During the Rio Olympics, the Internet was abuzz with questions about those purple circular marks on swimmer Michael Phelps’ skin.Was it a rash? A hickey from a crazed fan? The Zika virus?

Getty Images

Getty Images

After much speculation, it was confirmed that the marks were the result of Cupping Therapy-a treatment dating back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese cultures. For centuries, ancient healers from around the world have used this method to purge toxins from the body, as well as to draw out evil spirits.

While athletes might use Cupping to reduce stiffness and muscle cramps, it is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative therapy thought to relieve everything from pain and anxiety to congestion and other ailments.

If you’ve been curious about what all the hype is about, here’s a basic intro:

Cupping is a non-invasive healing therapy, getting its name from the cups used to create vacuums over affected points of the body. It actually acts as the reverse of regular massage treatments; instead of applying pressure, Cupping uses suction to pull away from the skin.

Although there are several different methods, Fire Cupping is the most traditionally used. By quickly heating the inside of the cup with fire, oxygen is removed, creating a vacuum when applied to the skin. (A modern method that Phelps was treated with uses cups attached to mechanical suction pumps instead.)

Amaluna Acupuncture & Wellness

Amaluna Acupuncture & Wellness

During Stationary cupping therapy, about 4 to 6 cups adhere to targeted areas of the skin for about 15 to 20 minutes. These cups are usually made of glass, bamboo or plastic.

Massage Cupping is an alternative method that uses oil applied to the skin, allowing the therapist to glide silicone cups in a smooth, consistent movement. This motion is thought to release rigid soft tissue, drain excess fluids and toxins and increase blood flow to stagnant skin and muscles.

The Chinese believe that ailments happen when the “qi” or “chi” life force of the body is disrupted, and the suction used can restore this equilibrium by stimulating local acupuncture points.

While most commonly used on the back, neck and shoulders, the therapy can be used almost anywhere on the body including the feet and face by adjusting the cup size.

I have tried both Cupping methods and have lived to tell about it.

To help relieve my congestion, the practitioner used copper cups quickly lit with a flame and placed on my chest and upper back. It was not painful at all; the spot felt warm with some slight pressure, but it was actually very relaxing (the sensation reminded me of getting a hickey as a teen)!

I was more nervous getting the facial massage treatment, wondering how I’d explain those purple marks on my face, but the process actually felt more like having a squeegee on my skin than a suction cup and left no marks. The therapist used gentle, quick strokes to increase circulation, drain excess fluids, and massage my face from the inside-out. My tired skin felt alive and my face had a healthy glow that lasted for days.

With no medical conditions and an experienced practitioner, Cupping is relatively safe, so just “suck it up” and try it! You have nothing to lose except some toxins.

Click HERE to learn more about  the Spa & Wellness Gift Card, which grants access to over 8,000 spas nationwide for the ultimate spa day. Find a spa near you to try cupping for yourself.
Written by Tracy Gavant.

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