Chinese Medicine

Cupping As a Tool For Health

I was recently asked for a short article on cupping as a part of Chinese Medicine, it has appeared in Acu, the magazine of the British Acupuncture Council. My thanks to them for asking for it and publishing my thoughts. Here is a copy of the article:

There are many stages to helping a person to heal, but the overall strategy must be to get the person to trust and respect themselves again. So often the disease causes a breakdown of this trust and is itself often a product of this erosion of trust. No healing can succeed if this trust is not re-established; without this return of trust there will only be the obscenity of “managing disease”.

To re-establish trust there needs to be respect in all our dealings with the whole person. As practitioners we are not only courteous to the outer person but to their life-force and their life processes, including disease processes; for all disease processes have a purpose and a journey in themselves. If we do not understand this purpose and direction, how can we work with the person to further their own connection with themselves and so help them to “health”? If we think disease is meaningless and stupid, how can we help the person to reconnect and to enhance their experience and trust of their own precious life process?

One expression of this courtesy is in the tools we use to “touch” their lives. At first glance, needles might seem an odd way of respecting and touching a person. But it is all in the way they are wielded. A number of years ago I was honoured to treat some people who had been physically tortured. The perceived wisdom was that using needles would only reinforce the trauma (this misconception later stopped the project), but my and the peoples’ experience was that the body having a health-giving response to physical stimulation was a wonderfully healing and liberating, even redeeming experience.

Even more than needles, cupping is often seen as a blunt instrument. I think this is missing the point. The body (and by body I mean the whole manifest experience of life) is accustomed, in this modern society, to only experiencing a few strong sensations. This might be loving, or adventure, but by and large the strongest sensation for most people is pain and illness. This seems to have had a negative effect on our perception of strong sensation. We need to reclaim strong sensation as part of being alive; strong sensation is transformative and has the power to re-set redundant patterns. Used strongly on a patient with a body-memory of trauma, cups can be unbearable, but when used softly that trauma can dissolve. I have also seen this with guasha or massage but cupping is quicker and gentle than both.

In Chinese medicine pain is always dispersed, the experience is not wasted. Pain is caused by the accumulation of blood (stabbing pain), qi (moving pain) or fluids – causing dryness or oedema (ache). When we move or clear this we can expect to body to bring the experience of pain into balance and it becomes a stimulus for, and part of, the healing (though, in my view, the pain from cancer may be an exception to this). We can achieve this in many ways – gently touching the cause so the body moves again, or through stronger stimulus like a strong needling technique. guasha, tuina, herbal formulae or cupping.

In my experience cupping is endlessly versatile. For instance, over the years I have notice a correlation between old blocks from fear that are reported in the case history and the appearance of a layer of internal cold showing on the pulse – using cupping to disperse the internal cold and we see the old trauma no longer blocking the persons experience. Here as in all things in energy medicine, we can only treat it when it is showing itself to the practitioner.

We have the techniques of static cupping, moving cupping, flash cupping, and other variations all of which can be applied to fit the situation. For appropriately moving qi, blood and fluids there is no better way. But these are only words the real magic is in our interaction with the life of the person in a meaningful way.

Michael Pringle initially qualified in 1982 in Chinese medicine and has been learning, treating and teaching ever since. He lives in South Devon with his partner and two children. A full article “Some Thoughts on Fire Cupping” Michael Pringle is available from JCM article archive JCM 83/46. Contact details at