Woman receiving relaxing upper body massage.

What is Moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant materials called "moxa" are burned on or very near the surface of the skin. The intention is to warm and invigorate the flow of Qi in the body and dispel certain pathogenic influences.

Moxa is usually made from the dried leafy material of Chinese mugwort (Artemesia argyi or A.vlugaris), but it can be made of other substances as well.

Burning moxa stick being used to perform moxibustion

What exactly does the practitioner do?

In my treatment, I generally hold a burning moxa stick close to, but not touching, the surface of the skin.

In this method, the moxa material is compressed into a stick or pole, looking not unlike an oversized cigar that can be lit and allowed to smolder, producing a unique form of very penetrating heat.

The smoldering moxa stick is held over specific areas, often, though not always, corresponding to certain acupuncture points. The glowing end of the moxa stick is held about an inch or two above the surface of the skin until the area reddens and becomes suffused with warmth.

A pleasant dispay of candles, linens, and massage oils

What can I expect to feel?

It is not uncommon for patients receiving moxibustion to report a sudden flooding of warmth that quickly radiates along a specific pathway (usually corresponding with the jing luo channel that is being treated) away from the site of application. This is a good result, as it indicates the arrival of the Qi and signals that the flow of Qi and xue has been freed in the channel.

Cande burning beside pile of nice linens.

When is moxibustion used?

Moxibustion is used for:

Pain due to injury or arthritis, especially in "cold" patterns where the pain naturally feels better with the application of heat

Digestive problems and irregular elimination

Gynecological and obstetrical conditions, including breech presentation in late term pregnancy

Protection against cold and flu strains

  • Warms the Channels

    According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cold can invade the body and become lodged within acupuncture channels which run throughout it. This can result in pain in a certain area which often will feel worse in cold weather and feel better with the application of heat. For instance, some kinds of arthritis are "cold type" and are felt more intensely in the winter months. Moxa is particularly useful in these cases.

  • Stimulates Acupuncture Points

    We also use moxa to stimulate specific points such as the point on the little toe which helps to turn a breech baby. Some points on the body are contraindicated for needling such as the point on the umbilicus which is helpful for some digestive disorders. It is a common practice to place a cone of direct moxa on a piece of ginger or a pile of salt on this point. Can't and wouldn't stick a needle there. Ouch! But moxa? Yes please!

  • Builds Qi & Blood

    Moxa therapy has been shown to increase immune function, specifically increase white blood cell counts, anti-inflammatory cytokines & anti-body production.  In addition to improving your immunity and helping you when you are feeling run down, it has proven to be particularly helpful in treating illnesses where the immune system is compromised and can help people who are prone to getting sick. In TCM, this loosely translates to building qi and blood; two of the main substances essential for life and vitality.

  • Promotes Circulation of Qi & Blood

    Moxa is warming and moving. It helps to promote movement of blood and qi so it is particularly good for pain, which occurs when qi or blood stagnate. It has been especially popular in gynecology for menstrual cramps and you can use it to heal bruises more quickly. 

What does it smell like?

There is a small inconvenience associated with moxibustion: the smoke and odor. Although there are so-called smokeless varieties of moxa, the preferred true moxa (made from mugwort) does produce a lot of smoke when burned. Most TCM clinics are well equipped with a good ventilation and air purification system, so this is not a big problem.