Moxibustion has been used for over 5000 years and is an integral part of Chinese medicine. Moxibustion is commonly used in traditional acupuncture, it involves ignited dried mugwort (the leaves of artemesia vulgaris latflora or ai ye in Chinese) this grows abundantly in China. Moxa comes in many forms and can be categorised as direct (hand rolled moxa cones being ignited on acupuncture points prior or during needling) or indirect (in close proximity to warm a larger area.)
The usage of moxibustion stretches far beyond simply ‘warming’ an area and you would be forgiven for such a common misconception of the humble yet effective modality; which is also effective as a stand alone treatment. A demonstration of the clinical applications of moxa can best be seen in the works of MoxaAfrica (2019) , a charity that investigates the use of moxa for its immunomodulatory benefits in the treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis. In a recent study (Ibanda et al., 2020) demonstrated that the low cost intervention of moxa in tuberculosis patients converted to sputum negative faster in the early ages of therapy, moxa patients had increased levels of haemoglobin and had greater increases of CD4 cells. These results were discovered in both HIV and non HIV group and there were no adverse effects. The charity has also supported tuberculosis patients in North Korea and South Africa as well as Uganda.
As traditional acupuncturists, we use moxibustion often in our treatments. Clinical uses of moxibustion include improving blood circulation, enhancing the immune system, reducing pain, reducing inflammation, further/ additional stimulation of acupuncture points, improving sleep, stress, anxiety, depression and most famously turning breech babies. I believe that there is a true art in the crafting of a treatment choosing whether to or not to moxa points (and if so, how many) based on patient presentation, some points are forbidden to moxa and some points are forbidden to needle and in these instances we would access the point via use of moxibustion. There is also minimum and maximum number of cones required to stimulate an acupuncture point, and these are different for each and every acupuncture point).
Most of my patients really enjoy moxibustion, this magical method can provide long lasting pain relief and really calm an agitated spirit which is why I often choose to include moxa for wellbeing disharmonies. A funny incidence comes to mind from a few years back when treating a police officer who entered my room smelling of moxa from the previous appointment. He was convinced the smell was not as innocent as my explanation, luckily after a few sessions he realised that burning this particular herb in a particular way was actually in fact a method used in traditional acupuncture. This example demonstrated how the herb may smell and some have also likened the smell of moxa to incense. Most, find the experience of moxa extremely pleasant and gentle, however direct moxibustion can sometimes feel similar to the experience of an acupuncture point being needled.
Whilst very safe, moxibustion can sometimes be counter-indicated and should therefore be performed by a licensed acupuncturist or under the guidance and direction of a licensed acupuncturist. If you are from the UK you can locate a British Acupuncture Council member by popping your postcode into the following website www.acupuncture.org.uk.
I hope that you enjoyed my little demonstration.
Ibanda, H., Mubiru, F., Musiba, R., Itaya, S., Craig, J., Young, M. and Waako, P., 2020. Adjunctive Moxibustion Treatment For Tuberculosis: A Randomised Clinical Trial Investigating Potential Efficacy And Comparative Safety. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876382018301690> [Accessed 20 April 2020].
Moxafrica.org. 2019. [online] Available at: <https://www.moxafrica.org> [Accessed 20 April 2020].