What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine, where mugwort is lit on fire, then used to heat up acupuncture points. Mugwort is an herb also known as Ai Ye or Artemisia Vulgaris. Mugwort contains essential oils rich in Thujone, a chemical that acts antagonistically to GABA receptors in the body—when taken internally. Studies on Moxibustion indicate that it is capable of treating a wide range of diseases.

Ling Shu, Guan Neng states that when acupuncture does not work, moxibustion does. 

Moxibustion has both direct (skin contact) and indirect (no skin contact) methods. Moxibustion can also be used to warm up acupuncture needles, by securing it to the needle’s handle—a technique called kyutoshin, in Japanese tradition.

Moxibustion involves fire and smoke, but there are smokeless alternatives for people with sensitives noses or asthma. It is a very relaxing therapy, and can help relieve pain, warms the muscles and meridians, and can help invigorate the body with Yang qi.

Some practitioners can teach patients how to safely use moxibustion on themselves. This is often done for cases of a breech baby, where the mother is asked to use moxa as a daily therapy to turn the baby naturally.

Moxa sticks consist of Mugwort which has been fleeced and packaged into sticks. The fleeced mugwort can also be used in a loose form, which can be packed into cones or balls, then burnt upon sliced ginger or aconite (among other barriers). The heat produced by the burning mugwort penetrates deep into the muscular tissues. Moxibustion’s heat can help facilitate the relaxation of contracted muscles and sinews, dredging the meridians, expelling cold, and invigorating the Yang qi of the body.

Indirect moxibustion is used commonly, as there’s very little chance of scarring or burning, when operated properly. A stick of Moxa is lit, and a practitioner warms points with the small ember produced by the burning herbs. Points on the feet, ankle and knees can be warmed with indirect moxibustion to relieve conditions like arthritis. This style can be safely used both in and outside of the clinic.

Direct Moxibustion is when a small amount of mugwort fleece is burned directly upon the flesh, until there is a feeling of contact with the herb’s heat. Non-scarring Moxa can be performed on patients that are too deficient or unfit for scarring Moxa. Scarring Moxibustion uses a rice sized piece of Moxa fleece and is burnt down just enough to contact the flesh. This activates a powerful immune response that can strengthen the body’s yang and Wei Qi. This form of moxibustion is safely done in a clinic by a licensed acupuncturist. In addition to direct loose moxa, there are stick-on options, like Tsubo-Kyo Ibuki Moxa (see video below).

Moxibustion with moxa leaf can get into the channels and cure hundreds of diseases. Its function is great. The drug properties of moxa leaves (raw) are that they turn warmer after being processed, become moxa wool (processed), which are suitable for moxibustion, and the older the better. The ancients chose moxa as moxibustion material for it is easy to collect and more for its drug properties, and long-term clinical practices have proved that.

Research has shown positive results concerning the pain relieving and therapeutic effects of moxibustion.

  • Moxibustion can lead to vasoconstriction at the burning point while vasodilatation around the point and increase peripheral arterial blood flow and microvascular permeability
  • Another thermal effect of moxibustion is to induce heat shock proteins (HSPs) in local tissues. HSPs are a class of functionally related proteins involved in the folding and unfolding of other proteins.

Biochemical research has elucidated many active components of mugwort, the herb used in moxibustion.

  • These chemicals potentiate therapeutic functions beyond the thermal function of moxibustion.
  • The ingredients of moxa always change according to the place and season of production.

The ingredients of moxa are complicated; more than 60 kinds of components had been identified [33]. The volatile oils of moxa include 1,8-Cineole, alkenes (alpha-thujene, pinene, sabinene, etc.), camphor, borneol, and little aldehydes, ketones, phenols, alkanes, and benzene series compounds. Heptatriacontane (C37H76) plays an important role in combustion [34]. The moxa also has tannins, flavonoids, sterols, polysaccharides, trace elements, and other ingredients.

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