Much of last week was spent studying - either hunched over textbook or computer - and my shoulders were pinched and extremely tight by Sunday evening. Monday during yoga class it hurt to hold my arms out parallel to the floor. I knew that massage alone would not open my shoulders back up so I decided to once again go for baguan, the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice that is know in English as 'cupping.'
There are a number of Traditional Chinese Medicine hospitals in Beijing, but I went to a blind massage center in east Beijing where I have gone for massage on several occasions and where I know that they also do cupping. They don't speak English though. I walked into the center on Tuesday afternoon and told them what I wanted. I was taken upstairs to a room and given a top to change into before the doctor came into the room to consult.
I explained (mostly through pointing, body language and pidgin Chinese) what I wanted and he looked at my back, then explained that I needed a massage first to loosen up the muscles. I agreed and then relaxed for the half hour oil massage. When it was done he wiped the oil off of my back, then I turned my head to see him wheeling the table filled with the round glass cups over to the side of the table, and setting fire to something pinched between the ends of a long metal holder. My first thought was that I didn't want my hair to catch fire but then I relaxed as I saw him use the flame to heat the inside of a glass cup, then he attached it to my back along the edge of one of my shoulderblades. He repeated the process seven more times, until a total of eight cups were attached to my back, in strategic places where the muscles were pinching me most. He asked several times how I felt and I told him honestly that yes, it hurt, but only a little, it wasn't bad, and I breathed deeply to relax. He sat watching the cups and the way my skin was sticking into them, then started to remove them.
There were indents in skin on my back where the cups had been placed but my shoulders could move freely, they were no longer pinched, they were relaxed, and I had my range of motion back.
Today I was on a Skype video chat with a friend in New York. I was wearing a tank top and turned around. There were a series of round bruises, about 3" across, on my upper back. My friend saw them and yelled out "You have polka dots."