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What is Cupping Therapy? More on Hollywood's Favorite Wellness Practice

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Photo: FameFlynet

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From vaginal steaming to getting purposely stung by bees, Gwyneth Paltrow has long been a pioneer of alternative (and often controversial) wellness practices in the Hollywood community. When she stepped onto the red carpet for a film premiere back in 2004 with mysterious circular, bruise-like marks all over her back, the media went nuts.

Even in those pre-Goop days, Gwynnie was still trying out lesser-known treatments, and cupping—the practice that left those aforementioned marks—was no exception. Since that time, a slew of celebs has been seen showing off their cupping battle wounds. Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson, and more recently Lena Dunham and on-again-off-again couple Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin have shown the telltale signs of having gotten the treatment.

Dr. Norma Azucena Dolmo

A photo posted by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) on

To many people unfamiliar with the ancient Chinese practice, cupping may appear to be yet another kooky—and possibly painful?—celebrity wellness trend (see also: eating clay, leech therapy, etc), but the age-old treatment's credibility is actually backed up by centuries of scientific proof. "Historically, many cultures across the globe have utilized this method to heal and treat ailments including colds, flu, high blood pressure, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and upper and lower back pain," explains Dr. Norma Azucena Dolmo, fire cupping therapist at DTLA wellness hub, The Springs.

So how does it work? "Cupping releases fascia through negative pressure, causing the softening of connective tissue and releasing restrictive tension of muscles. Oftentimes, if someone is feeling that their qi is blocked and therefore in need of a release or flow of energy, a person may seek help to further enhance a healthy systemic blood circulation in respect to unlocking meridian paths caused by superimposed blockages of qi," Dr. Dolmo tells us. Specifically fire cupping consists of applying localized pressure using heat to create a vacuum effect. Another local practitioner, Golden Folk's Sonya Schwartz breaks it down like this, "I like to describe it as a 'reverse massage,' instead of pressing into the muscle, the cups are lifting the muscle off the bone. It really is a unique sensation and it feels simply divine! People get hooked on fire cupping therapy all the time!"

And Schwartz has certainly noticed that celebs's influence is aiding in the public's pursuit of the treatment. She admits that patients frequently site the initial source of interest as someone they've seen in the media, adding, "It's very common, especially in Los Angeles, for people to learn about [cupping] from seeing a celebrity with marks on his or her back. The marks are enough to stir interests." Both she and Dr. Dolmo agree that the presence of the practice in Hollywood makes it seem more approachable, and reduces any stigma it might have. In essence, people seem to think if the Biebs can do it, so can they.

And don't let the marks fool you. Though they look like bruises, Dr. Dolmo is quick to point out that's not the case. "The biggest misconception about cupping is that it is painful and that the marks from the treatment are bruises," she tells us, "The reaction of the discolorations is not bruising, but is due to cellular debris, pathogenic factors old stagnation and toxins coming to the surface of the skin and being cleared away by the circulatory systems." She also says that the process is not only painless, but rather relaxing, adding that many of her patients have fallen asleep due to the pleasant, relaxing sensation.

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

Want to try it? The best candidates for the practice are those who are experiencing respiratory disorders, muscular pain, or stress, or just looking to boost their body's ability to flush out toxins. But if you plan on scheduling your own fire cupping treatment, which you can do at both The Springs ($100 for a 60-minute session) and Golden Folk ($80 for 60-minutes with option to add on acupuncture for $15) you might need to know a few things beforehand. Dr. Dolmo advises avoiding caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods and drinks, dairy and processed meats the day before being treated to achieve maximum benefits. And since stars have taken any shame out of showing off the results of the wellness-promoting process, go ahead and selfie your own results. You'll be in good—and healthy—company.