Moxibustion is an oriental medicine therapy utilizing moxa, or mugwort herb. It plays an important role in the traditional medical systems of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia. Suppliers usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn the fluff or process it further into a stick that resembles a (non-smokable) cigar. They can use it indirectly, with acupuncture needles, or sometimes burn it on a patient’s skin.
Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi. Scientific research has shown that mugwort acts as an emmenagogue, meaning that it stimulates blood-flow in the pelvic area and uterus. It is claimed that moxibustion militates against cold and dampness in the body and can supposedly serve to turn breech babies.
Medical historians believe that moxibustion pre-dated acupuncture, and needling came to supplement moxa after the 2nd century BC. Different schools of acupuncture use moxa in varying degrees. For example a 5-element acupuncturist will use moxa directly on the skin, whilst a TCM-style practitioner will use rolls of moxa and hold them over the point treated.
Practitioners consider moxibustion to be especially effective in the treatment of chronic problems, “deficient conditions” (weakness), and gerontology. Bian Que (fl. circa 500 BC), one of the most famous semi-legendary doctors of Chinese antiquity and the first specialist in moxibustion, discussed the benefits of moxa over acupuncture in his classic work. He asserted that moxa could add new energy to the body and could treat both excess and deficient conditions. On the other hand, he advised against the use of acupuncture in an already deficient (weak) patient, on the grounds that needle manipulation would leak too much energy.
1) To warm meridians and expel cold
Abnormal flow of qi and blood in the body is usually resulted from cold and heat. Cold causes slow flow of even stagnation of qi, and heat results in rapid flow of qi. Normal heat activates blood circulation and cold impedes its smooth flow. Since stagnation of qi and blood is often relieved by warming up the qi, moxibustion is the right way to generate the smooth flow of qi with the help of the ignited moxa wool. In chapter 75 of miraculous pivot it says, “if stagnation of blood in the vessels cannot be treated by warming-up with moxibustion, it cannot be treated by acupuncture.” In chapter 48 of miraculous pivot it states, “depressed symptoms should be treated by moxibustion alone, because depression is due to blood stagnation caused by cold, which should be dispersed by moxibustion.” It is easy to understand that moxa functions to warm up the meridians and promote blood circulation. Therefore, it is mostly used in clinic to treat diseases caused by cold-dampness and persistent diseases caused by pathogenic cold penetrating into the deep muscles.
2) To induce the smooth flow of qi and blood
Another function of moxa is to induce qi and blood to flow upward or downward. For example, moxa is given to k1 to treat the disorders caused by excess in the upper part and deficiency in the lower part of the body and liver yang symptoms due to upward flowing of yang qi so as to lead the qi and blood to go downward. In chapter 64 of miraculous pivot, it is pointed out that “when there is an excess of qi in the upper portion, needling the point in the lower portion.” If the disorder is due to deficiency in the upper portion and excess in the portion of the body and due to sinking of qi caused by prolapse of uterus, prolonged diarrhea, etc, yang qi to flow upward.
3) To strengthen yang from collapse
Yang qi is the foundation of the human body. If it is in a sufficient condition, a man lives a long life; if it is lost, death occurs. Yang disorder is due to excess of yin, leading to cold, deficiency and exhaustion of the primary qi characterized by a fatal pulse. At reinforce yang qi and prevent collapse. In chapter 73 of miraculous pivot it says, “deficiency of both yin and yang should be treated by moxibustion.”
4) To prevent disease and keep healthy
In Precious Prescriptions appears the following description: “anyone who travels in the southwest part of China, such as Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, should have moxibustion at two or three points to prevent sores or boils and to avoid pernicious malaria, epidemic diseases and pestilence.” It is often said, “if one wants(S36) to be healthy, you should often have moxibustion over the point Zusanli(S36).”
In Notes on Bian Que’s Moxibustion, it says, “when a healthy man often has moxibustion to the points of Guanyuan(Ren4), Qihai(Ren 6) Mingmen (Du 4) and Zhongwan(Ren 12), he would live a very long life, at least one hundred years’ life.” Clinical practice has proved that moxibustion is very much helpful in preventing disease and keeping healthy.
Practitioners may use acupuncture needles made of various materials in combination with moxa, depending on the direction of qi flow they wish to stimulate.