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What is moxibustion therapy?
In a broad sense, moxibustion describes the application of heat therapy. Heat therapy can be heat lamps, heat packs, hot water bottles etc.
Specifically, moxibustion therapy is heat application from burning small pieces of refined mugwort. This may be on an acupuncture point or over an area of the body. Moxibustion is a key part of Oriental medicine, historically referred to in the same term as acupuncture.
The term mugwort is thought to have been derived from the Japanese term ‘mogusa’, meaning ‘herb that burns’, and is known in Chinese as Ai Ye.
Moxibustion therapy exists in Japan as a fully developed system of treatment. It has its own theoretical foundation, scope of practice and methods. There it is a standalone heat therapy to treat a wide variety of conditions. This includes strengthening the body as a preventative measure. Sensei Fukaya and Sawada are the most notable Japanese moxibustion physicians. In China, and modern TCM practice, it tends to be an adjunct therapy to acupuncture, tuina etc.
What is moxa herb?
Heat therapy developed from burning various materials for their heat effect. This ranged from dry leaves and twigs to charcoal and sulphur. The dried leaves of mugwort became most popular due to its milder, consistent heat.
The mugwort plant is of the Artemisia family. Artemisia Vulgaris is the most commonly utilised species for moxibustion. Mugwort loves the sunshine and tends to grow as a weed, flourishing in poor, dry sandy soils of wastelands. Mugwort grows to around 1-1.8m high as a bush and grows wild throughout many countries. The best quality moxa floss comes from plants in the Qi Zhou and Huang Gang regions of China or Mount Ibuki in Japan.
To produce moxa, it is picked on 3rd day of 3rd lunar month or 5th day of the 5th lunar month. This time is around the Spring equinox to summer solstice period. The leaves are dried in the sun, and then further refined in winter when the climate is driest. Moxa ages for 3-7 years, with older moxa being of a better quality. Aged mugwort is then ground and sieved to remove the fibrous material.
The lower the grade of moxa, the more plant material it contains, and the floss has a darker green brown colour. Higher quality is more gold like and pale. Lower grades tend to burn with more smoke and smell, and at a higher temperature. They are best used in moxa sticks and moxa boxes. Semi pure grades are used for warm needle and Chinetskuyu cone moxa.
The purest grades are softer to the touch and contain the least impurities. These are for direct moxa techniques such as thread and rice grain moxa. The higher quality grades tend to burn for less time at a higher temperature. They smoulder rather than burn and have more powerful medicinal qualities. Higher quality moxa is:
- Easier to handle
- Holds shape better
- Lights easier
- Burns with a blacker ash
Moxa floss contains over 190 volatile chemicals. The most prominent are borneol and cineol. Pharmacologically, these chemicals are responsible for the effects of moxa.
Moxibustion therapy benefits
Mugwort has a history of use in many different cultures. In Europe mugwort was left under the doormat to ward away unwelcome guests. In North America, it was smoked to drive away evil and purify. The ancient Romans used mugwort to strengthen themselves and reduce fatigue on long marches. This reflects the usage in Chinese Medicine of moxa application to ST36 (Zu San Li – Three Leg Mile) to give one strength for a journey.
Moxibustion warms and promotes Qi and blood circulation. It treats disease, reinforces the body’s’ resistance to pathogens and rectifies imbalance.
Around 600AD, Sun Si Mao introduced the idea of moxibustion used to help maintain good health. This built on the idea from the Nei Jing that a superior physician treats “what is not yet ill”. He also claimed “there is nothing moxibustion at Gao Huang Shu (BL43) does not treat”. In the Ming dynasty, around 1600AD, Yang Ji Zhao introduced the concept that “to keep healthy, Zu San Li (ST36) is not dry”.
Cold is damaging to our health, with a 1% drop in body temp leading to:
- a 36% reduction in immune function
- a 12% reduction in basic metabolic function
- a 50% decline in enzyme activity
This is why the application of warmth is so beneficial for our health.
What is moxibustion used for
Moxa can be applied to a wide range of disease states. It is often used in chronic disease where deficiency, cold and stasis are present. It has a special and unique ability to supplement the body.
There are many different techniques of application. This means it can be applied with no adverse affects to patients of all ages.
Moxa stimulates the immune system and may help conditions such as:
- skin conditions
- frequent illness
- gynaecological pain
- digestive complaints
How is moxibustion performed?
Moxa may be applied directly on the skin. This is in small pieces such as thread or rice grain moxibustion. Small cones (Chinetsukyu) are placed directly on the skin or over a medium such as garlic or ginger. It might also be applied indirectly using methods such as:
- Needle head (Kyotoshin) – a small ball placed at the end of an acupuncture needle
- Moxa stick – a roll which is burnt hovering above the skin surface
- Brass rollers which provide simultaneous heat therapy and a massage
Is moxibustion safe?
Moxibustion is a safe alternative therapy in the hands of a trained practitioner. With careful attention throughout treatment, only gentle warmth and essential oils reach the skin. This prevents any burns or scarring.
The burning of moxa does produce smoke. If you have any sensitivities or breathing issues, they may be aggravated. Be sure to bring this to the attention of your therapist before any moxibustion therapy.
How to become a moxibustion therapist
Moxibustion instruction is part of acupuncture and shiatsu courses in Australia. Courses to further refine moxibustion skills are offered to acupuncturists and shiatsu practitioners. Options to learn moxibustion therapy for practitioners of other modalities are minimal.
Can you do moxibustion yourself?
Moxibustion is a great therapy to learn for home use. It is best to be shown the proper methods and regions for application by a trained professional. They can show you how to use moxibustion sticks safely. , can help with pain and many other conditions at home. Of course, you must have access to an environment that allows a lot of smoke as moxa sticks can get quite smoky!
Moxibustion in Melbourne
Dantian Health offers moxibustion therapy as part of acupuncture treatments at two locations – Brunswick in inner north Melbourne and Yarrambat in the north east.
What else would you like to know?
Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below!