Moxibustion is the process of burning mugwort or 'moxa', a Chinese medicinal herb, over certain acupuncture points or areas of the body to create a therapeutic warming affect. Mugwort, also known as artemesia vulgaris or ai ye in Chinese, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Moxa has a stimulating and warming nature which helps to circulate the Qi through the body, the process is relaxing and enhances the therapeutic nature of the acupuncture treatment.
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect.
In direct moxibustion, pieces of moxa, ranging from rice size grains to larger cone shapes, are placed directly on the skin and lighted. The moxa is allowed to burn before it is extinguished or removed before reaching the skin. The patient will experience a pleasant warming sensation that penetrates deep into the skin and helps to circulate Qi. The patient will not experience any pain, blistering or scarring as the moxa is removed before reaching the skin.
Precautions are always taken when using moxa directly on the skin, so as to avoid burns or discomfort to the patient.
Indirect moxibustion can be burned a few different ways.
One way is by use of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar. The practitioner moves the moxa stick over the body area or acupuncture point being treated for several minutes. At no point does the moxa stick touch the skin. The area treated will become warm and slightly reddish from the heat, see below.
Another form of indirect moxibustion uses both acupuncture needles and moxa, photo above. A needle is inserted into an acupoint, the tip of the needle is then wrapped in moxa and ignited, generating heat to the point and the surrounding area. After the desired effect is achieved, the moxa is extinguished and the needle removed.
Moxibustion is particularly effective for eliminating cold, damp and stagnant conditions. By heating the meridians, the moxa breaks up obstructions, stimulates qi, and harmonizes energy.