By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

Cupping may be trending now, but it’s nothing new. After all, the modern breast pump was inspired by the same cupping therapy espoused by Hippocrates, approved by the prophet Muhammed, and whose roots tunnel back 3,000 years into the past to ancient China. The enduring use of cupping therapy throughout the ages and across the globe speaks to its timeless efficacy.

Utilizing cups can be a new or updated approach for you to relieve pain, promote fascial health, and reduce stagnation in the body for your clients—and for yourself! In your sessions, cups can give your hands a respite from repetitive use. And in your own self-care at home, cups can relieve tension from overuse in your forearms and shoulders, relieve low-back stiffness from standing all day, and replenish circulation from your head to your toes after a day of sharing, connecting, and giving. Even after a brief period of practice and exploration, we were amazed at how quickly we felt the benefits of cupping. We are excited about sharing an effective new modality with our clients and feeling the refreshment of our own energy system that comes from regularly using cups on ourselves.      

Simply defined, cupping therapy utilizes negative pressure (akin to a vacuum suction) to increase the circulation of blood and qi. As bodyworkers, we are more familiar with using positive pressure, like deep-tissue compression. The negative pressure created by the suction may be used with a sliding approach, or the cups may be placed in stationary locations in one or more areas of the body. Studies demonstrate that cupping impacts blood vessels up to four inches deep to the skin, making this a great modality to assist in encouraging lymph flow and promoting the movement of qi.

It is NOT a Bruise!

One of the most visible side effects of cupping are the round pink-to-red-to-purplish blemishes left on the body from stationary cups or the pinkish-red patches temporarily etched on the skin from sliding cups. This is not bruising. Bruises occur from impact to the body and are generally painful. The circular colorations on the skin created from cupping are not the result of impact, nor should they be painful.

In Western medical terms, marks left by cupping can be referred to as petechiae (puh-TEE-kee-ee), which are the tiny red dots resulting from blood leaking from capillaries under your skin from sliding cups. Blood collecting under the tissue in larger flat areas, when using stationary cups, is referred to as purpura (PUR-pyr-uh). In a very large area, the general term used is ecchymosis (ek-uh-MOH-sis). 

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), these circular blemishes are a result of stagnation or sha (pronounced saw) as blood moves from deeper to more superficial areas of the body where it may be more easily recirculated. Sha or stagnation may be viewed through a physical lens—such as poor circulation, lymphatic congestion, digestive sluggishness, edema, excess mucus, areas of ischemia, bound fascia, lack of mobility, etc. Stagnation may also be viewed through an energetic lens: procrastination, rumination, fatigue, depression, etc. 

An ecchymosis or sha mark generally takes 3–5 days to fade away, a clear distinction from a bruise (which can about two weeks to fade1). And over time and regular use, these marks (and therefore stagnation) will no longer appear. If you dislike the marks, you don’t have to have them—you can leave cups on for shorter amounts of time and use less intense suction/negative pressure.

Types of Cups

Cups come in a multitude of sizes, materials, and price points. They can be tiny or large; glass, plastic, or silicon; and range in price from hundreds of dollars to under $20. We prefer to use reasonably priced silicon cups that don’t require any extra tools to create the suction over those that utilize an assortment of vacuuming hoses and tubes, or the traditional TCM approach of an alcohol-dipped cotton ball lit on fire with a glass cup. The concern with this last approach is that glass can shatter—and the worst case scenarios seem to happen the most with this last approach. These extra props can be an unnecessary added step, especially when there are many cups that only require a gentle squeeze to create optimal negative pressure.


Sliding Cups

You’ll need to apply a lubricant to assist in moving and sliding the cups. We prefer using oil over lotion to help the cups glide more easily. With silicon cups, you can easily adjust the amount of suction by how much you squeeze the cups before applying them to the skin. Always choose a level of myofascial decompression that provides a visible vacuum that raises the skin without causing pain or pinching.

As you move the cups over areas of resistance, you may notice the movement becomes more difficult and the sensation may become more edgy. This is often indicative of an area of bound fascia or stagnation. Consider slowing down, pausing, or releasing the cup and reapply using a gentler level of suction. With repeated passes and over time, you may notice that you can increase the suction intensity without creating the same edgy sensation in future self-care sessions. This adaptation is a clear sign of healthy progression and improved circulation. 

Consider focusing on areas where you may want a little extra TLC, like your forearms, IT band, hips, low back, or chest. The direction you move the cups is up to you. If you’re going for lymphatic drainage, move in the direction of the nearest watershed areas, or lymph nodes. If you want to release tension you can move parallel to the muscle fibers similar to longitudinal friction, or (for more intensity) consider circular or cross-fiber movements. In general, we prefer to move very slowly, perhaps slowly enough to see the blood, or sha, moving to the surface before moving forward.

Stationary Cups

Leaving cups stationary, in one area, is even easier than using moving cups, and they can be placed on the shoulders, chest, low back, forearms, or any areas of tension. They may also be placed over acupressure points to bring more blood and qi to an area. It is recommended that cups be left on one area for no more than 15 minutes, but you may want to start with only a few minutes, keeping a keen eye to watch for changes in coloration. Dark red or purplish marks that begin forming quite suddenly may be indicative of excess sha or stagnation, and we recommend removing the cups before dramatic coloration and/or pinching occur. If cup marks appear afterward, please wait until the marks disappear before using cups on the same area again.

Curiosity as Self-Care

Cupping swung open the door to our curiosity, and through that curiosity we discovered something new that allowed us to keep learning. Plus, it sparked passion! Using curiosity as a self-care move allows us to continue evolving our practice.

For us—and for right now—cupping has opened us up to play. It has also prompted us to question how else (and with whom else) we can use these new-to-us ancient tools. We are excited, we are having fun, and we want to tell everyone. It is our wish that you continue to find what sparks curiosity in you.


Please avoid cupping if on blood thinners or if there is a history of anemia, blood disorders, cirrhosis, leukemia, renal failure, or thrombosis, or if you have a high fever. Please do not apply cups over areas of acute inflammation, broken bones, dermatitis, open sores, or varicose veins.


1. TeensHealth from Nemours, “Bruises,” reviewed August 2018,

2. Live CE Cupping Training with Medical Qigong Master Peter Paul S.T. Chow, L.Ac., Phoenix, AZ, October 2019.

Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead mindful workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, including Thailand and France, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 17 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online trainings, which may be found at