two different ways: by placing them on the body and leaving them there for 1 to 3 minutes and by moving them across the skin, gently lifting up skin and tissue as they travel. The moving or gliding cupping method can help to flush the lymphatic system. “We can use it not only for post-workout,” says Blake, “but for cellulite.”  

When technicians use the other technique—letting cups rest on specific areas—they’re usually targeting trigger points. What’s a trigger point? “A trigger point is hyper-irritated tissue, but it’s not just a sore point, and it’s different from a knot,” Blake explains. Unlike a knot—a tight muscle or cluster of muscles—“a trigger point is very local. It’s a point on the body that often refers pain to somewhere else. For example, if I press on a certain trigger point in the back, you might feel pain all the way down the leg.” Blake adds: “We can map out trigger points on the body. Some are latent. Some are active. Trigger points can cause all kinds of problems and types of pain—different from what tight muscles do.” Stationary cupping therapy lifts up the tissue in specific areas which can deactivate trigger points and increase blood flow. 

But What About Cupping Bruises? 

“If you’re using traditional glass cups or the vacuum sets, you can get cupping bruises,” Blake tells us. She explains that this is because these styles of cupping are often focused on the alternative-medicine concept of Qi, which involves detoxification and release of “stagnant” blood. When used this way, the glass and vacuum-machine cups “are stuck on the body for longer periods of time—maybe 5 minutes or more. And it’s a much higher level of pressure,” Blake tells us.  

She continues: “It was a little tricky when I was deciding to use silicone cups [at Mynd] because I wanted to make it clear to the guest—and the service provider—that if you didn’t get a bruise, it still worked. There’s an image out there with cupping therapy that if you don’t get a bruise, then you didn’t get a treatment’”—which is not the case.  

Silicone cups can be used in such a way as to cause bruising, she adds, “but that’s not our intention. Our intention with cupping therapy is to focus more on sedating the nervous system, flushing the lymph, and working with the musculoskeletal system—deactivating trigger points.”  

One of the best applications of cupping is as an alternative to deep-tissue massage, which some people find too intense or even painful. Blake explains, “It’s really great for people who need deep-tissue work but are uncomfortable with the pressure. I call this ‘deep tissue in a cup.’ Because you can get the same results without the pressure.” 

Cupping Therapy Details: 

Cupping therapy ($25) can be added as an enhancement to Mynd massages of any length: Mini (25 minutes), Essential (50 minutes), or Escape (80 minutes). You can choose to experiment with cupping for just a portion of your treatment or ask your technician to spend most of his or her time on the technique. “We want to warm up the tissue before we perform cupping, so we’d want to do some hands-on massage therapy, but we could spend most of the time on cupping,” Blake says, depending on your preferences.