What is Moxibustion?

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Moxa-HütchenTraditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is based on the principle that the human body has various channels running inside it through which the life force or energy or ‘Qi’ as they call it flows. Any obstruction in this free movement can cause ailments. Moxibustion is a form of this medicine in which mugwort, a small soft herb also called “moxa” is burnt near the skin to induce the free flow of qi and promote healing. In this way, heat is used to remove infection causing agents that cause illnesses in the body.

The oldest account of this healing technique is found in Bian Que Neijing, written by Bian Que, an ancient doctor in China who lived circa 500 BCE. He believed that moxa could be used to restore the balance in the body by eliminating excesses and filling deficiencies.

What is Mugwort?

A member of the daisy family, mugwort or wormwood or artemis vulgaris is related to ragweed and akin to ragweed, can cause hay fever. The Chinese call it ai ye and has long been used by practitioners of folk medicine. A spongy, leafy plant, it is known to act as an agent that stimulates blood circulation in the area where it is used.

How does Moxibustion Work?

The herb mugwort is compressed into a slim cylinder that looks like a big cigar and held close to the skin after being lit (you can look at reviews and pricing of “moxa rolls” here)Practitioners believe that the heat generated can be used to warm specific sections or the meridian points of the body so that blood and qi circulate more freely. The cold or yang conditions of Chinese medicine and any illnesses associated with them can be treated using this technique. Since moxibustion is often used along with acupuncture, the treatment is also used on acupuncture-related points.

Moxibustion Techniques

There are two main moxibustion techniques, direct and indirect.

  • Direct moxibustion involves the placing of a cone-shaped stick of moxa on the acupuncture point, lighting it, then allowing it to smolder.
  • Scarring moxibustion, a form of direct moxibustion is conducted when the moxa placed on the skin is allowed to burn out completely. This can lead to blisters and scarring after healing.
  • Non-scarring moxibustion is also a form of moxibustion but there is no scarring. The burning moxa is placed on the skin but is removed before it causes burns on the skin.
  • Indirect moxibustion, a technique that is most commonly used in the USA, involves placing the burning moxa an inch or two above section of the skin being treated. The practitioner holds it in place until the area of the skin turns red. Heat is applied but the treatment does not leave behind any signs. There is also lesser chance of pain.

Moxibustion and acupuncture

  • In this technique, needles are inserted into specific points of the body. The moxa is placed around the tip of the needle and ignited so that heat is conducted through the needle inside and around the particular section. When the expected results are achieved, the moxa is put out and the needles removed. The practitioner used needles of different materials according to the qi that is to be stimulated.
  • Burnt match moxibustion in which the healer inserts acupuncture needles with the head of a burning match.
  • Thread incense moxibustion where thin strips of moxa are burnt.
  • Warm needle moxibustion is another technique where the inserted acupuncture needles are warmed using matches or a lighter.
  • Another form of indirect moxibustion is when the practitioner spreads a layer of ginger, salt or garlic on the patient’s skin and then places the ignited moxa on top. The protective layer does not allow scarring.
  • In case patients have asthma or breathing problems, the practitioner might opt to use smokeless moxa.

Cupping Therapy and Moxibustion

Cupping therapy is another branch of TCM and also targets the meridians by way of suction. This suction can be induced by placing a burning object inside a cup to heat it and then inverting the cup on the skin. Very often, moxa is the object burned to create heat. Cupping therapy can be used along with direct and indirect moxibustion. In case of indirect moxibustion, a leather patch may be placed on the skin to prevent burning but also cause heating and suction.

Sensations the Patient Experiences

The patient feels a quick sensation of warmth running through the particular channel that has been treated. The Chinese call this channel the jing luo and the warm sensation is a sign that the treatment has been effective. The obstructions in the flow of qi or chi have been released and the patient is now healthy. Blistering or pain occurs only when direct moxibustion is used.

Advantages of Moxibustion

The ancient Chinese used this treatment to apply heat so that the cold or stagnant conditions of the meridians could be healed. Thus, many ailments have shown favorable response to moxibustion.

  •  Relieving pain because of an injury or arthritis.
  • Healing digestion problems and irregular bowel movements.
  • Preventing cold and flu symptoms.
  • Eliminating gynecological problems such as symptoms of menstrual cramps.
  • Obstetric treatment to stimulate the movement of the fetus inside the uterus and correct conditions of a possible breech delivery. The results of a study published in the American Medical Association in 1998 revealed that up to 75 percent of women responded to moxibustion and their fetuses that were formerly in the breech position moved to the normal position for birth.

Possible Side-Effects

Moxibustion has been used by healers in ancient China for centuries but there can be certain side-effects of using this therapy such as–

  • Blistering, burning and scarring of the skin as in the case of direct moxibustion.
  • When moxa is burnt, it releases a thick smoke and pungent odor that can cause discomfort to patients suffering from respiratory problems. The healer might use smokeless moxa on them and perform the treatment in a properly ventilated room with air purification systems.
  • Mugwort must never be taken internally as the oils can be toxic especially in the case of pregnant women where the herb can cause a miscarriage.
  • The burns caused by direct moxibustion can get infected if not treated properly. This factor must be taken into careful consideration when performing the therapy on diabetic patients.
  • The odor produced by burning moxa is similar to that of marijuana. Thus, healers in the US post signs around their clinics to warn patients about the origin of the smell.

Although moxibustion has been proved to highly beneficial to patients, it is important that the therapy is used only to supplement conventional forms of medicine such as medication and if necessary, surgery.

How do I find a moxibustion practitioner in my area?

TCM degree programs include moxibustion as a part of their acupuncture curriculum. Although practitioners do not need a license to perform moxibustion, they must have accreditation for acupuncture. While it is always advisable that patients rely on a trained healer for the therapy, it can also be done at home.

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References–
1. http://www.acup uncturetoday.com/abc/moxibustion.php
2. http://en.wikipedi a.org/wiki/Moxibustion
3. http://www.takin gcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/moxibustion
4. http://www.scien cebasedmedicine.org/moxibustion/
5. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complement aryandalternativemedicine/manualhealingandphysicaltouch/moxibustion