Moxa - The Burning Herb
by Jennifer Caron, Lic.Ac., MAc.
For all of you that have walked into an acupuncturist's office after they have been burning moxa, you know what I'm talking about. It's that sweet aroma that many people mistake for marijuana. No kidding. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of experiencing moxa firsthand, let me tell you what you're missing!
Moxa is Mugwort
Moxa comes from the herb mugwort, and has been used medicinally in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. No, this is not an herb that you smoke! If you want to get stoned - see massage article in this issue!
The Beauty of Moxa
In a nutshell, moxa is burned in order to warm the body during an acupuncture treatment. This is called moxibustion. There are many different ways to use moxa, but all give off a radiant heat that penetrates the body very well. This makes moxa really good for deficient, cold and stagnant conditions. Like most things in nature, the qi (or energy) in our bodies reacts to cold by contracting and heat by expanding. Therefore cold qi has a tendency to contract, or stagnate, and warm qi has the tendency to expand, or flow smoothly. By warming the qi in the meridians with moxa, we help to build the qi and blood in the body, and improve circulation.
There are two different applications of moxa - direct and indirect. Each is useful for different conditions.
Direct moxa means the moxa is applied directly onto the body. This is further broken down into what is called the scarring and the non-scarring methods. Scared yet? Not to worry! Most practitioners these days don't perform scarring moxa anymore, and for obvious reasons! Therefore I won't cover that category in much detail here. But suffice it to say that it has its uses, and is very strong and quite effective! The non-scarring is the more common direct moxa method, and involves a small bunch of moxa being put onto the body, usually in the shape of cone, and burned down until the warmth is felt by the patient, and then removed. Many rounds of this would be done until a very strong sense of heat was felt at the point.
Indirect moxa is probably the most commonly used as it can warm a greater area of the body with greater comfort. This too can be further broken down into the two most commonly used forms: warming needle and moxa pole. The moxa pole looks a lot like a cigar. It is lit at one end until it is smoldering hot, and then it is held over an acupuncture point or region of the body to warm it. In warming needle, an acupuncture needle is placed into a point on the body, and then a small ball of moxa is placed on the head of the needle. The moxa is then lit, so that the entire ball of moxa burns and smolders completely, thereby warming not only the surface of the skin below the moxa, but also the needle itself, and in turn the qi deep within the acupuncture point. The picture shown is of warming needle moxa.
There are so many uses for moxa I couldn't possibly list them all for you! What I can say is that since I started practicing acupuncture, not a day has gone by where I haven't used it! Moxa is important in the treatment of fatigue, fibromyalgia and pain syndromes, certain musculo-skeletal injuries, arthritis, digestive disorders, women's menstrual issues, turning breech presentation and more. The method of application used will depend on what your chief concern is, as certain conditions indicate one form over the other.
It has been said in certain Chinese texts that those that moxa acupuncture point Stomach 36 (ST36) every single day live very long lives without illness. That's a mighty strong claim, for sure! But in reality I find moxa so useful and so important for people's treatments that I often send my patients home with moxa poles, and instructions on how to use it themselves. Just by deeply warming certain points for a few minutes per day can do wonders for warming qi, increasing circulation and boosting immunity.