If you happen to pass by an acupuncturist’s clinic, there’s a small chance you’ve encountered a strange aromatic but strong smell of a plant burning. This is probably the smoke generated by a therapy called moxibustion. Moxibustion or simply moxa, is the process of burning dried artemesia vulgaris or mugwort on certain areas of the body or on top of selected acupuncture points. It’s a kind of heat therapy that’s believed to prevent and treat illnesses. The mugwort is typically burned either directly on the skin on an insulating material or just over the skin.
Acupuncture and moxibustion have been used alongside each other for hundreds of years. According to the Chinese Miraculous Pivot, “An illness that cannot be treated with acupuncture can be treated with moxibustion”. The skin’s connective tissue possesses some kind of semi-conductive properties. Small electric currents are generated when heat is applied to the skin. Moxibustion, therefore, has the same ability to produce electric currents (with the added benefit of heat) as those created by insertion of a needle.
The Qualities of Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)
An acrid and bitter herb, moxa generates mild strong heat when burned. This heat penetrates deep within the muscles and acupuncture energy channels (meridians). The Japanese burned various herbs on the skin of a watermelon. The watermelon was then cracked open to see how deep the heat has penetrated. The only herb that left a heat trail that went deep into the core of the fruit was Artemisia. This leaf of this plant has an acrid odor that travels through the energy channels to dispel cold in the meridians and normalize blood and chi.
Illnesses associated with ‘cold’ include muscular tightness and spasms, diarrhea, stomach pain, certain types of back pain, and the common cold. The herb’s bitter quality addresses ‘dampness’. Some of the symptoms of dampness in the body manifest as arthritis, lumps and swelling in the skin, weak digestion, phlegm in the lungs, and urinary problems.
The Uses of Moxibustion
Injury, heat, or cold can disrupt the smooth flow of energy or chi throughout the body. Heating the chi activates blood circulation that restores normal flow. Accordingly, warming the chi through moxibustion eliminates heat or cold and restores homeostasis. An anti-inflammatory response is also initiated when the skin is warmed to the point of redness.
The chemical troubleshooters of inflammation, namely, histamine, endorphins, white blood cells, etc.…inundate the area, toxins are eliminated and the healing response is activated.
Treatment with Moxibustion
There are several forms of Moxa but the ones most commonly used are the moxa wool, cones of compressed moxa, and moxa stick (shaped like a cigar). Moxa wool and cones are placed on a slice of ginger or on a bed of salt to insulate the skin from the burning moxa, which is then placed on the skin. This method entails burning several consecutive cones until a fair amount of heat is felt. To send heat deep within a meridian, a Moxa wool is rolled and burned on the upper tip of an acupuncture needle. For instances involving stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting salt is poured into the navel, after which numerous cones are burned on the salt.
In using a moxa stick, the stick is lit and the smoldering end is hovered several inches over the skin. The burning end generates a radiating heat which reddens the skin. This indirect heat therapy is administered for 10 minutes or so.
One of the most successful and fascinating applications of moxibustion is its use to turn breech babies before delivery. To achieve this, at the small toe’s outside corner, tiny strings of very short moxa (known as “rice grain”) are burned.
Practice extreme caution when performing all these moxibustion procedures. Incorrect administration can result in bad results and burns. Applying moxibustion on the lumbosacral and abdominal area of pregnant women is contraindicated.
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