By Valerie Minard
This past Olympics, you might have noticed something different about gold-medal swimming champion, Michael Phelps. He, and some other athletes, had a series of red circles on their bodies. They weren’t tattoos but a by-product of a muscle relaxation technique called “cupping” —an ancient Chinese alternative medical treatment used to eliminate pain.
Dorothy Chae, a certified staff acupuncturist at Holy Name Hospital and Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, has been cupping her clients for many years. She places warmed glass suction cups on her patient’s bodies. She believes it is an effective pain reliever for people who have arthritis or back pain.
But a review of 135 studies on cupping found that the studies were not accurate and that cupping “had no benefit for sore muscles.” There are also side effects such as bruising, burns, and possible infection. In spite of that, some experts believe it may work the same as a placebo and improve performance.
While cupping and other alternative forms of medicine may seem a better choice than addictive pain killers, if they are placebos, doesn’t this point to the mental nature of health? That’s the conclusion health researcher and Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy came to. She writes in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “The effect of mortal mind on health and happiness is seen in this: If one turns away from the body with such absorbed interest as to forget it, the body experiences no pain.”
She follows this with the story of a lame, elderly actor who “hobbled every day to the theatre and sat aching in his chair till his cue was spoken,” but once on stage was “as oblivious of physical infirmity as if he had inhaled chloroform” and moved about as freely as a young man.
But Eddy took this observation a step further. She found that since our thinking affects our body, aligning our thinking spiritually with divine Truth and Love can bring healing and complete freedom from pain.
That’s what Jenna Mehlenbacher experienced when she was swimming competitively as a college sophomore. She had no problem swimming most strokes. But when it came to swimming the butterfly for more than 50 yards, she experienced back pain. Her high school coach had let her swim shorter distances. But Jenna didn’t want to accept this disability as true about herself and she wanted to be healed of this limitation.
So when she got to college, she was surprised when her coach offered a different solution. “I can help you fix your stroke, but we can also think about this spiritually,” he said. Referring to ideas he had gleaned from Eddy’s system of spiritual healing, he said, “[this back problem] is not part of your spiritual identity.” He spoke about how Jenna was a spiritual idea of God. One of the ways she expressed God was through swimming, and that a fear of back pain had no power to harm her. After this talk, Jenna found that her expectations had changed. She realized she didn’t need to expect to suffer.
Then came a chance to swim the 200 butterfly— something she had never done before. She accepted the opportunity but partway through the race her back started hurting. So she reminded herself that she was completely spiritual, loved by God. “I held to thoughts of unlimited strength, power, joy, and freedom,” Jenna said. “And that [as God’s child] I couldn’t be prevented from expressing them.” Encouraged by this inspiration, her thinking changed from fear to gratitude. She finished the race energized and without back pain, and she has not had any trouble with back pain since then.
While cupping and other alternative forms of treatment for pain may for some be steps of progress, total freedom from pain, like Jenna found, is possible through spiritual means alone. This comes when we understand that divine Love never made any of Her children to suffer but instead gives us strength, power, joy and freedom from limitation.
Valerie Minard writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey.