What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion, or moxa, is a heat therapy that is used in a similar way to acupuncture. We use the same channels, points and theories to guide treatment as we do when prescribing needle treatment, but we use a different material to impact the energy and function of the body.
All moxibustion utilizes burning mugwort/wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves and stems over important areas of the body in an effort to reduce symptoms and improve health. Moxibustion is most often used when cold is at the root of a pathology, but as it is also a generally tonifying method of treatment, it can be used in all kinds of cases of deficiency. Most people find moxa to be quite relaxing and centering. This modality can be done at home with training from your practitioner!
Moxibustion can be done directly or indirectly. Direct moxa involves the molding of acupuncture “floss” or fluffy processed mugwort into small cones or threads. These are then put directly on the body and lit with an incense stick. As the moxa burns down, the heat intensifies, and the practitioner removes the material before it burns you. The process is quite smooth and pain-free, though it does take a minute to get used to if you're new to the modality.
Indirect moxibustion involves the use of rolls or other preparations that are lit until a coal is produced. The coal is then held over the same points and channels as are used in direct moxibustion, for the same purposes. However, because it is not directly touching the body, the heat tends to be less intense and more diffuse. This does not necessarily make it less effective – it just may take a longer time to get the same therapeutic effect. Indirect moxa is great for when a person has pain over a larger area of the body that feels very cold and tight.
What does moxibustion do?
Moxibustion is warming and building for the body. It helps to improve yang function, increase circulation / shen, and can be part of an effective holistic treatment for digestive concerns when applied to the abdomen consistently. From a conventional research perspective, there are multiple reasons to be interested in the power of moxibustion.
Moxibustion is one of the major modalities used when trying to turn a breech presentation of a baby as the due date approaches.
Why would my practitioner do moxibustion instead of needling?
If they feel that your pathology is more rooted in cold or deep deficiency, moxibustion may be suggested either alone or – more often – in concert with the insertion of needles. Sometimes a patient is too weak or compromised for acupuncture, which can sometimes exert a draining effect on some patients, and moxibustion is presented as a safer alternative. Finally, moxibustion is sometimes used when a patient has a reluctance to be needled but is interested in experiencing the effects of Chinese medicine directed treatment.
What should I do after a moxibustion session? How will I feel?
Like with any treatment, your experience is likely to be somewhat unique to you. The pathology you are presenting with, any medications or other treatments you are engaging with, your energy and nourishment on the day of treatment and your mental state will all impact the strength and nature of the treatment you receive.
That said, most people find moxibustion to be warming (of course) and very grounding. It has a centering effect, almost like cuddling with a favorite animal or human in front of a nice fire in the wintertime. It can give people a boost of energy in some instances, or if a person is deeply tired can make you feel like taking a nap. As with other treatments, you should notice that, over time, your symptoms being treated improve.
Can I do moxibustion at home?
Yes! We sell moxa kits to patients for their use.
Your practitioner will demonstrate technique, but then you can utilize our resources to guide you in treating yourself at home.
Note that the dark black moxa sticks we sell are the “smokeless” type – though they do still give off some slight odor and should not be done in an unventilated space. These are much harder to light than the more traditional style sticks, and we recommend you use a bruleé torch or other strong flame, rather than using a simple butane lighter.
We are in the process of making our own moxibustion videos, in the meantime, please see the following video to guide you and of course read the text instructions at the bottom of this page.
This video shows good technique, but discusses using rice for extinguishing. Your moxa kit comes with a commercially produced metal extinguisher that puts out the stick without damaging it within 15-20 seconds.
Basic home moxibustion instructions
Your moxa kit comes with “smokeless” moxa sticks and a metal extinguisher. As mentioned above, you will want to get a torch style butane lighter or bruleé torch to light these sticks. You *can* use a lighter or candle, just take care with the heated metal and prepare to take up to 3 minutes to completely light it.
- Prepare your treatment area with your extinguisher, lighting device and moxa stick. You should do this work in a ventilated room if possible. You may want to have a little dish of water available just in case you drop a small ember. In general, it's best not to do this over a fabric surface like a bed or blanket for the same reason.
- Remove the stick from the plastic wrapper if needed and discard the wrapper.
- Using the torch, light the last 3/4 – 1 inch of the stick, rotating it around and moving the blue part of the flame around and around the stick. Try not to focus too much in one area, or you risk creating small cracks in the stick that reduce its strength and can increase accidents.
- Once it is a uniform orange ember at the last 3/4-1 inch, you're ready to use it.
- Your practitioner will have given you areas to treat, including specific acupuncture points. It is not critical that your point location be perfect, just do your best.
- In general, it's nice to give 5-10 minutes to moxa treatment at least twice a day, but any is better than none! Your practitioner may have specific timing instructions, but if you don't receive that, you can just follow these instructions. If points are bilateral (on both sides of the body) generally you want to treat both sides equally.
- You hold the glowing end of the moxa stick about an inch over the surface of the skin where you are treating. You should keep the stick moving, around in small circles or up and down in a “pecking” motion. The heat should gradually build, rising and falling and rising and falling, but gradually increasing in intensity.
- Once the heat at that given area reaches the point where you want to pull away, you can move to same area on the other side of the body. Go back and forth like this 5-6 times or until you feel “too hot” immediately after putting the heat over your skin. Again, your practitioner's instructions may override these general guidelines.
- If at any time the heat feels very uncomfortable, or you just don't like the sensation, you can stop! Take care not to push your limits too intensely, as even indirect heat can cause mild burns to the skin. Listen to you body.
- When you're done with the stick, put the glowing end into the extinguisher. Keep the extinguisher on a non-flammable surface (in a sink is great) until it is cold. Try not to get the extinguisher or the stick wet, and always clean out the old ashes from the extinguisher frequently.
- You may want to apply a small amount of moisturizer or similar over the areas treated, particularly if you let things get quite hot. It can help reduce any drying effect that the moxibustion can have on your skin.
- NEVER leave a moxa stick unattended, or try to extinguish in a plant or similar. Trust us on this one.