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Massage And Medieval Medicine

I had a really nice massage this afternoon, with a bonus treatment I wasn’t expecting. Given that I spend a lot of time on the computer,  between my Day Job in IT, and the writing I do in the evenings and on the weekends, I try to schedule a deep-tissue massage every three weeks or so.

This time around, my cousin recommended a “medical spa” near my home. Ben, my massage therapist,  turned out to be a Chinese chiropractor, so my massage concluded with “cupping,” which (contrary to medieval European practice) proved to be painless. I was tickled to have such an ancient technique practiced on me.

First I was vigorously massaged, using a combination of shiatsu (pressing and stretching my knotted back and shoulder muscles through a towel) and Swedish massage, done directly on bare skin with massage lotion. I particularly love getting my hands massaged, with the MT loosening the tendons and ligaments in the palm, and stretching each finger and my wrists.

Once I’d been sufficiently tenderized (and was feeling so relaxed that I was floating in a trance-like state), Ben announced he was going to “cup” me. I had visions of the medieval European practice, and figured I was about to end up with a back full of giant hickeys.

Luckily, Ben’s treatment was far less extreme.

He first slathered a fragrant medicinal oil to my back, which felt cold at first then hot and slightly tingly, like a muscle rub.

Then I heard the clinking of glass and the sounds of a cigarette lighter being struck as he heated a glass cup from the inside using a cigarette lighter (I didn’t see this part, but heard enough to guess what was going on). The cup was then applied, upside down, to the oil-anointed skin of my back, where a slight vacuum seal formed. He slid the cup around my back (it didn’t give me the characteristic “hickey” mark I was expecting from cupping, mostly thanks to the oil, I think) until the seal broke, then he repeated the heating process, and reapplied the cup, sliding it around some more.

The effect was similar to someone using a massage roller on my back, with the putative added benefit of drawing bad qi (humors) from the skin (a very medieval concept, prevalent in the Galenic and Hippocratic theories of medicine). Now, I’m very much a believer in modern Western medicine (hurrah for germ theory, vaccinations, and antibiotics!) but the historian in me is fascinated with the survival of ancient medical traditions and their practice today. Especially when it’s something as harmless and gentle as cupping (I’d prefer not to be bled or purged, thank you very much!)

The treatment concluded with accupressure applied to various point on my scalp, as well as on my forehead, temples, and around my eyesockets.

After the treatment, once I’d dressed and oozed out to the reception area, feeling pleasantly boneless,  the receptionist informed that there had been a mixup with the gift voucher I was using, because I was supposed to also have gotten a foot reflexology treatment (another ancient medical treatment). My cousin (who had treated me with the gift voucher) and I decided to rebook for next Sunday…stay tuned for further adventures in medieval medicine!

Category: Medieval

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