Moxibustion

Moxibustion Symbol
This is the moxibustion
symbol, named after a
Japanese word meaning
"burning herb."

Moxibustion, or moxa, is named after the Japanese word mokusa, meaning "burning herb." It was first recorded in medical texts during the Song Dynasty (a.d. 960), but it has most likely been in use much longer. It is an important therapy in traditional Chinese medicine; the ancient texts advise that moxa should be tried if acupuncture and herbs have failed to heal the disease.

The heat from moxibustion is very penetrating, making it effective for impaired circulation, cold and damp conditions, and yang deficiency. When applied to acupuncture points specific for yang deficiency, the body absorbs the heat into its deepest levels, restoring the body's yang qi and "life-gate fire," the source of all heat and energy in the body.

Moxa is prepared from mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which is a common perennial herb. The aromatic leaves are dried and repeatedly sifted until they are fluffy.

There are two heating techniques used to apply moxibustion: indirect moxa and direct moxa.

Indirect Moxa

In indirect moxa, the "moxa wool" is rolled into a long cigar shape and wrapped in paper. The cigar-shaped moxa stick is then lighted and held about an inch away from the desired area -- an acupuncture point or other area of the body chosen by the practitioner. Indirect moxa can be used on acupuncture points to achieve a systemic, or bodywide, effect or it can be used directly at the site of a problem.

For example, indirect moxa might be applied to a swollen, stiff area such as an arthritic joint. It is also appropriate to apply indirect heat to specific acupuncture points, such as Zusanli (Stomach 36) or Mingmen (Du 4), to create a systemic effect. The heat taken into these points raises the body's metabolism and immunity, so moxibustion at these points can also be used in preventive health care.

One ancient text declares that "one who applies moxa daily to Zusanli (Stomach 36) will be free of the one hundred diseases." Applying moxa to Stomach 36 has an energizing effect on the body, especially in regard to immune and digestive functions. Some indications for its use in Chinese medicine are to treat general weakness, anemia, indigestion, nausea, chronic fatigue, shock, allergies, and asthma. Modern research has confirmed that the immune system is stimulated when the point receives moxa.

Another type of indirect moxa involves rolling the moxa, placing it on the end of an acupuncture needle while the needle is in the body, and igniting it. The heat from the moxa travels down the handle and into the needle. The needle transfers the heat specifically to the desired point on the body.

Direct Moxa

In direct moxibustion, a small amount of herb is rolled into a cone and burned directly on the skin. This can sometimes cause a burn, so this technique is rarely performed in Western acupuncture clinics. In most cases when moxa is applied directly to the skin, some ointment is first placed on the point to avoid a burn. In other techniques, the moxa is burned on top of a slice of ginger, garlic, or aconite; this prevents a burn and also adds the therapeutic effects of those herbs to the treatment.

Moxibustion at Home

In all cases, moxibustion can be a very pleasant sensation, especially when the warmth spreads through areas that have pain and swelling due to cold. Indirect moxa is also easy to learn to do at home. Practitioners often show a patient the appropriate point for their condition, and the person can take a moxa stick home to perform daily treatments. Such treatment can be very empowering, since the patient then takes responsibility for his own healing.

How to Moxa the Point "Leg Three Miles" (Zusanli, Stomach 36)

The point called Zusanli, or "Leg Three Miles," was named after its legendary ability to boost the vital energy of the body, making it useful for preparing for long trips on foot. Although the point can be activated by pressure or needling, moxibustion is the preferred method when the goal is to build energy, or qi.

The point is located under the knee on both legs, approximately the width of four fingers below the bottom of the knee cap (patella), and one finger width away from the shinbone (tibia), in an outward lateral direction.

After lighting a moxa stick, hold the glowing end about an inch away from the point, maintaining as much heat as possible without discomfort. After 5 or 10 minutes on each leg, carefully extinguish the moxa in a bowl of salt or sand or with water. Never try to put it out by crushing it in an ash tray, since it will continue smoldering and be a fire hazard.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.