What Is Moxibustion?
Simply put, Moxibustion is the burning of a dried plant known as Mugwort in english, Ai Ye in Chinese and Artemesia vulgaris in latin. Moxa is burned either directly or indirectly on the skin. It is frequently combined with Acupuncture to enhance its effect by increasing the flow of blood and vital energy (Qi) to the area being heated with the moxa. Most often it is used when Cold or Deficient conditions are present, such as the type of arthritis that gets worse in cold-damp weather for example.
Types of Moxibustion
As mentioned above, there are basically two methods used in traditional Chinese medicine; 1) Direct and 2) Indirect.
The direct method uses moxa placed directly onto the skin. It is then ignited and removed when the heat from the burning moxa begins too intense for the patient.
The indirect method uses moxa either by fixing it to the handle of an acupuncture needle (Warm-needling) that has been inserted into an acupuncture point on the body or by holding a moxa-stick over an acupuncture point.
In the case of Warm-needling, the heat will get increasingly more intense before slowly cooling off as the moxa stops burning. If using a moxa-stick, the heat will remain constant while the stick is being held over an acupuncture point for several minutes. Once removed, the heat felt at the site of the acupuncture point will slowly dissipate.
Other methods of indirect use of moxa include placing a layer of salt, ginger slice or garlic slices onto the skin and placing moxa on the material. It is them light and allowed to burn warming the acupuncture point and promoting blood and qi to the area.
How Does Moxibustion Work?
By overheating a small area on the skin, the body, in an attempt to maintain homeostasis, is forced to supply the area with increased blood in order to cool the area. This provides an increase of fresh, oxygen rich blood to an area that is deemed cold and/or deficient, thus increasing the Qi and blood in that area and therefore relieving cold and deficient conditions.
In Midwifery, moxibustion is frequently used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had foetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian.
Moxibustion is a very pleasant, relaxing sensation and when used properly does not cause blistering or pain. Having said that, there are techniques that cause scarring, however, these are not commonly used in western acupuncture clinics.