What is moxibustion?

There are so many different types of moxibustion that practitioners have many choices in the application and form of moxa used with patients. Moxibustion as a healing practice is as old as acupuncture itself; in fact, the Chinese word for acupuncture, zhenjiu, refers directly to this technique. Moxibustion is believed to have originated in China over 2,500 years ago, though it is likely that more rudimentary forms of moxibustion may actually predate acupuncture.

Like all traditional Chinese treatments, the goal of moxibustion is to bring the body into balance and ensure a consistent flow of qi. In this case, balance is achieved by the burning of moxa (ai ye in Chinese herbal medicine), or dried mugwort close the skin. This powerful medicinal herb has a long history in both China and the West, and is perhaps best known in America for its close association with the witches of Medieval Europe. This is because of its frequent use in folk remedies, particularly to ease stomach pain, menstrual irregularities, anxiety, and itchy skin.

Moxa is understood within a modern Western medical framework to be a natural diuretic, as well as a moderate stimulant. It is also an emmenagogue, which means that it can trigger an increase of blood flow to the pelvic area – especially the uterus. This is why it is often used to treat uterine cramps and scanty (light or absent) menstruation. 

When used by a skilled Therapist moxibustion can help stimulate sluggish, deficient or stagnated qi with the introduction of therapeutic heat. In so doing, it amplifies the healing effects of acupuncture and alleviates chronic stagnation.

How is Moxibustion used

Therapists administer a moxibustion treatment dependent on the clinic’s and client’s preference.

Indirect moxibustion, which is generally carried out in one of two different ways. In the first, the practitioner will hold the smoking end of a moxa stick very close to the skin, until the acupoint adequately warms. This signifies that blood and other vital fluids have been directed along the correct meridians, and can begin to heal the patient’s ailments.

Many modern clinics use slower-burning, smokeless moxa sticks, which may be a comfort if you’re concerned about smoke inhalation.

Indirect moxibustion may also be performed with a tiger warmer, or using something as a buffer between the stick and the skin, such as salt, aconite, or slices of ginger or garlic. This warms the body deeply.

Another indirect method is to wrap smaller balls of moxa around acupuncture needles and light them until smoking. The heat is driven down the needle shaft and into the acupuncture point, enhancing the effects of the needling. Usually, a ball of moxa wool will be placed on just one or two of the needles in each session. Many patients report a warm, soothing sensation during and even after a session of 

acu-moxibustion.

How does moxibustion work?

To date, there is no consensus on the exact mechanisms of moxibustion treatments. Some theorize that it works in a similar way to other heat-based therapies, like saunas, hot tubs, heat packs, and warming creams. Though most Westerners will be familiar with these treatments for localized pain, heat is a valuable ally in Chinese medicine to relieve more systemic, whole-body complaints.

Who should consider moxibustion?

Because fire (yang) is its central element, moxibustion is most often used to dispel cold stagnation (yin) and the conditions that arise as a result. Common problems from a Western medicine that may be loosely associated with cold stagnation include:

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  • Sluggish digestion

  • Over sensitivity to cold

  • Fluid retention

  • Lowered immunity

  • Joint pain and arthritis

  • Depression and low mood

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