Moxibustion, a technique of acupuncture, can vary in practice depending on teachings and culture. While some ideas differ, the primary theory is that heat at meridian points unblocks qi (“chi”, or energy) to help heal the body.
Moxibustion comes from the Japanese word “mogusa” a word for the herb mugwort and the Latin word for burning “bustion.” It is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique that is believed to have its beginnings in northern China where the climate is cold. The part of the TCM philosophy that relates to moxibustion is based on the ideas of heat and cold. Moxibustion first traveled to Japan then like TCM it moved on to other countries.
Moxibustion History and Theory
In very basic terms, TCM says that everybody has a dominant constitution that can be inherited or acquired which with other concepts can affect one’s health for both the good and bad. Warm and cold describe just two of several characteristics. Illnesses can also have qualities of heat and cold.
Moxibustion stimulates warmth in the body so that the body’s energy is balanced against either a manifestation of a cold body constitution or illness that presents as “cold” in the body. In other words, moxibustion developed because of the theory that heating the body in along specific meridian channels would help it to heal.
Moxibustion Different Schools of Thought
To heat specific meridian points, a moxa is used. The moxa is a cone-shaped or round stick made from the compressed dried herb mugwort or another substance like wool. It can also be a combination of materials. The moxa looks like a long thin cigar; once lit it burns to a smolder which produces intense heat. This is where moxibustion similarities among schools of thought begin to end.
The placement of the moxa and whether it’s used in combination with needle acupuncture are the two main differences. Typically, most practitioners place the moxa close enough to the skin to heat it. It may temporarily cause the skin to redden, but does not burn it. This is called the indirect method and the most popular.
In Japan and some parts of China, however, many practitioners use the older direct method where the moxa is placed directly on the skin. The direct approach may result in burning or scarring, so this is one of the reasons that it has generally faded from use. Newer practice techniques use a barrier between the moxa and the skin to protect it.
Another moxibustion technique that some acupuncturists employ is heating the tips of the needles after they have been placed on the body. This allows the heat to transfer to the body. The patient will feel warmth, but no burning.
There is another difference among acupuncturists and the use of moxibustion: Traditional acupuncturists consider moxibustion as an integral part of the acupuncture treatment. They believe they go together. So, traditional acupuncturists will do both during a treatment. They reason that acupuncture and moxibustion work differently so have different effects on the body.
Acupuncture works on the nervous system, and moxibustion works with the circulatory or immune system according to Dr. Tim Hideaki Tanaka, founder of The Pacific Wellness Institute, a TCM medical center. Dr. Tanaka says that combining the two has the most benefit.[i] In the West, the general acupuncture treatment uses needles without moxa, or moxibustion can be a separate treatment.
Other moxibustion practitioners, especially some in China may also teach their patients to use moxibustion on themselves as a treatment between appointments. The patients don’t use needles only the moxa stick or cone.
Benefits of Moxibustion
The warmth of moxibustion on the skin induces the body’s anti-inflammatory response as well as increases blood circulation. As a result, warm and cold energies are balanced and healing can take place. Moxibustion it is said to be useful for many diseases. Some of them are:
Menstrual cramps and other female issues
Irritable bowel syndrome
Pregnancy issues including breeched babies
There are certain people for whom moxibustion is not suitable such as those with circulatory issues or those who have a weakened immune system. Also, certain medications may interfere with the treatment. A licensed acupuncturist and TCM doctor will consider your health conditions before using moxibustion. Moxibustion must be done by a trained and licensed acupuncturist or TCM practitioner.
While the application and use of moxibustion may vary from schools of thoughts, acupuncturists, and cultures, they share the basic concepts of TCM that have benefited many.
This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or recommend any form of medical treatment. Always check with your doctor first before seeking any new medical therapy.
About Acupuncture and Moxibustion Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.acupuncturemoxibustion.com.
Brill, Victoria. Moxibustion. Retrieved from http://acupuncture-seattle.com/acupuncture/moxibustion/.
Moxibustion. Retrieved from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/moxibustion.
Tanaka Hideaki, Tim, Ph.D., Moxibustion: An Ancient Fire Acupuncture Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.acupuncture-treatment.com/what-is-moxibustion/.
[i] Tanaka, Tim Hideaki, Ph.D., R.Ac, R.TCMP, About Acupuncture and Moxibustion Therapy. Web.