Moxibustion [A Simple Guide]

Moxibustion is witchcraft, right? Burning some mystical herb is supposed to help heal the body? Waving a moxibustion stick over the skin makes me feel better? OK then!

Learn about moxibustion as you follow this conversation between Qi Bo and Huang Di. These two characters from one of our most ancient medical manuscripts, the Huang Di Nei Jing, have visited the modern age to answer your questions (press the 3 orange dots on the right at any stage to bring them up) about moxibustion.*

Click here if you are seeking moxibustion therapy in Melbourne.

iMessage with Huang Di (Yellow Emperor)

Hey Qibo, what are you up to?

I smell something a little funny. Something smoky.

Yes I’m using moxibustion in treatments these days

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion treatment is:

  • The application of heat
  • The burning of mugwort

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 a moxibustion point or over an area of the body.

A moxibustion point? Is that the same as an acupuncture point?

Yes

So it is Moxa that’s making that smell?

Yes

Tell me more!

Moxibustion is a key part of Oriental medicine, historically referred to in the same term as acupuncture.

Ah yes Zhēn Jiǔ (针灸), we were talking about that the other day!

That’s right.

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What is Japanese moxibustion therapy?

Moxibustion therapy exists in Japan as a fully developed system of treatment.

It has its own theoretical foundation, methods and scope of practice.

In Japan, 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 moxa physicians.

In China, and modern TCM practice, it tends to be an adjunct therapy to acupuncture, tuina etc.

What is the moxa herb?

Moxa herb is also known as:

  • Artemisia Vulgaris
  • Mugwort

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.

Did they always use mugwort?

No. 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.

Ah, trial and error got them there!

Tell me more about the mugwort plant

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 like 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.

How is Moxa made?

To produce moxa, it is picked on the 3rd day of the 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 better quality.

Aged mugwort is then ground and sieved to remove the fibrous material.

Where does the best Moxa grow?

The best quality moxa floss comes from plants in the Qi Zhou and Huang Gang regions of China or Mount Ibuki in Japan.

What are the different grades of moxibustion?

The lower the grade of moxa, the more plant material it contains, and the floss has a darker green-brown colour.

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.

So that’s what I was smelling!

Semi pure grades are used for warm needle and Chinetskuyu cone moxa.

The purest grades are more gold like and pale, 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.

I keep telling you older is better!

More so that it is different, has a different purpose.

Higher quality moxa is:

  • Easier to handle
  • Holds shape better
  • Lights easier
  • Burns with a blacker ash

What is the Moxa floss?

Moxa floss contains over 190 volatile chemicals.

The most prominent is borneol and cineol. Pharmacologically, these chemicals are responsible for the effects of moxa.

That’s pretty interesting.

I know right!

So tell me

What are the benefits of moxa treatment?

The benefits of moxibustion are that it:

  • Warms
  • Promotes circulation
  • Treats disease
  • Strengthens immunity

Moxibustion warms and promotes Qi and blood circulation. It treats disease, reinforces the body’s’ resistance to pathogens and rectifies imbalances.

What is the historical use of Moxa?

Mugwort has a history of use in many different cultures. In Europe mugwort was left under the doormat to ward away unwelcome guests.

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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.

Hey, look more parallels!

Yep!

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”.

What do you think about this story?

Sounds a little wild! But fascinating how it is consistent across space and time!

Why is the warmth of moxibustion beneficial?

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.

Fascinating

What is moxibustion used for?

Moxa is useful for:

  • Chronic conditions
  • Lowered immunity
  • Digestive issues
  • Fatigue
  • Cold

Moxa can be applied to a wide range of disease states. It is often used in a chronic disease where deficiency, cold and stasis are present.

In Chinese Medicine, Moxa has a special and unique ability to supplement the body.

What conditions does moxibustion help?

Moxa stimulates the immune system and may help conditions such as:

  • skin conditions
  • frequent illness
  • gynaecological pain
  • digestive complaints

There are many different techniques of application. This means it can be applied with minimal to no adverse effects on patients of all ages.

Moxibustion for breech baby is the most well-known application of Moxa.

Does moxibustion for breech baby work?

