Well, it looks like cupping is back and trendier than ever.
Though the wellness therapy dates back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern cultures, it seems to experience something of a renaissance every time a circle-pocked Olympic swimmer dives into competition. Much like they have this month in Tokyo.
When Michael Phelps earned his 19th gold medal covered in small purple circles back in 2016, global searches for the treatment exploded into the millions. People wondered what cupping was, and what possible benefits it could deliver.
Just as they are now, with searches hitting a five-year high.
“My approach has been to combine Chinese Medicine principles and Western therapeutic methods to give the internal systems a ‘kick’,” says Ada Ooi, founder of 001 Skincare London and one of the city’s most sought-after holistic wellness specialists. “Cupping does so by aligning bodily functions, removing toxins and strengthening the immune system. It kick-starts the healing process by bringing oxygen to the particular area to loosen tension and enhance qi flow around the body.”
In the last fifteen years, Ooi has perfected the practice of both static and moving (or ‘flow’) cupping. Static cupping being a highly-targeted practice in which suction cups are placed on the skin and left there, and moving cupping being a more massage-like practice in which cups are moved along body’s meridian or lymphatic channels with light suction.
As the blood is not brought to one area for a long period of time, ‘bruising’ typically doesn’t occur in the latter.
“This way of cupping enhances blood circulation, stimulates the organ systems, relieves built-up tension and encourages the removal of waste,” she says.
Much like increasingly Westernized ‘Gua Sha’ scraping treatments, cupping creates broken blood vessels just beneath the skin to break up adhesions that may be blocking the flow of qi and nutrients to different parts of the body.
As a result, the circular marks left on the body in static cupping are believed to indicate the level of blood and Qi stagnation, toxin accumulation, or dampness accumulation in your body.
“Everybody is different by nature and they react differently to cupping but, as a general rule, the darker the color, the more stagnation present,” she says.
“While Gua Sha gives more mobility and flexibility to a treatment, I find cupping is especially great for people who might have been suffering from chronic tension, to a point that their ‘knots’ are too hard or too sore to touch.”
While many people will indeed continue to undergo the treatment for help with pain, inflammation and blood flow issues, there is also a growing number of clients giving it a go for well-being and self-care.
Particularly, as its A-list influence grows.
When photos of Hailey Bieber donning the tell-tale bruises hit the internet last month, archived images of Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow—all with cupping marks of their own—were shared in succession.
Ooi does note, however, that it is not simply a beauty treatment, placing high importance on aftercare.
“Like with Gua Sha, I suggest you avoid showering at least two hours after body cupping, and keep yourself very warm to avoid any dampness,” she says, explaining the body can quickly perceive dampness as cold. “It’s the last thing you want while your blood vessels are wide open and active.”
Which, perhaps, helps us understand just how important it’s become for Olympic swimmers to use cupping in their wet and wild training routines.