Most at-home spa treatments offer manis, pedis and facials, but Azur Spa on Wheelz arrives at my home at 11am to give me a Korean Ventosa massage (aka cupping). Gwyneth Paltrow is a well-known fan of the treatment, but after seeing her on the red carpet in 2004 sporting those infamous cupping bruises, I’m more than a little nervous.
First evidence of the therapy dates back to Egypt in 1500BC. It was used by physicians in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was practised in the Middle East from as early as 240BC (where it’s called ‘hijama’), but is most commonly attributed to Chinese medicine, where evidence of its use dates back to 1000BC.
The process involves lighting a flame over the body and quickly applying a cup over the top, which blows out the flame and causes a vacuum, sucking the skin into the cup. This supposedly eases tension in the muscles, promotes blood flow and stimulates toxin drainage.
After the best half-hour of massage I’ve ever had – my therapist, Eileen, is a trainer in massage and combines Thai stretching, Shiatsu work and Swedish kneading – I’m relaxed and ready for the cups. Instead of scary-looking contraptions, she uses Ikea glasses, and begins by placing a piece of ginger on my back, lighting a piece of cotton over the ginger and then sealing the glass onto my skin. The first one, placed on my right shoulder, is painful, equivalent to a kneading massage movement, but constant.
‘How many more are you putting on?’ I ask. ‘Eight,’ replies Eileen. Panic sets in. ‘Don’t worry – that one will hurt the most, as that’s where you have muscle problems.’ She’s right: the next six hurt a little, but after five minutes I start to ease into the feeling and, surprisingly, I relax.
The last cup is placed on my right hip, where I have joint ache. ‘I think the flame is touching my skin,’ I tell Eileen. ‘It feels too hot.’ ‘The flame’s finished,’ she replies. The flame is extinguished soon after the cup makes contact, but the feeling of heat is intense – perhaps it’s the promotion of circulation.
After 10 minutes or so, the cups come off and they are all, inexplicably, very hot and covered in steam. After another 30 minutes of amazing massage, including some acupressure on my feet (during which I’m diagnosed with a dodgy stomach), I get up, a bit woozy, and inspect my battle wounds.
Sure enough, there are eight circular marks up my back (I look like an alien experiment victim). Amazingly, the marks, which are apparently caused by toxins being brought to the surface, are paler on areas where I have no niggles, and a puce red on my problem areas (namely my right hip and shoulder). Eileen tells me not to get the area wet for two days, as it may blister (which makes showering awkward), and the marks last about four days.
So did it work? Well, afterwards I feel drowsy, and the fact that the marks show up so strongly on my sore spots is hard to ignore, although I think I’d need more treatments to truly determine the effects. But then, who am I to argue with thousands of years of worldwide tradition?
A Korean Ventosa massage costs Dhs200, either in your home with Azur Spa on Wheelz, or visit Azur Spa in International City (04 447 5284).