I did another photo shoot with Joanna Rees at the Taipei City Hospital this week. This month, one of Joanna’s photography assignments with Discover Taipei magazine required her to take photos of the ancient Chinese medical practices of cupping and gua sha (otherwise known as cupping).
In other words, I got a taste of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
When Jo asked me to be the model for her photo shoot, I balked initially and then thought, “Why not?”
I wanted to give it a try when I was in China, but I never had a good excuse. Jo’s offer seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Part of the joy of living abroad is trying new things and challenging yourself with activities you might not necessarily do back home. I knew there would be some bruising because my overall health is not good, but I also know this method of massage therapy is gaining momentum back home in North America, partly due to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow.
She sported her own tell-tale bruises at a New York film premier earlier this year.
Joanna and I met with Dr. Tzu Ying Lai at the hospital early Wednesday morning for a lesson in the different methods of cupping. I was a little nervous, but Joanna always takes charge quickly. Within minutes, she had the room set up the way she liked it and we were on our way.
I found myself draped over the back of a chair with the doctor hovering over me with funny looking cup and gun. I nervously started talking while she puttered around with cups on my back. She explained a good deal in the short amount of time we were there.
What is cupping?
Cupping is used to bring blood flow to the muscles and skin, which effectively drain excess fluid and toxins from deep connective tissues. It’s used to relieve pain and back stiffness.
Cupping is often used on adults and children for relieving cold, cough and asthmatic conditions. Dr. Tzu stressed several times that cupping opens up the meridians in the back, which stimulate the flow of blood and Qi.
Plastic cups are used with a manual pump to create a vacuum inside the cup which sucks the skin up into the cup. Whenever the cup loosened, Dr. Tzu would give it a blast with the pump and it would tighten everything up again. It was a little uncomfortable for awhile and then I got used to it.
Next, Dr. Tzu demonstrated with glass cups. These look like little clear fishbowls. They come in different sizes and are used with heat. A cotton ball is soaked with alcohol. The cotton is ignited and placed in the open end of the cup to create a vaccuum, which sucks all the air out of the cup. The cup is then placed over the affected area. Dr. Tzu pressed down on the outer edge of the cup and my skin to remove each cup.
I found it interesting to learn that home cupping is becoming more and more popular in Taiwan. Dr. Tzu told us plastic set of cups with a pump that can be purchased at local pharmacies.
People are buying their own sets and practicing at home. People come to Dr. Tzu at the hospital to take ‘cupping classes.’
There are two main techniques for cupping:
Stationary cups are placed on the skin and left for five to fifteen minutes. Dr. Tzu feels this method is especially useful when treating coughs and colds. It is thought cupping brings the infection to the surface. When your skin turns red this means the blood has been brought to the surface, along with all the nasty toxins and infection that makes you sick.
Moving ‘massage’ cups require a heavy dose of oil or a menthol balm to facilitate smooth and even strokes. Despite the oil, I found this method much more painful than the stationary cups. I could hardly bare it for more than a few seconds before I asked Dr. Tzu to stop.
All in all, I found my first cupping experience interesting.
It didn’t work for my health issues, though, and I wouldn’t do it again.
I’ve learned there is a lot to be said about traditional Chinese medical practices in China and Taiwan, but my overall conclusion after multiple visits to different TCM doctors in China and Taiwan is that this does not work for Ankylosing Spondylitis and Fibromyalgia.
For another inside look into the world of cupping, check out Jan Shim’s blog, Shimworld. Jan writes about his own personal experience with cupping and features some rather interesting self-portraits of his body after a cupping session. I’m glad I didn’t find his blog until after my appointment.