Moxibustion is a type of therapeutic method within the Chinese medicine (TCM) framework. In this article I will introduce the reader to the basic concepts and discuss the various options and effects.
Moxa, short for Moxibustion I use within a context of a Shiatsu session as a tool to obtain a specific type of acupoint* stimulation. Warming, stimulating, strengthening could be some words to describe it. It can also be a standalone therapy on it's own.
What is Moxa? Actually it is a procedure where a Mugwort herb is burnt over an acupoint to effect deep stimulation. The herb is ignited and either held near or placed on the skin over the intended acupoint. The result is in part due to the deep infrared heat and in part the essential oils emanated. The type of heat emenated goes through the skin better than other heat sources like a hot water bottle. Different burn times and strokes aditionally produce different types of stimulation. This is how it is used in conjunction with acupoints but it can also be used for heat therapy during a massage therapy. In this case it would create a similar but deeper effect to a heat-bag or bottle getting to cartilage or tendons more effectively.
Commonly, a practitioner will either use a moxa stick which is the Mugwort herb dried and coarsely chopped then tightly packed in a very thin paper tube. It is lit at one end and hand held or used within a holder over the acupoints to be stimulated. It's benefits are in the speed and simplicity of use however most brands produce rather a lot of smoke**. This is a useful method for homework or small applications because of it's simplicity of use.
Another type of Moxibustion uses cones. These are made from a small pinch of mugwort herb that a practitioner hand packs into a shape of a small cone about 1.5 cm in height. This is typically placed directly on the skin over an acupoint. The stimulation can be modified via a use of a thin wafer of additional herb or spice. The stimulation is deeper and more focussed than with the stick type. When the cone has burned for an optimal timeframe it is removed and extinguished in a bowl of water. This process is repeated until sufficient dosage is attained. Once again the length of burn is a controlled variable as is the number of cones used. This is the most commonly used method because it is simple adaptable has many options but is not suitable as client homework due to the skill involved.
A more fickle but much more intense is the String Moxa also known as Rice Grain method. It uses high grade Mugwort herb from selected parts of the plant that is sliced finer thus enabling it to be formed into short "strings" resembling rice grains about 2mm in thickness. These are then affixed directly to the skin at the site of the acupoint and lit. A practitioner may typically apply 6 to 30 strings until a sufficient dose is attained. Because the number of fast burnig grains is lit, extinguished and removed in a rapid succession the practitioner skill must be quite high. This method is thus not suitable for client self treatment.
Moxa application is typically quite relaxing and is rarely painful.
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* Acupoint is an alternative term for Acupressure or Acupuncture point. It is not a trigger point.
** Due to the smoke emanated - equivalent to lighting a cigar- I would recommend that if instructed to by me that you use these outdoors or at a pinch in a bathroom with towels removed and exhaust fan running.