You might have heard your Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provider mention Moxibustion as a treatment option. This unfamiliar term needs some definition and clarification for most. So, what is it? Moxibustion is defined as a form of heat therapy that involves burning the dried moxa plant and leaving it on or very near the skin’s surface, thus promoting the flow of “qi” and eliminating certain pathogens in the body.
Moxa is made from the mugwort plant and can be made into sticks of varying sizes or it can be mixed with other herbs to enhance its benefits. Believe it or not, moxa has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It can be applied in what is called a moxa cone which rests on the skin at a specific treatment point. A practitioner will then light the cones and let it burn slowly until the patient begins to feel the heat and then the cone is removed.
Typically, in the U.S. moxa is applied more indirectly as a safety precaution, however “direct” moxa is used in certain conditions. In “indirect” moxa treatments, rather than placing the moxa cone directly on the skin, a practitioner will hold a moxa stick an inch or two above a specific treatment area until the skin warms. Another method used by acupuncturists is to place the moxa on an acupuncture needle and leave it to burn until extinguished, thus allowing the heat to travel through the acupuncture needle directly to a specific acupuncture point.
WebMD describes moxibustion as “founded on the belief that blockages in the flow of energy lead to mental and physical health problems.” They describe it as an option used to treat back pain, arthritis, headaches and migraines, muscle stiffness, ulcers, fatigue, infertility, menstrual cramps, cancer, and digestive issues.
What the Research Says
WebMD points to several studies that have been conducted regarding how moxibustion therapy can benefit health, including taking a close look at safety and effectiveness. One study found moxibustion to be excellent therapy for chronic kidney disease. Researchers determined it had a great effect on reducing serum creatinine, which is responsible for poor kidney function when found in high doses. Another study found that moxibustion helped to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes in 51 women in their postmenopausal stage after just 14 sessions.
Club Moxa and my own moxa journey
Personally speaking I love incorporating moxa into my own self care routine. I use direct moxa in a technique called Tonetskyu or rice grain moxa. That simply means that the moxa is rolled into cones the size of a rice grain before burned directly on the skin, usually with a barrier cream. Every new moon I burn 8 cones bilaterally (both sides) on a specific acupoint called Zu San Li or ST36 using my Mage & Maven Burn Balm as a barrier cream. The classics medical texts say that doing so boosts the immune system. In fact, there is even an old saying in Japan, “Don’t go on a trip with anyone who doesn’t moxa ST36.”
I am very lucky to have a community of other providers online where we have a fun and supportive space to talk about our practices called Club Moxa. As a provider this is one of those self care pieces that I definitely prioritize as I feel like it not only does what it says, but it helps keep me connected to the ancient techniques of East Asian Medicine.
What can Moxibustion Treat?
Beyond its immune system strengthening activity I just mentioned, moxibustion can be used to treat a variety of issues including pain. It is believed that Moxa heat can expel the cold and dry dampness that causes pain throughout the body (shoulder, abdominal, knee, back, and other joint pain). Moxa also works to improve digestion by warming up the meridians and strengthening the whole digestive system.
So, what does it feel like to have a moxibustion treatment?
For many people, it feels like a sudden flooding of warmth throughout the entire body. It has a pleasant smell and for most, it is a very relaxing experience as it promotes the flow of qi throughout the body.
As with any treatment, it is best to seek out a professional practitioner (like me), so talk to your provider to see if moxibustion is the right option for you. There are some potential side effects and your practitioner will go over them with you as you determine if this is the right course of action for your particular health concern.