Cups, Fire & Spoons: Massage Therapy Students Explore Eastern Techniques

While a massage therapist’s tool of choice is typically their own two hands, some massage therapists enjoy incorporating other tools into their practice. Students in the massage therapy program taking Anatomy and Physiology this quarter learned first-hand about two eastern medicine techniques, cupping therapy and gua sha. Both techniques are used to move blood, increasing circulation and flow of chi.

Cupping Therapy

massage therapy cupping technique

Massage therapy program instructor Laura Jeske during the cupping therapy demonstration.

Massage therapy instructor, Brett Kammerer, visited the class to introduce students to cupping therapy. Cupping therapy is traditionally done using a vacuum inside the cup before placing it to the client’s skin. There are two main types of cups: a fire cup (made of glass, bamboo, or water buffalo horn) and a vacuum or twist cup (usually plastic). Cups are generally left on about ten minutes, but can be on longer depending on the goal and client.

“I first learned about cupping while doing some independent reading about alternative treatments to go along with massage when I was a student,” Brett said. “After having cupping done to me by a friend that works as an acupuncturist, I was smitten with cupping.”

massage therapy techniques

Brett Kammerer demonstrates cupping therapy.

Gua Sha

Laura Jeske, the class instructor, demonstrated gua sha to the class. Gua sha is a healing technique that is most commonly used throughout Asia. The practice dates back more than 700 years. Gua sha involves the rubbing of stones or hard objects over skin.

Laura describes, “Gua means ‘to rub’ and sha is the term used to describe the congestion of blood at the surface of the body.” In ancient times practitioners would use stones, but now typical tools used to rub the skin are Chinese soup stones, coins, or tools made from bone or horns.

Laura brought both Chinese soup stones as well as tool made from buffalo horn and demonstrated gua sha on massage therapy student Nikki Wild. Since gua

massage therapy gua sha technique

Instructor Laura Jeske demonstrates gua sha while students overlook.

sha is traditionally performed on the posterior side of the body, they worked on Nikki’s back rubbing her shoulder blade.

“I think it’s important for our students to understand a variety of perspectives when working with the human body,” Laura said. “Eastern theory of dysfunction, assessment and treatment is very different from the Western perspective, but they really complement each other. It gives our students a better picture of the body as a whole, and their treatment of it, to look at things from both sides.”

Massage therapy student Caroline Allen enjoyed learning about cupping and gua sha saying, “I feel like I will be a well-rounded and knowledgeable massage therapist; not only do we learn many techniques, we get to use them and form our own opinions.