Moxibustion is the application of heat to specific parts of the body to promote health and healing. It is one of the oldest forms of medicine and an early method of stimulating the channels (meridians) that have since become synonymous with acupuncture.
In fact the word ‘acupuncture’ is a poor translation of the Chinese (Japanese) word zhen jiu (shin kyu) 鍼灸 literally meaning needle fire.
In Japan a separate licence is needed to be practise and there are moxibustion specialists that use only moxa for treatments.
Moxa is harvested from the yomogi or mugwort (artemesia vulgaaris latiflora), the leaves are processed to produce different grades of material; the rougher greener moxa used more for indirect moxibustion, and the purer yellow material used more for direct moxibustion.
Indirect moxibustion refers to methods such as stick moxa, cone moxa on a bed of salt or ginger, and moxa burning on the end of a needle. The effect is to warm the area, dispel cold and improve circulation.
Direct moxibustion usually refers to moxa cones the size of a grain of rice or smaller. The degree of stimulation can be regulated to suit the individual and the problem, typically the cones are burned to around 80% to produce a pecking sensation as heat is focussed at a small point. The effect is to move blood stasis, improve circulation and to reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of moxibustion can be very effective for local joint inflammation as the heat signals the body to send anti-inflammatories to the area which then treat the original inflammation. In addition to which the ‘damage’ initiated by the moxa stimulus also induces an immune response leading to an increase in white blood cell count, and boost to the immune system.
The treatment itself can either be combined with other therapies, or can be used on its own. Points are chosen that are found to be reactive (usually hard or painful on pressure) along standard channels as well as special moxa points that have been shown to be empirically effective for certain conditions. The theory is simple, when the body in unwell it manifests this on the surface, when these points are repeatedly treated with moxa, in time their reactions lessen and the health of the patient improves. Traditionally moxa is said to be effective for stubborn long term problems that often have not improved with other methods.