I am not one to jump on the fad bandwagon. And celebrity endorsements don’t make me want to try things I might not otherwise. But when I’m traveling abroad, I’m usually game to try a local treatment or two.
I journeyed to Beijing for Memorial Day weekend thanks to the now infamous $400-ish business class mistake fare. While there, I stayed at the Park Hyatt and decided to treat myself to a morning at the spa. The hotel offers the usual range of spa services (massages, facials, body wraps, etc.) but also offers a Chinese medicine style massage featuring both Tui Na (dry manipulation performed with no oil or lotion) and Ba Guan (cupping).
I have been fascinated by cupping after learning about it while researching various Chinese medical therapies. I have found a great deal of relief from other eastern medicine techniques so I thought it would be a wonderful treat to try the local therapy at a luxury spa.
Despite their prominent place on the hotel’s spa menu, I had a bit of difficulty getting the hotel to book the therapy for me. I emailed the spa address but never received a reply so I walked down to the spa to book. It turns out the spa is being remodeled so I spoke with the ladies manning the temporary check-in. They didn’t understand what I wanted and tried to book me for a standard massage.
I gave up trying to book with the spa and instead went to the hotel’s front desk and had them call down, figuring it was a communication issue. Again, they tried to convince me that perhaps I wanted a standard massage instead of the requested therapy. I assured them I understood what I was asking for and after a few confirmations that I understood the nature of the therapy, I was booked.
The next morning, I went down to one of the temporary treatment rooms (currently set up on a guest floor in rooms that appear from the hallway to be standard guest rooms). Again, the therapist was concerned that I might not understand the therapy and the same discussion occurred. Once I confirmed that I understood what I was requesting, the treatment began.
During my 90 minute treatment, I had around an hour of firm massage that was more focused on the body’s channels for “qi” (or energy) and seemed to follow closely along lymphatic lines. The pressure at times was intense, but like foot reflexology (another favorite of mine), the intense pressure (bordering on pain) gave way to relaxation.
The massage was alternated with “cupping” a treatment where heated glass cups are placed on the body (again along qi lines). The heat inside the cup draws the skin and muscle into the glass with a suction action. The cups are left on for several minutes and the action is said to drain toxins and fluid retention from the tissue.
When the cup is finally pulled off, the suction creates a “popping” noise and can leave a mark ranging from a bit of redness to a purple discolored circle. The marks are not bruises however and can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, depending on the individual and area of the body. Practitioners say that the pattern of marks can even be used for medical diagnosis.
I was skeptical about the claims, but after having cupping on my full back (from neck to tailbone) and both knees, I became a believer. My deepest marks were on my right knee (the site of past injuries and recurrent arthritis) and under my left shoulder (a source of much pain in recent months).
After the therapy you are not supposed to bathe or shower for a day to allow the heat to continue to push toxins from the body. This would have been helpful to know before booking as I would have showered and washed my hair first. (I ended up taking a cool shower because I had a long flight home ahead of me that afternoon.)
The benefits of the massage were almost immediate. I felt like my sinuses were much clearer after much craniofacial work and the work along the lymphatic lines prompted a bit of a “flu-like” recovery as toxins were pushed out of my body.
But the best to me was the cupping, for it helped confirm that a couple of specific areas were calling out for more attention. I’ve since been able to focus on them during yoga and will be making sure my massage therapist at home knows about the pattern of circles. I also noticed that my knees were less puffy after the treatment – visibly so. My home physician didn’t disagree with the findings either – I received a steroid shot in my shoulder yesterday and it has relieved much of the pain I was experiencing. I am seeking out a practitioner here at home so that I can work regular cupping into my routine.
So yes, I tried a Gwyneth Paltrow recommended spa treatment… and I liked it. But I think I’ll stop at this one….