What Is Moxibustion?
Moxibustion (‘灸’) is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique that has been used for more than 2,500 years in China and also other parts of the world such as Japan and Korea. It is a form of heat therapy that involves the burning of dried mugwort leaves over specific points on the skin to increase the healing power of acupuncture. The objective is to stimulate the flow of ‘Qi’ or energy, improve the blood circulation, maintain good health and a good quality of life. The mugwort plant, or artemisia vulgaris, or ‘艾叶‘, is a small, perennial plant found in regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and has been used for centuries for its therapeutic benefits.
Types of Moxibustion: How Does It Work?
There are numerous methods of moxibustion, but licensed practitioners usually use one or more of the following methods for maximum moxibustion benefits.
Your moxibustion practitioner may apply this direct method on the site of your pain, or near your body’s meridians and/or acupuncture points with lighted moxa cones (like incense cones) or sticks, which are made of ground mugwort leaves. The cones will be ignited and leave to burn slowly. The therapist will remove the cones once your sin starts to redden and you begin to feel the heat. It is believed that the heat from moxibustion will help stimulate these points and improves the flow of ‘qi’ in your body, dispel cold, warm ‘yang’ and prevent diseases to maintain overall wellbeing.
Indirect Moxibustion Using Moxa Cones
Another indirect moxibustion is a more common practice which is safer. The practitioner lights and burns moxa on the ends of acupuncture needles, allowing them to burn until extinguished. The heat generated by the mugwort herb is then transferred to the targeted acupuncture points through the needles.
Indirect Moxibustion Using Insulating Barriers
Another indirect method involves the use of insulating materials for moxibustion, such as air, aconite, ginger, salt or garlic. The practitioner will place this barrier between the moxa cone and the skin, or alternatively, they may fill moxa boxes with the insulating ingredient, light it, and place it on the body. Some therapists may even use a moxa wool, which involves putting salt on the patient’s navel, kneading some wool into a cone and putting it on the salt.
Drug moxibustion, or nature moxibustion, uses irritant drugs like garlic, cantharis and semen sinapis, the dried ripe seeds of the Sinapis L. or Brassica juncea (L.) plant, to coat the surface of acupoints and make local skin flushed and blistered to cure diseases.
Modern moxibustion refers to a variety of modern methods, such as microwave moxibustion, laser moxibustion and electrothermal moxibustion. These methods employ physical or chemical means to imitate the therapeutic effects of moxibustion stimulation, thereby simulating the traditional moxibustion experience.
What Happens During Each Session?
For example, during a moxibustion session to tackle stomach or digestive issues, the therapist or TCM doctor would trace the moxa stick or cone over your belly in a specific pathway to touch a series of points to warm important vital points, such as the ‘Ren 8’ – centre of your belly button, ‘Ren 6’ – two fingers below your navel, or ‘Ren 4’ – four fingers below the navel.
Usually, your therapist or TCM doctor will recommend a course of treatment that could make up of about 12 sessions of moxibustion, each lasting about 20 to 30 minutes. Do remember to drink enough water after every session.
Moxibustion Benefits – What Is This Technique Used for?
The principles of moxibustion are based on the belief that disruptions in the flow of energy can result in both mental and physical health issues. Whether it is used on its own, or in combination with acupuncture, there are numerous moxibustion benefits, such as the following.
- It stimulates blood flow and improves the flow of qi in the body, providing overall relaxation, relieving fatigue and increasing immunity.
- It is good for ailments that are caused by cold pathogens or ‘qi’ stagnation, such as indigestions, digestive disorders and gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, joint pain, chronic pain and muscle aches, chronic inflammation diseases, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and other blood conditions, oversensitivity to cold weathers and persistent coughs.
- It improves male health issues like poor sperm quality and impotence.
- Improving female gynecological conditions such as menstrual pain and irregularity, menstrual cramps, infertility and breech pregnancy. In a study, moxibustion is found to reduce both the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes.
- Clinical trials have also found one benefit of moxibustion for chronic kidney disease, with the technique reducing serum creatinine, a waste product in the blood that comes from the muscles.
