Things You Should Know About Moxibustion Therapy

For ancient healers, the overarching basis was balance.

A person who is weak and cold naturally needs strength and warmth. According to TCM or traditional Chinese medicine in Cleveland, the sole remedy for this condition is called moxa or moxibustion therapy.

Licensed acupuncturists who are trained in moxibustion therapy understand that moxibustion provides penetrating deep heat to address the underlying cold.

The cold settles in the gastrointestinal tract, the lower stomach, or the uterus and the person can feel cold in areas where there shouldn’t be cold. Moxibustion is the best way to deliver heat to these areas.

Moxa is a term that originated from the Japanese word “mogusa,” which means “burning herbs.” It is a therapy involving the burning of healing cones and cigar-shaped moxa over or on the body.

Moxibustion is believed to have been used for over three thousand years in China where it originated. The burning moxa plant was designed to heat acupuncture points long before the use of needles. Moxibustion therapy today is used to address a wide variety of conditions such as Lyme disease, tuberculosis, reproductive problems, menstrual problems, chronic digestive disorders, and even cancer.

It’s a very powerful treatment for pain and is usually the treatment of choice used for patients suffering from a lot of pain who have not gotten well with acupuncture.

Unfortunately, a lot of Chinese medicine practitioners in the West have abandoned the practice of moxibustion and have just mainly concentrated on acupuncture treatment.

In Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and China, moxibustion is a major form of treatment like acupuncture and herbal medicine. In the United States, however, this therapy has not been widely accepted by people. Chinese medicine schools teach this technique, but a majority of American acupuncturists discard this modality once they graduate.

But, the biggest problem about moxibustion is its smell. The smoke from this therapy produces a distinct aromatic smoke that many people mistake for marijuana.

Acupuncture points along the spine are placed and then lit up with small moxa cones for strength and warmth.

Main Medicine

Moxibustion has not been studied as much as acupuncture, although the available data reveal it has beneficial effects on the immunity, blood, and tissue regeneration. In 1998, the JAMA or the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that about three-fourths of pregnant women with breech babies returned to normal position with the burning of moxa on the acupoint situated on the toe of the pinky.

While moxibustion in the West is seen as a minor component of Chinese medicine, ancient healers hold it in high esteem. According the Nei Jing, the oldest medical document in the world, moxibustion is capable of doing “what the needle cannot.”

Researchers strive to explain how moxibustion actually works. Some patients who have been in multiple car accidents report that when they have been treated with acupuncture, they only experienced few improvements.

But, after being given just a single moxibustion treatment, most of them experienced “life altering” effects.

This therapy can be given on a daily basis as it has been shown to generate great results among patients.

One of the biggest issues of majority of American acupuncturists with regards to the use of moxibustion is the fear of accidentally burning a patient. However, this can be easily avoided with constant practice.

The problem people in the West have about the technique is that they tend to view medicine in a very intellectual way, and moxibustion is actually more of a hands-on skill technique that one needs to cultivate proficiency in order for it to be administered in a therapeutic manner.


Moxa is derived from a weed known scientifically as Artemisia vulgaris or mugwort. This plant is usually given in herbal medicine to address circulatory, hormonal, and digestive disorders as well as uterine complaints such as heavy bleeding, menstrual cramping, and labor pain.

Mugwort is converted into moxa wool, a spongy material, when it’s used for moxibustion. Ancient Chinese healers select mugwort due to a couple of reasons: it generates a slow steady burning heat and it burns easily.

On November 17, 2014, the Yin Yang podcast (an an audio program for acupuncturists) did an episode explaining that the main reason mugwort was chosen was because of its magical properties.

In ancient books, the mugwort plant was used to ward off ghosts, evil spirits, and evil chi or energy and to repel scorpions and snakes.

With regards to health, the aroma of burning mugwort smoke has a soothing effect on the nervous system. Patients can actually enjoy the therapy small once they get over the funky smell. There are also patients who amble off into a pleasant heavenly rest during the treatment procedure.

Anyone can benefit from moxibustion; however, there are instances when it is not recommended. These include signs of excess heat like eczema, infection, and fever. During the early stages of pregnancy, pressure points on the lower back and stomach should be avoided.

Indirect and Direct Moxibustion

There are two types of moxibustion therapy, the indirect and direct method.

The indirect method is a simple procedure to learn and the practitioner oftentimes gives a moxa cigar to the patient. The cigar is lighted and held over an acupuncture point for a few minutes. This treatment can be performed at home.

In indirect moxibustion, the practitioner holds the burning moxa right above the targeted acupoint. The moxa is then pulled away once the patient gets too hot. The treatment site is allowed to cool for a few seconds then treatment is resumed.

A highly skilled practitioner is needed to perform in the direct method as it is designed to directly burn the skin.

Acupuncturists advise patients to go past the cursory sensation of warmth until the heat permeates deep into the tissue. The penetration of the heat deep into the body is a sign that the treatment is successful and the lighted stick can then be extinguished. A typical moxibustion treatment session usually lasts around 5 to 10 minutes.

One can buy moxibustion supplies in the internet, in acupuncture schools, and shops in Chinatown. The moxa is available in different sizes and shapes from loose moxa wool to cigarette butt-sized sticks with an adhesive end.

For people who prefer to have an odorless or smokeless treatment, they can request their practitioner to use a smokeless charcoal-based moxa stick; however these sticks are less effective.

For people with suspicious neighbors, allergies, or asthma, practitioners recommend Ibuki Gold Mountain and other Japanese moxa of high quality.

The Ibuki Gold Mountain emits very little odor and most of the aroma one gets from this kind of moxa is from the incense a person uses to light it. It is well tolerated by many people.

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