Cupping

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When actress Gwyneth Paltrow stepped out onto the red carpet bearing the marks of an ancient healing technique above the back line of her glamorous evening gown, it caused quite a media frenzy. What were these peculiar, circular bruises in aid of? Had Miss Paltrow been the subject of some barbarous act of torture?

For those in the know it was obvious that Gwyneth had had a cupping session - a three thousand year old therapy that is still leaving its mark in the medical world today.

So what can you expect when you go for a cupping session? In this day and age, glass cups are used. Three thousand years ago, bamboo, animal horn or brass - if you could afford it - were the order of the day. In fact, the old Chinese name for cupping was 'horning'.

Traditionally, the cups are heated with alcohol and flame on the inside to reduce the pressure, then placed over the skin. As the cup cools down, the skin is sucked up inside.

The newest innovation in cupping does away with the dangerous flame and uses a pump action instead. This is also a much more accurate way of gauging the degree of suction and, of course, eliminates the risk of burning.

Doctors of traditional Chinese medicine and practitioners of Japanese shiatsu therapy, place the cups at various positions along the meridian lines. These are the same lines used in acupuncture. There are five meridians on the back and these are usually targeted, particularly the bladder meridian.

It is possible to cup the hands, legs and ankles too. By cupping these meridian lines, specific organs in the body can be targeted.

Cupping is generally used by practitioners if there is cold energy in the patient's meridians. The warm air from the cupping stimulates the skin, and the suction coaxes blood to the area which promotes localised healing. The chi is warmed and starts to flow freely down the meridians.

Many diseases and disorders can benefit from cupping. The earliest writings found on the therapy from ancient China recommend its use in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Today, cupping is still used for respiratory disease, as well as digestive and gynaecological disorders, headaches and dizziness, and lymphatic blockages. The common cold can be tackled with cupping, as can insomnia and, of course, soft tissue injuries.

The bruises resulting from cupping are not painful and only last a couple of days. If you are keen to experience this therapy for yourself, be sure to go to a trained practitioner; someone who can tell where you need a bit of extra energy and where you don't.

Cupping is not only traditionally practised in China and Japan, it is also a traditional healing method in Arab cultures where it is called Al-hijamah. Now that it has hit Hollywood, it will probably take over the world.

So next time you spy Gwyneth on the red carpet covered in bruises, rest assured, she hasn't gotten herself into a fight. She's just putting a bit of time and effort into her health. It takes a lot of energy to be a mother and a movie star.