If you’ve done any research on Chinese medicine, you probably might have encountered a traditional therapeutic technique known as moxibustion. Moxibustion in general, doesn’t get as much exposure by the media as Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, nonetheless, this comforting procedure has a ton of health benefits – more so when it’s used as a complementary treatment to acupuncture.
If you’ve been bothered by persistent health problems, you might want to search for a clinic that offers moxibustion. The Nei Jing, an ancient Chinese medical document says “A health condition that cannot be resolved through acupuncture may be cured by moxibustion.” Nowadays, moxibustion is a common procedure that treats people who are unresponsive or are too sensitive to acupuncture or medication.
This article is designed to help you better appreciate the benefits and uses of moxibustion so you may be able make an informed decision about the kind of treatment you need.
What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion is over 5000 years old and is as ancient as acupuncture. It is so closely connected to acupuncture that the Chinese term for it is shinkyu which means acupuncture moxibustion. There are a wide range of moxibustion techniques that acupuncturists and other practitioners of Chinese medicine can choose from. There are also different kinds of moxa that are used to treat patients. The most ancient form of moxibustion has even been known to predate acupuncture.
As with all ancient Chinese therapies, the aim of moxibustion is to restore balance in the patient’s body and bring about a smooth circulation of chi. Balance can be attained by burning ai ye (moxa) or dried mugwort directly or near the skin. This potent therapeutic herb has long been used in both the West and China, and is probably best known for its affiliation with the “witches” of Europe during Medieval times. This affiliation was due to the fact that it was frequently used in folk medicine, especially as a way to ameliorate menstrual irregularities, abdominal pain, anxiety, and skin itch.
From a modern Western medicine viewpoint, moxibustion is used as a mild stimulant and/or as a natural diuretic. It can help stimulate the flow of blood to the uterus and other areas of the pelvic region. This is why it’s often used to treat absent or light menstruation and uterine cramps. It is also widely known to help correct breech baby position.
Moxibustion helps stimulate stagnated, inadequate, and sluggish chi through the use of heat or fire and it should only be administered by a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner. Its use can help enhance the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture and addresses chronic stagnation.
Kinds of Moxibustion
To perform a moxibustion session, practitioners may select either indirect or direct moxibustion. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to these methods, and the treatment you will get is usually decided by the practitioner and/or the patient.
Direct moxibustion is the administration of moxibustion directly on the skin. While the patient lies down on an acupuncture table, the practitioner will light up an incense stick to burn the moxa “wool.” Warmth comes from the burning of an herbal wool on the selected acupuncture acupoints. The acupoints are selected based on the personal attributes and condition of the patient.
Indirect moxibustion is the method most often used by US-based practitioners and is typically done in one or two different ways. The practitioner will first hold the smoldering end of a moxa stick very near the skin, until the acupuncture point is warmed sufficiently. This causes the vital fluids and blood to flow smoothly along the appropriate meridians, which then initiates the healing of the patient’s ailments. Today’s clinics use smokeless slow-burning, moxa sticks that are ideal for people who are sensitive to smoke. The Indirect form of moxibustion can also be administered via a tiger warmer, and garlic, ginger, aconite, or salt that is used as a buffer between the skin. The warmth of the fire reaches the deeper parts of the body.
Another indirect moxibustion technique is to attach a ball of moxa on the upper tip of an acupuncture needles inserted into the skin and light the ball until the moxa smolders. The heat travels down the shaft of the needle and into the acupoint, boosting the healing benefits effects of the needle. More often than not, the moxa wool ball is placed on just one or two needles per session. Lots of patients experience a relaxing and warm sensation during and even after an acu-moxibustion procedure.
The Process of Moxibustion
Even today, no one still knows why moxibustion can do the things it does. Certain practitioners say that it works the same as the other heat-based treatments such as hot tubs, saunas, warming creams and heat packs. While many people in the West use these treatments to address localized pain, in Chinese medicine, heat is an important factor in the relief whole-body and more systemic complaints.
What ailments can be cured by moxibustion?
The central element of moxibustion is fire because it is often used to eliminate cold stagnation and the symptoms that correspondingly manifest. Based on Western medicine lens, common conditions that are related to cold stagnation are:
- Slow digestion
- Oversensitivity to cold
- Weakened immunity
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Joint pain and arthritis
- Fluid retention
- Low mood and depression
Slowly but surely, Western medical science has begun to accept the power of moxibustion to treat these ailments effectively. In one clinical study, moxibustion has been shown to work extremely well on people suffering from osteoarthritis. The researchers concluded that:
“Moxibustion therapy is easy and simple to perform, and inexpensive. This technique can also be easily replicated compared to acupuncture, which is contingent to changes resulting from the various needling procedures of acupuncturists. Their findings indicate that moxibustion is an easy-to-use, effective and safe therapy that can also be a complementary treatment to conventional Western medicine to enhance function and relieve pain in patient suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.”
Indirect moxibustion was used in a research study in which some of the 42 participants suffering from autoimmune hypothyroidism, better known as with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, were treated with moxibustion on a couple of acupuncture points. These participants were treated with prescription medications as well as moxibustion treatments and the rest were treated with prescription medication only. The subjects treated with moxibustion plus medication experienced better function of their thyroid compared to the people that were only treated with drugs.
The potential for correcting breech babies is one of the most interesting applications of moxibustion. Almost 90 percent of breech babies need to be delivered via cesarean section, but of course, not all of these would be mothers would prefer not to undergo this process. New research has found that when combined with acupuncture and postural techniques, moxibustion can turn over breach babies so that they are in safer position at birth. This probably is due to the capacity of moxibustion to activate uterine contractions that can turn breech babies gently around.
The therapeutic qualities of moxibustion, like acupuncture, have been verified by a significant amount of clinical studies. More studies about this therapy that deal with its mechanisms and uses will be done in the future as the awareness of this ancient therapy is increasing by the day.
Moxibustion can be especially useful for individuals who have not found any answer to their problems with other treatments. After trying both alternative and mainstream therapies and you’re still suffering from certain health problems, we suggest trying moxibustion therapy. Practitioners often provide patients with rolls of moxa and show them how to apply moxibustion so that they can treat themselves at home. Sustained and continuous application is important in the successful use of this therapy.
Be sure to seek treatment only from qualified acupuncturists or Chinese medicine practitioners who are trained in a wide range of techniques, including moxibustion.