Therapy Review #1 : Sámi Cupping
This ancient holistic treatment has far greater benefits than just soothing sore muscles, explains Lisa Kjellsson…
Cupping is often associated with Chinese traditional medicine but has in fact also been practised in various parts of
the world through the ages, including in ancient Greece and in many Arabic cultures. In Scandinavia, the indigenous Sámi people have used cupping as a part of their repertoire of holistic health therapies for centuries – in fact, it is mentioned in literature dating back to the 17th century. The treatment is used as an alternative or a complement to massage as its muscular effect is similar to deep-tissue massage. The cups are applied in sweeping motions or on more “knotted” areas, perhaps an achy back, simply placed where needed and left on for a little while. Cupping also aids lymphatic drainage and is often used to alleviate lymphoedema (swelling caused by blocked lymph nodes).Traditionally, and across different cultures, cupping also involved blood-letting, meaning tiny cuts to the skin would be made to allow for the “stagnant blood” to exit the body and “life energy” to flow more freely. This is still common in many parts of the Muslim world where the treatment is referred to as hijama.
What to Expect
I was relieved, however, that no blood would be shed during my appointment with the Sámi practitioner Astrid Ingebjørg Swart. Originally from Tana in Finnmark – the northernmost region of Norway and the heartland of Norwegian Sápmi, the historical territory of the Sámi – she runs a health clinic in Oslo called Sarahkkas, the name of a love goddess in Sámi mythology. I lay down on the massage table in Astrid’s treatment room and she began
by holding her hands a short distance above my body, scanning it energetically. I could feel energy moving around inside me, especially in my stomach where I’ve always been told by massage therapists that I hold a lot of tension. She then sprinkled a few drops of nettle oil on my skin. Astrid picks stinging nettles in summer, drying them in the open air. As per Sámi tradition, she asks the sun to infuse the plants with its healing power before making the anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting tincture she uses in her treatments. The one she applied on me also included a dash of liver-cleansing dandelion oil.Proceeding with the cupping, Astrid used a small glass cup with a rubber ball attached to it. By squeezing the rubber ball, the air is sucked out of the cup, creating a vacuum. The suction effectively lifts the skin inside the cup, allowing the fascia – the connective tissue around the muscles – to loosen up. This in turn improves blood circulation which helps dissolve the stiffness in the muscles.
So what did the treatment feel like? It was quite different to Chinese cupping which I’ve had in the past, where six cups were placed on my back, three on each side of the spine, pulling the skin tightly. As mentioned, Astrid used only one cup, which she moved around in rhythmic strokes. This may sound more pleasant, but I found the suction on my stomach rather painful. I have a very low pain threshold though and Astrid seemed surprised by my whimpering, so I gather not everyone reacts in the same way. As she moved on to the back and neck, it became much more bearable, almost pleasurable in the same way a deep-tissue massage “hurts so good”. I left Astrid’s clinic feeling light and energised, relieved from the neck and shoulder ache I usually suffer from as a result of too much desk work. I was also grateful for a few insights she had shared with me during the initial part of the treatment when she seemed to use her spiritual powers to diagnose me on a soul level. Among other things, she picked up on some deep-seated emotional pain, gently suggesting that I should do everything in my power to let go of it. As I reflected on the experience while sightseeing in the beautiful Oslo archipelago later that day, I thought about how amazing it is that age-old wellness wisdom is still in use today. While some aspects of the treatment may have changed through the years, Astrid is essentially cupping the way Sámi people have done for centuries. And regardless of any modern tweaks, the most important aspect of all healing work – the connection to Spirit – was certainly present.