What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion (or “Moxa”) is a term derived from the Japanese word mogusa or mo kusa, meaning, “burning herb.” In it’s physical form moxa can be found in many ways such as a moxa wool or even pressed into moxibustion sticks (imagine a charcoal stick). Ultimately, it is always harvested from the mugwort plant. As a practice, moxibustion is a heating therapy steeped in Traditional Chinese Medicine and used for a wide variety of conditions. The practitioner burns a stick made of Mugwort, a herb with the property of warming effects, even before it is burnt.
The benefits of moxibustion
It helps to relieve cold or stagnated conditions within the body – this is both the benefit of the therapy and what moxibustion is used for. Moxa is beneficial to many conditions, unique to the individual; so while it may help relieve bloating or indigestion in one patient, it could also help to invigorate the energy of another.
What moxibustion is good for
What is moxibustion used for? Moxibustion can be helpful to:
- Reduce bloat
- Improve digestion & nutrient absorption
- Invigorate and tonify blood
- Stop pain
- Calm the fetus (supporting pregnancy)
- Aid fertility and reproductive health
Why moxibustion works
Moxibustion is tonifying for the body. Lets take digestion as an example to explain how this is so:
Your digestive system is critical to your wellbeing. It breaks down all the food we consume and soaks up the nourishment that we need to thrive. However when you make poor food choices this weakens your stomach’s fire. Poor food choices include all the unprocessed foods which aren’t natural to our body. These choices put stress on the digestive process and weaken your ability to stoke the fire (and absorb nutrients) in the long term. When this happens, your digestive system can become so weak that it can even start to struggle to digest some natural foods. This can also be exacerbated in people of certain constitutions who have a generally weak digestion and conditions that are more internally connected or since birth, than from external sources. Consider people who have always struggled with certain foods or childhood allergies, etc.
Regardless, your digestive system is fragile and can easily become weak, requiring tonification. This is where moxibustion can be helpful. Moxibustion, especially when used on digestion points in the body, can greatly improve our digestive strength.
How moxibustion works
The TCM practitioner will heat the moxa stick and follow a certain set of moxibustion points along the meridian (energy line within the body). The process can take roughly 20 minutes, although it depends on each case and practitioner.
A specific example would be for bloating or diarrhea. The practitioner could trace the moxa stick over the belly in a diamond pathway which would connect the “Stomach Front Mu” point (very tonifying for the stomach), the Stomach 25, and also Ren 4 (a great yang tonifying point).
Different moxibustion treatment points will be followed depending on the condition being treated, but for examples, some common moxa treatment points are:
- Ren 8 (center of belly button) – this point is commonly used to expel cold, which would be helpful in cases of diarrhoea or menstrual pain (if patients TCM diagnosis is due to old stagnation).
- Ren 6 (2 fingers below the navel) – this point is a Qi strengthener, one can think of it as a good energy point for fatigue. (Again, only if the patient’s fatigue is due to deficient Qi rather than something else, like say, excess heat).
- Ren 4 (4 fingers below the navel) – this point is great at warming the uterus, so helpful with menstrual pain due to cold stagnation.
- St 36 (lateral to the tibial tuberosity) – this leg point just below the knee is great at strengthening the overall body. In times of a cough or cold, digestive weakness or fatigue. It is a safe and well rounded moxibustion point (but avoid if you have acid reflux).
Tapping into a combination of points is what helps to bring strength into the body. This makes sense when we think about heat being more energetic than cold.
How to use a moxa stick
As a TCM Practitioner, I wouldn’t recommend someone buying moxibustion sticks to try at home without guidance of a TCM professional. As stated above, two patients can have diarrhoea due to many different causes. If the assumption is wrong, the heat could result negatively. Always seek a professional before trying these techniques!
1. Getting ready
Find yourself a comfortable and calming place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted.
2. Lighting the moxa stick
When I do my own moxa treatment at home I find it most helpful to light a large candle, rather than burning with a lighter or even a BBQ lighter. It takes time for the moxa stick to catch! Eventually the stick will feel quite warm and maintain its temperature. I keep an ashtray handy as it’s necessary to ash every few minutes.
2. Conducting the treatment
Hold the moxa stick (I prefer sticks over cones, just a personal preference as they are easier to use) about half to one inch away from the body. Using small circular motions around the area is a nice way to feel the effect – especially on the belly! Moxa can be done roughly for 15 minutes max, but often even 5 minutes can be enough. Again – it is so unique to the individual based on their overall body constitution, hence the need for a professional to conduct the session.
3. Ending the treatment
Most of the time after you are finished with treatment, there will be a lot of the moxa stick left. This is normal! I like to place the moxa stick in a jar and seal the lid to burn out the stick quickly, and without residual odour.
When moxibustion doesn’t work
I’ve been asked “does moxibustion work” many times and my answer is this: Moxa works on a large amount of conditions, so long as the person requires it. However extra fire does not help a fire-based problem! So in the case of someone who is extremely energetic, charged, dry in nature and often irritable, they may not see positive side effects from this treatment. Rather, they would require cooling techniques to bring balance into a similar problem. Ultimately, the best way to explore moxa is with a qualified practitioner first (I offer online consults if you’d like discuss moxibustion further with me).
Moxa is great for strengthening a body that’s cold or deficient in nature. For example personally, I have deficient blood. My tongue is pale as with my lips. So I regularly moxa (once a week or so) to help tonify my blood.
Moxa could be of immense benefit to you, or quite the opposite. Traditional Chinese Medicine is always patient-specific, that’s why I love it so much. Three patients with the exact same complaint would be treated in very different ways depending on a variety of factors.
If you are experiencing a condition outlined above and would like to explore whether it could be of benefit to you, find a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner near you (or contact me!). It is always important to have a proper consultation to ensure the safety of any procedure.
Have you got a question about moxibustion (aka moxa) for me? Ask away via the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
P.S. Who do you know that may find moxibustion helpful to their condition? Share this article with them now. They’ll thank you for it later!