What Is Moxibustion?

Moxibustion or Moxa therapy is a form of heat therapy that utilises the burning of the herb Artemisia Argyi or better known as Chinese mugwort on or around acupuncture points. This herb has specific properties to aid in relieving respiratory difficulty, alleviate aches and pains in joints and muscles, promote blood circulation, and reduce the duration of the common cold and inflammation.

Moxa developed in Asia, particularly China, Japan and Korea. There are many grades of moxa, the herb which determines the quality, the lighter in colour means, the higher in quality. Moxibustion can be used either directly or indirectly, depending on whether it touches the skin.

What Does Moxibustion Do?

It is no longer a mystery as to why moxibustion can help improve our overall health. Moxibustion assists the body functions by:

  1. Improving blood circulation – Ever notice feeling achy or sore from staying in one position for too long. Moxa is excellent for promoting blood circulation. Since moxa is warming in nature, the heat from moxa invigorates our cells to circulate throughout the body.
  2. Warms the muscles and joints – Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understands that elements in nature can significantly impact our health. When winter comes, the cold penetrates and lodges itself in the body. This cold can cause old injuries to worsen, especially during cold rainy days. The heat produced from moxa dispels the cold and can alleviate problems aggravated by the cold.
  3. Stimulates acupuncture points – Some areas of the body are contraindicated to needling such as the umbilicus. Moxa is an alternative method to stimulate points if it is deemed necessary.

Moxibustion is a simple and effective way to benefit overall health. It achieves this through emitting heat, the closer the moxa application, the stronger the heat penetrates the body. Another component of the moxibustion treatment is the gentle exposure of smoke, the properties within moxa when ignited helps the body regulate the autonomic nervous system relieving stress and inflammation

Types Of Moxibustion

Traditionally, mugwort leaves are picked then dried in the sun then left in a dry darkroom to dehydrate further. The process continues by having the dried leaves ground then sieved to separate any impurities. The ground leaves are then compacted and wrapped with paper forming a cigar-like stick ready to be used. There are two primary methods to implement moxibustion. These are known as direct and indirect moxa.

Direct Moxa

Direct moxibustion is divided into either scarring or non-scarring moxa, this involves rubbing moxa together between the fingers, creating rice grains size “cones”. Non-scarring includes placing the grain sized moxa on acupuncture points where it will be ignited and burned ¾ of the cone to create a warm to hot sensation then removed to prevent any burns. Alternatively, specialised cream can be applied beforehand as a countermeasure to any damage to the skin.

Scarring moxa is used to purposely create boils and blisters on the skin as part of treatment for long-standing chronic pain. This method can be quite painful, and for this reason, is not commonly practised. The severeness of burns and blisters depends on two factors, the health of the patient and the quality of moxa; the higher the quality, the less heat it requires to burn.

Indirect Moxa

Indirect moxibustion involves utilises moxa wrapped in paper and burnt roughly an inch away from the skin. It is common in the form of a stick and is handheld over acupuncture points to induce therapeutic heat into the body. Alternatively, small cones of dried mugwort are used in conjunction with acupuncture using the metal needles as a conductor to transfer the heat created by moxa into the body. Other mediums such as ginger slices or salt can be used to help evenly disperse the heat and increase the therapeutic effect. Ginger is very well known to be used with moxibustion to help with digestive problems, and salt helps benefit the internal organs.

Moxibustion assists in regulate and stimulating the body by inducing heat to promote the circulation of blood. When the flow of blood is good, the body is well nourished and is pain-free. It can be used as a therapy by itself or in combination with acupuncture. The burning of moxa has been used throughout Asia for centuries and is still widely practised today. Many studies have demonstrated the effects of burning moxa and its health benefits, such as improved immune system, aid in digestive issues, and supporting fertility.

What Does Moxibustion Feel Like?

Moxibustion is a heat therapy with different methods of application. Depending on the type of moxa therapy, the patient will experience different intensities of heat. In general, moxa radiates a pleasant warmth that penetrates deep into the body. Usually, there shouldn’t be any pain, but it is essential for patients to communicate with practitioners. Moxibustion is an enjoyable experience, especially in Winter!

What Can Moxibustion Help With?

Moxibustion can be used to maintain health as part of a supporting treatment to help strengthen the body. It warms the energetic lines that run throughout the body known as meridians. The heat from the burning moxa is used to promote circulation over any muscular tension or chronic pain. Moxa is especially helpful for conditions that are greatly affected by cold or damp wet weather.

Another exciting application: Many studies have shown that applying moxibustion at a specific point on the bottom of the foot can help turn babies from breech presentations before going into labour!

Below is a list of some conditions that moxibustion is useful for:

  • General arthritis
  • General aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues such as bloating
  • Menstrual cramps, excessive menstrual bleeding or lack of bleeding
  • Poor immune system
  • Common colds
  • Breech presentations

Is Moxibustion Safe?

In the hands of trained practitioners, moxibustion is very safe. At times a minor burn to the skin is needed as part of the healing process, the practitioners will take necessary steps to prevent any severe injuries to the patient.

Smokeless moxa is commonly employed, which minimises the amount of smoke, but there will be some product of smoke from burning the moxa, it is essential to let the practitioner know if this may cause any problems.

How often should I use Moxibustion?

The number of times to perform moxibustion for therapeutic use is determined by the condition of the disease and how severe it is. Like all types of therapy related to traditional Chinese medicine, it is essential to discuss and follow the instructions of a qualified Acupuncturist.

When Not To Use Moxa?

Although moxibustion is safe to use, there are certain situations where using moxa is not recommended. These include but are not limited to:

  • Conditions that are aggravated by heat
  • Sunburns
  • Blisters
  • Rashes aggravated by heat
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)

Adverse Effects

Generally, moxibustion is a safe therapy to use. Occasionally mishaps can happen and may cause some unwanted results. Observed possible adverse effects are:

  • Allergy
    Allergies may occur due to the nature of heat or the chemicals contained in mugwort leaves.
  • Burns
    Burns are amongst one of the highest adverse affect rates; this is a complicated result, sometimes burning or scarring the skin is also used as part of treatment.
  • Nausea and vomiting
    Patients may experience a bit of nausea or vomiting; this is possibly due to the lack of ventilation or a build-up of smoke in the room.
  • Cough
    Coughing fits may happen if the patients are highly sensitive to smoke or have respiratory issues.

Overall, the use of moxa can be dangerous if applied incorrectly, but under professional guidance, there should not pose any problems.

Smokeless Moxa

There is an option of using smokeless moxa if patients have allergies to smoke. Smokeless Moxibustion enables the same benefits without the complications of smoke.