In the case of a breech baby regular treatment at the little toe is applied once a breech presentation is detected to assist correction. This is best applied to start around week 32-33 to give the best chance of vaginal birth.

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Moxibustion stick: Image by Art of Acupuncture

Qin-hong et. al. conducted a systematic review of randomised control trials in 2013 to investigate the evidence of this use. This study was sponsored by the Foundation of Heilongjiang University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine under the title Moxibustion for the Correction of Nonvertex Presentation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Their conclusions were that:

Moxibustion may be an effective treatment for the correction of nonvertex (breech) presentation. Moreover, moxibustion might reduce the need for oxytocin

Qin Hong et. al.

Isn’t oxytocin natural?

Yes, but they are referring to synthetic oxytocin.

Oh right

This followed the 2012 review by Coyle ME, Smith CA & Peat B titled Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation that concluded that the evidence for moxibustion alone in the treatment of breech presentation was lacking.

This review, published in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, did find that the evidence suggested that moxibustion may be useful in combination with postural therapies for correction of breech presentation.

Ah, so the combination is perhaps the key.

They also found that there was evidence for a lowered need for oxytocin when moxibustion was used, and a reduced need for c-sections when combined with acupuncture.

They called for more high-quality trials to be conducted to determine efficacy and safety.

So you mean the evidence is promising, but just not rigorous enough.

Yeah exactly.

It is best to talk to an experienced practitioner directly to find out if moxibustion can be helpful in a specific case of a breech presentation or any other health complaint.

You can book a 15 min call with him for free!

Obligation free, complimentary 15-min health evaluation

I invite you to make a time to find out more about how Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture may be helpful for whatever condition you need assistance with.

Great, that’s very helpful!

How is moxibustion performed?

Moxa may be applied directly on the skin. This is in tiny pieces such as used in thread or rice grain moxibustion.

Also, small cones (Chinetsukyu) are placed directly on the skin or over a medium such as garlic or ginger.

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Moxa might also be applied indirectly using methods such as:

  • Needle head (Kyotoshin) – a small ball placed at the end of an acupuncture needle
  • Moxibustion stick – a roll which is burnt hovering above the skin surface
  • Brass rollers which provide simultaneous heat therapy and massage

I like the sound of those brass rollers!

Yes, those and the elephant warmer moxibustion tool are like a hot stone massage. Very relaxing!

Is moxibustion safe?

Moxibustion is a safe therapy in the hands of a trained practitioner.

With careful attention throughout treatment, only gentle warmth and essential oils reach the skin. This helps to prevent any burns or scarring.

Yes, I think I would want someone experienced if they are burning Moxa on me!

Yes me too.

Also, bear in mind that 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.

Oh, that’s good to look out for!

How does one 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 can help with pain and many other conditions at home.

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.

Of course, you must have access to an environment that allows a lot of smoke as moxa sticks can get quite smoky!

Or I could do it outside?

Yes, but the cold outside in winter kind of defeats the warming of the Moxa!

Where can I find the best practitioner of moxibustion in Melbourne?

Moxibustion may be used as a stand-alone therapy but is more commonly utilised in conjunction with a massage or acupuncture treatment.

If you are looking for moxibustion in Melbourne, Jason Chong is at Dantian Health in Brunswick in the inner north.

He offers moxibustion therapy as an adjunct to acupuncture and massage sessions, as well as 30min stand-alone sessions.

Responsive, holistic health care

Reclaim your health and restore vitality at Dantian Health in Brunswick, Melbourne

Great, I’m going to ask for the brass roller!

Enjoy!

What else would you like to know?

I hope you have enjoyed the conversation. Did they miss your question? Was something unclear? Are you itching to join in? Let me know if you found this useful in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it

* DISCLAIMER

As an AHPRA registered practitioner, it is my duty to not be misleading in any advertising. So before my friends in the science in medicine crowd (Hi Ken!) and advertising regulators get too excited I must say the following.

This conversation didn’t actually take place. Whilst the information contained within is important and correct, this conversation is entirely fictional. 

Amongst the many things I can do with Chinese Medicine, time travel is not one of them. What can I say – the DeLorean was out of petrol and I couldn’t get Bill and Ted on the phone!