3 questions for a cupping expert

Cupping doesn’t always involve fire and glass. At EQX Body Lab, therapists take a flame-free approach, creating suction with silicone Rock Pods instead. That means easy application and no risk of pain or scarring.

When you schedule a session, expect to be more engaged than you would be during a relaxing massage. “It’s more interactive than traditional bodywork is,” says Kelly Baker, area manager for EQX Body Lab in New York City. “We want you to be an active participant so you can get more out of it.” 

In the latest installment of our 3 Questions series, Baker explains what the infamous marks signify (and what they don’t), how cupping can lead to better yoga form, and more. 

Do the leftover marks reflect how effective your session was?

"No. People think the darker they are and the longer they last, the more benefits they're getting. But we elicit the same responses regardless of how noticeable they are or whether they fade quickly or not.

One of the ways cupping works is by using negative pressure, essentially a vacuum effect, to create more space in the underlying areas to improve range of motion, blood flow, and inflammation. In that sense, it's similar to kinesiology taping and the opposite of massage, which involves downward compression. The marks left behind from cupping are a normal reaction to that suction. If you have good circulation throughout the body they'll disappear more quickly."

Are there new applications for the treatment?

"The cups are traditionally applied while you're lying down, but now we're seeing the benefits of pairing it with movement. There are two ways you can stimulate change in motion.

The first is through haptic cues, which provide tactile feedback and neurostimulus to improve your sensory map of the body. One of my colleagues had a client who couldn't get into Cat-Cow pose and spent weeks trying to figure out how to coach him through it. One day, she placed the Rock Pods all along the side of his spine and she said, 'Push through this cup. Now push through this one.' As they went down the thoracic spine, the client was actually moving it correctly. He needed that tactile awareness to understand which body parts to engage.

The second is with visual cues. For example, if you don't know how to use the scapula for strong arm drive while running, you can stand between two mirrors with one cup on each shoulder blade. To teach you how to retract the scapula (draw them together), I'd ask you to inch the cups toward each other until they touch. Watching them shift allows you to understand how your body is moving."

What's the best time to schedule a session?

"You don't want to do anything too aggressive or different in the days leading up to a race. Instead, do it before personal training. If you're working on squats that day and your ankle mobility is compromised, we can cup along the calves or peroneals in the lower legs while taking them through that range of motion. You'll immediately see minor changes that will allow for a better workout.

Like taping, cupping is an as-needed treatment and a wonderful addition to your regular routine, but it doesn't take the place of manual manipulation. Use it between massage sessions to make the benefits last."

This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.

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