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Fire Cupping

An Introduction to Fire Cupping

It sounds like a military interrogation method. Even the sight of the body of a person who has been fire cupped will make you want to ask a few probing questions. However, before you demand to know what military prison camp they had just been released from, you should know that fire cupping is a form of alternative medicine that has been safely practiced for thousands of years.

Fire cupping is a type of acupressure therapy; that is pressure applied to acupuncture points on the body. Specially designed glass cups are heated in such a way that when they are applied to the body a vacuum is created and the skin is gently pulled up into the cup.

Although the origins of fire cupping remain a mystery, the earliest recorded use of the procedure was in a book called: A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies by Ge Hong, a Taoist alchemist and herbalist. Mostly it was used to drain the toxins out of snake bites. Back then fire cupping was still fairly primitive and instead of the pretty glass cups you see today, people back then had to make do with animal horns.

As time passed by and fire cupping matured into a popular way to treat various diseases, people started making the cups out of better materials. For awhile bamboo and pottery were popular but the pottery cups broke too easily and bamboo cups fell apart after a few uses. Brass and iron were used for a time but the invention of glass cups quickly made them obsolete. Glass is now the preferred medium for fire cups because it is durable and allows the practitioner to see the skin through the cup.

In its simplest form, fire cupping is a type of deep tissue massage that promotes stress relief and relaxation. As a medicinal therapy, though, cupping has been used to treat a variety of diseases such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, colds, digestive diseases, musculoskeletal pain and some gynecological disorders.

Thoughts about the ability of fire cupping to treat disease vary widely. The American Cancer Society states that there is no scientific evidence that fire cupping is an effective treatment for cancer or any other disease. Instead Western medicine thinks that fire cupping helps stimulate circulation which in turn brings oxygen, white blood cells and lymph to affected areas which may alleviate symptoms of a disease rather than cure it.

On the other hand, practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine believe that a person’s chi, or vital energy, gets thrown out of balance when they are ill or have been injured. In Eastern society, it is thought that fire cupping pulls out blockages in the patient’s chi which allows energy to flow more freely and promote healing. Patients who have had fire cupping done report benefits that range from feelings of deep relaxation and pain relief to the actual curing of the common cold.

How is Fire Cupping done?
The aim of fire cupping is to get the cups to suction to the body of the patient. This vacuum created by the cups is thought to draw out impurities and balance the body’s chi. In ancient times, creating this vacuum was done by holding the cup over an open flame and then quickly attaching it to the body. One had to be very careful, though, to avoid heating the cup itself lest it burn the patient.

More modern techniques include swabbing the inside of the cup with rubbing alcohol and setting fire to it before placing the cup on the body. The vacuum created by the cup cuts off the fire’s oxygen causing it to burn out quickly. Some practitioners use kerosene instead of alcohol citing that kerosene’s ease of ignition produces a greater vacuum in the cup.

Another technique involves putting a cotton ball soaked in alcohol on a small leather pad which is then placed directly on the skin. The cotton ball is lit and the glass is placed on top of the whole thing. How quickly the flame extinguishes depends on the size and shape of the cup but, as you can imagine, the chance for getting burned is pretty high and not too many people use this method any more.

Luckily, cups are now made with a small crank or pump which is used to create the vacuum effect. Not only does this alleviate the dangers of using fire, it also allows the practitioner to control just how much suction is created in the cup.

Sometimes oil is applied to the skin which promotes greater suction and allows the cups to be easily moved around the body. A cup is removed by pressing the skin around its lip. This releases the built up pressure by gradually letting air inside. A typical cupping session lasts around 15 minutes.

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