Long before yoga studios lined every corner and meditation was as much a part of many's daily routine as brushing their teeth, my mother was at the forefront of Chattanooga's holistic health scene. While many in the South were still suspicious of alternative non-Western treatments, I was being dragged to acupuncture sessions and hole-in-the-wall health food stores while learning mindfulness techniques to combat my inherent anxiety.
After years of merciless eye rolls directed her way, I finally began to understand what Mom always knew to be true: The right holistic health treatments can be a wonderful complement (or even replacement) to mainstream modern medicine.
Throughout my own wellness journey, I've followed in my mother's footsteps, opening my mind and body to trying off-the-beaten-path treatments and techniques whenever possible. So when I saw a little studio in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, called Mad Hatter Massage and Wellness, was offering "cupping yoga," I just couldn't resist.
I've explored the world of holistic healing more than most, however "cupping" was still a complete mystery to me. Aside from sporadically seeing the odd circular bruises left behind on the svelte backs of celebrities, and, perhaps most famously, the broad shoulders of Michael Phelps during the 2016 Olympics, I assumed it was a passing wellness trend reserved for the elite.
I was wrong.
Having originated in China centuries ago, cupping is an ancient form of alternative therapy that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction which is said to facilitate healing through increased blood flow, treating a variety of conditions including muscle pain, inflammation and bad circulation.
Want to try it?
Cost: Cupping yoga is done in 30-minute sessions and costs $40. Facial cupping ($30) is also available to help with TMJ, jaw and neck pain.
Book: Online at madhattermassageandwellness.com or call owner Mattie Bearden at 423-405-4486.
Location: Mad Hatter Massage and Wellness, 1404 Battlefield Pkwy., Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
There are two main categories of the treatment. The more traditional form, wet cupping, involves heated glass cups and controlled medicinal bleeding — a hard 'no' for me. More commonly used in the United States, however, is non-invasive dry cupping, which utilizes rubber or plastic cups and is, thankfully, 100% blood-free.
Located in a small shopping center directly off bustling Battlefield Parkway, I immediately felt a zen-like energy stepping into Mad Hatter Massage and Wellness. Owner Mattie Bearden, LMT, FMT, and self-proclaimed "chaos coordinator," shares the unassuming space with SoulShine Massage Therapy, and together, they have created a wellness oasis in the most unlikely of locations.
Upon my arrival, Mattie led me to a cozy, dimly lit room where I gave her a rundown of my current physical state and identified my ongoing problem areas (lower back and shoulders). She explained that over the course of the session I would hold three to four targeted, gentle yoga positions, and she would be using two different types of silicone cups: static and gliding. Used together, the cups target functional movement, or movements one does regularly that are limited by pain or poor range of motion, as well as intuitive movement, which is essentially the body listening to the brain to determine which movements it wants to make.
After a guided meditation to quiet my midday, mid-workweek mind, she had me begin by standing barefoot for several minutes on a circular reflexology mat. Good holistic therapists look at the entire body as a connected entity, and Mattie is no exception. Covered in small, evenly spaced plastic points, the mat gently delivers acupressure stimulation to promote blood and oxygen flow in your feet, which in turn sends relaxation signals to the brain and helps open up the rest of the body for practice.
Once my feet were (very) awake, it was time for the good stuff.
She first had me assume "child's pose," an essential yoga pose that gently stretches the back, hips and thighs as you lean over your legs folded under you. After massaging my problem areas with a Thai pain relief herbal rub, Mattie placed several static silicone cups along my hips and shoulders. Once those were in place, she guided the gliding cups up and down my back to help stimulate blood flow while releasing tension in my hips, low back, abductors, shoulders and neck.
After taking several breaths in child's pose, she had me sit up straight with my legs extended and do a quick toe-touch to assess my current level of flexibility, while she massaged my back with more herbal rub and gently pressed me with a luk pra kob, a homemade compress composed of Thai herbs wrapped in fabric.
Next up was "butterfly," an upright seated pose where the heels are pressed together as your legs splay out. With approximately eight cups on each of my thighs, she had me gently flutter my knees, or engage in intuitive movement. Immediately I felt a sensation in the deepest part of my upper thigh muscle, a quick discomfort that I recognized as a release I'd never have been able to address with basic stretching alone.
While still in butterfly pose, she moved the cups from my thighs to my shoulders, upper back and chest, having me engage in more intuitive movement by shrugging and wriggling my shoulders. Of all the cupping positions, this one felt the oddest. My shoulders were more sensitive to the cups. It was as if there were dozens of wooden clothespins pinched on my skin, pulling me toward the ceiling. It wasn't painful but I was definitely ready for them to be removed once the time came.
Once my shoulders were set free, Mattie had me go into one final toe-touch to check back in with my range of motion. At the beginning of the session, I was barely touching my toes. By the end, I was comfortably wrapping my hands around the soles of my feet. A few deep breaths later, followed by a quick and much-appreciated foot rub, we were finished.
As with all forms of therapy and exercise, consistency is key to actual long-term change; however, after just 30 minutes with Mattie, I left more energized, less anxious and with a noticeable decrease in my back and shoulder pain.
In addition to cupping yoga, Mad Hatter offers a plethora of customizable, reasonably priced holistic treatments to address the unique needs of each client. A self-proclaimed continuing-education zealot, Mattie is both extremely knowledgeable and approachable, making her studio perfect for those who are unfamiliar with or even intimidated by the world of holistic healing.
If Mad Hatter Massage and Wellness had been around in the '90s, my mom would have been their best client. And take it from me, that's about as credible an endorsement as one could get.