Moxibustion

Moxibustion
and Traditional Chinese Medicine
You may have wondered about ‘that strange smell’ when you passed by an acupuncturist’s clinic. Moxibustion, or moxa for short, is the process of burning the dried herb artemesia vulgaris, over acupuncture points or on certain areas of the body. It is a form of heat therapy that treats and prevents diseases. It is usually burned either just above the skin or directly on the skin placed on an insulating material.
Moxibustion and acupuncture have been used together for centuries. In the Chinese Miraculous Pivot it states, “A disease that may not be treated by acupuncture may be treated by moxibustion”. The connective tissue of the skin has semi-conductive properties. If heat is applied to the skin, minute electric currents can be generated. Therefore, moxibustion has as much potential to generate electric currents as those generated by needle insertion, with the added benefit of heat.
THE PROPERTIES OF MOXA (artemisia vulagaris)
Moxa is a bitter and acrid herb. Burning the herb produces mild to strong heat, which is able to penetrate deeply into the muscles and acupuncture meridians. In Japan, many herbs were burned on the surface of a watermelon. The melon was then cracked open to determine how deeply the heat penetrated. Artemisia was the only herb that left a heat trail deep into the core of the fruit. The acrid odor of the leaf travels through the meridians to regulate qi and blood, and to expel cold from the channels.
Pathologies related to ‘cold’ are those such as the common cold, some types of back pain, abdominal pain/diarrhea and muscle spasm and tightness. The bitter nature of the herb resolves ‘dampness’. Some signs of dampness in the body presents as urinary problems, phlegm in the lungs, poor digestion, swellings and lumps in the skin, and arthritis.
THE FUNCTION OF MOXA
Cold, heat or injury usually causes the abnormal flow of qi (energy) through the body. Warming the qi restores its flow and activates blood circulation. Consequently, warming the qi with moxibustion restores homeostasis by dispelling cold or heat. Warming the skin to the point of redness also initiates an anti-inflammatory response. The chemical mediators of inflammation, namely, white blood cells, endorphins, histamine, etc.…flood the area, toxins are dissolved and the healing response is triggered.
TREATMENT WITH MOXIBUSTION
Moxa comes in several forms. Most commonly used are the moxa stick, (which resembles a cigar), cones of the compressed herb or moxa wool. The moxa stick is held several inches above the skin. As it smolders, the charcoal’s red tip produces a diffuse heat that reddens the skin. This indirect warming is maintained for about ten minutes. Moxa wool can be rolled and burned on the top of an acupuncture needle sending warmth deep into the channel. Moxa wool and cones are also placed on an insulating material such as a bed of salt or a piece of ginger. It is then put on the skin and burned. This procedure involves burning numerous consecutive cones until a moderate amount of heat is felt. With cases involving diarrhea, abdominal pain or vomiting, the salt is poured into the umbilicus. Several cones are then burned on the salt.
One of the most interesting and successful uses of moxibustion is in the treatment of breech presentation in pregnancy. Very short and tiny strings of moxa (called “rice grain”) are burned at the outside corner of the small toe.
As with all moxibustion techniques, extreme caution should be used. Improper use can cause burns and bad results. The abdominal and lumbosacral region of pregnant women is contraindicated.
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