Does Moxibustion Hurt? What Can I Feel?
Moxibustion therapy, whether direct or indirect, when executed well by an experienced medical professional, acupuncturist or qualified TCM medical doctor, should not hurt you at all. Generally, patients often report a sudden flooding of warmth in the body after the application of heat, that rapidly radiates along a specific pathway away from where the therapist applied the moxa. This is normal as it means that the ‘qi’ and blood are flowing correctly, and you should not be alarmed unnecessarily but if you are not feeling right, you should let the therapist know at once. Your therapist should be trained enough to remove the moxa cones before they burn your body.
Risks and Complications: Who Should Not Undergo Moxibustion
Despite the above moxibustion benefits, direct moxibustion, in some cases when executed by non-trained therapists, can cause burns, which can lead to scarring and skin discolourations. Studies have also found this technique to cause sore throats and vomiting, fetal distress and premature birth and dark patches on the skin.
As the burning of mugwort will produce a lot of smoke when ignited and also give out a strong and pungent smell, much like the smell of marijuana, those with mugwort allergy, skin rashes, eczema, smoke sensitivity and any lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia should not choose moxibustion as a treatment option. Although now there are smokeless moxa cones and sticks available, some patients still feel that the traditional way of using the genuine moxa cones and sticks as more effective.
Those who have been diagnosed by the TCM doctor as having excess ‘heat’ in the body and women who are having their menstruations should not undergo moxibustion. Pregnant women should undergo moxibustion with care. You should inform your therapist if you are pregnant so he or she can be more careful with your treatment.
Can I Do It Myself?
You can do moxibustion at home, but you have to be very careful as you can burn yourself with the moxa heat in the process. Hence, it is best that you use indirect moxibustion, as it allows some space between the burning moxa cones or sticks and your skin. Also, find a room with good ventilation, and get ready a lighter or candle to light your moxas, a small jar of dry sand, a cup of water and scissors and something like a metal cigar tube to extinguish the fire and ashes. Also get an ashtray or a container for the hot ashes.
That said, it is still best if you can have it done professionally by a trained and certified Chinese medicine practitioner or acupuncturist.
Recommended Products for Moxibustion
Pure Moxa Rolls for Mild Moxibustion (A Box of 10 Rolls)
This is a box of 10 pure, good quality moxa rolls containing the mugwort herb for do-it-yourself (DIY) mild moxibustion acupoint treatments. Each stick disperses uniform and slow heat through indirect moxa for up to 45 minutes.
10-Year Premium Moxibustion Set
This 10-year premium moxibustion set consists of 54 moxibustion rolls, 1 copper burner box (optional), 1 smokeless cloth bag (optional) and 1 English acupoint map (optional). You should definitely get this set for moxibustion benefits such as relaxation of muscles and joint pains.
- This product is made of high quality moxa velvet stored for 10 years. 1kg of moxa velvet is made from every 60kg of high quality mugwort leaves from the raw mugwort plant.
- The mugwort leaves are harvested from mugwort plants planted on the Funiu mountain at the south foot of Qinling Mountain, with the best climatic conditions for the species.
- When used together with the burner box and cloth bag, it is a safe moxa treatment with no strong and pungent smell.
As a complementary medicine treatment and a form of external therapy originating from Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used to boost blood flow, promote the flow of ‘qi’ and maintain overall wellbeing of the body. It involves a practitioner heating the herb mugwort on or near the skin to activate certain acupoints.
There is currently limited scientific evidence to support moxibustion benefits. In addition, the efficacy of moxibustion depends very much on the health condition of the individual, and whether there are any complementary acupuncture treatments, which may enhance the end results. However, the health benefits of moxibustion can be very fulfilling for certain individuals who do not want to rely too much on Western medicine or treatments.
Also, moxibustion is usually a safe external treatment although in some very extreme cases, it may cause burns and allergic reactions or infections. Anyone who is considering moxibustion should first consult the relevant medical practitioners about your medical conditions.