Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for more than 2,500 years. While practices like herbal medicine and acupuncture may come to mind when thinking of this type of medicine, a lesser-known form of therapy has been at the forefront of Western culture: cupping. Glass cups, heat, strange-looking bruises and more are all compliments of cupping therapy. Even if you may not be familiar with cupping, famous athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps have used this form of therapy to enhance their performance. Some groups even claim cupping therapy can help alleviate anxiety, manage pain, treat blood disorders, and more. So without further adieu, here’s how this mysterious therapy works.

The ancient practice of cupping

There are two types of cupping: wet cupping and dry cupping. For both kinds, a licensed cupping therapist will heat up glass or silicone cups. Then, the heated cups are applied to the skin along the meridians in the body on one’s back. This basically acts as a reverse massage. Whereas massaging pushes the muscles down to relax them, cupping uses a suctioning technique to pull the skin, muscles, and blood up instead of down. With dry cupping, the cups will stay in place for about 10 minutes. With wet cupping, the therapist will apply massage oil to the skin before applying the cups and move the cups around the body. About five to seven cups will be applied in one session. After cupping, you’ll likely develop circular bruises on your back. This is because the cups also bring blood up to the surface of the skin. While these bruises may look gruesome, cupping isn’t supposed to be painful.

Stimulate life energy

Cupping therapy is believed to stimulate the flow of qi (chi). This is considered to be the vital energy that is constantly circulating through the body and throughout our environment. Many people believe if one’s qi is interrupted, imbalances in the body will occur. These imbalances manifest as pain and other disorders. Cupping, therefore, removes these imbalances by restoring life energy.

Although the exact origins of cupping are highly debated, the practice can be traced back to as early as 1550 B.C. Early Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek civilizations used cupping to “treat” a variety of conditions and internal diseases. Today, The British Cupping Society claims cupping can help migraines, blood disorders, pain, arthritis, eczema, acne, anxiety, depression, allergies, asthma, and even varicose veins. However, if you do decide to pursue cupping therapy, you should always proceed with caution. Technically, the “benefits” of cupping have been unfounded. Scientific research has been unable to attribute cupping therapy to the wide array of benefits other groups claim. However, the effectiveness of cupping therapy all comes down to how you feel. If cupping helps with any condition you’re suffering from, that is a good anecdotal indicator that it works for you.

Finding a cupping therapist

If you’re interested in cupping therapy, make sure you visit a licensed professional. This can be a particularly dangerous method if a therapist is inexperienced. Before booking an appointment, you may want to speak with your doctor. Cupping therapy is not recommended for those who suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. In addition, cupping may cause skin irritations or infections where the cups are applied. When it comes to budget, cupping therapy generally ranges from $40 to $80 per session. Each session lasts about 30 minutes. After your first cupping session, pay close attention to the way you feel. People who use cupping should wait at least five days before they pursue another session. Although the benefits of cupping therapy are highly debated, it’s a practice that has survived centuries.