Moxibustion, or moxa, is a Chinese medical technique used for many purposes including improving circulation, warming the body, and supporting and strengthening a person’s constitution. Acupuncture and moxibustion are used in conjunction to stimulate acupuncture points and improve qi and blood flow in acupuncture channels.
Moxa itself is a Chinese herb known as Ai Ye (Artemisia argyi folium), or mugwort. Ai Ye is used both internally and externally in Chinese herbal medicine. As an internal herbal medicinal, Ai Ye stops pain, warms the channels and the body, and through its’ warming action can stop bleeding. Chinese medical theory suggests that it may also be used in pregnancy to help calm a restless fetus, and may help with itchy skin conditions.
Externally, the herb may be rolled into large sticks that are burned over the surface of the skin, rolled into small “rice grain” sized pieces and burned on the skin surface (usually at acupuncture points, with some sort of intercepting medium or ointment so that they don’t actually burn the skin), or placed on the handles of acupuncture needles and burned over acupuncture points. External moxa use can have many purposes, for instance, warming the lower back when stagnation of cold is causing pain or weakness, warming a muscle region that is stiff and contracted, stimulating acupuncture points that stop bleeding, or as a tonic—to help support and strengthen the body at acupuncture points that are used to support qi and blood formation. Certain randomized controlled trials have even suggested that moxibustion, used in the final weeks of pregnancy, can help turn a breech fetus.
You Burn Moxa? Is Moxa Treatment Painful?
No. Most people report no pain from moxibustion treatment. They say that moxa feels warm and pleasant. Even in more surface-level moxibustion treatment, cones are typically placed over an ointment or other intercepting medium and are extinguished far before they reach the skin surface.
What Else Can Moxa Be Used For?
Acupuncturists use moxa in practice for many reasons. Some commonly practiced techniques might include:
• Burning moxa over the acupuncture point Spleen 1 to help with excess menstrual bleeding.
• Burning moxa over acupuncture point Stomach 36 to support immunity and build qi, blood, yin, and yang.
• Moxa burned over acupuncture point Du 20 to invigorate the mind, lift prolapse, and move qi upwards.
• Internal use in the common herbal formula Jiao Ai Tang, which is used for excess menstrual bleeding or uterine bleeding due to a cold and deficient constitutional pattern.
• Burning moxa on top of a slice of ginger, often on the abdomen, for gastrointestinal problems.
• Burning moxa over cold and stiff joints or muscles, to lubricate motion and restore function.
• Moxa cones placed on top of salt in the center of the umbilicus and burned have been used in Chinese medicine to revive consciousness in cases of collapse due to deficiency. This theory comes from the idea that one of the Heart organ’s accessory channels, the Heart sinew (or Heart muscle channel), terminates at the umbilicus. As the Heart is considered the emperor organ, and contains the Shen (spirit), we can use moxa at the end of the muscle channel to revive someone who has fainted, bringing vitality directly to the emperor and cardiac muscle.
In short, moxa plays an integral role in acupuncture treatment and Chinese herbalism. Talk to your acupuncturist about whether it might be a good addition to your next treatment!