Moxa, or Moxibustion, is a traditional tool of Chinese Medicine in which the herb Ai Ye (Artemisiae Argyi Folium), commonly known as Mugwort Leaf, is burned near, or sometimes on, the skin in order to warm specific areas on the body.
Moxa was developed in ancient China during the Yin & Zho Dynasties (1500 – 700 b.c.), as noted in the Yellow Emperor’s Spiritual Pivot (Kobayashi, n.d.). If these are indeed the origins of moxibustion therapy, then this practice is over 3000 years old.
Since that time, Moxa has been developed into several different styles throughout China, Korea, and Japan. Today, Japan has specialists that complete years of training and only work with Moxa therapy.
What Moxa Does
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Moxa is used to expel cold or warm the channels, allowing for a smooth flow of qi & blood (moxibustion, n.d.). It is also said to have the dual applications of purging and Tonification (Deng, 2013). In modern speak, this often means to warm specific areas of the body, relieve pain, and nourish the body. Depending on what technique is used (discussed more in-depth in the next section), Moxa can have a variety of effects.
Modern research has shown that “moxibustion thermal stimulation affects both shallow and deep tissues of the skin, and the warm-heat effects of moxibustion have a close relation to the warm receptors or/and the polymodal receptor” (Deng, 2013). Ultimately, this leads to a very effective tool to warm the patient when that is the required aspect of therapy.
Types of Moxibustion Therapies
Moxa Therapy is broadly divided into two main categories: indirect and direct. Indirect moxa is more commonly seen in the west, primarily because it causes less discomfort (Moxibustion, n.d.), and can be applied a variety of ways. It is also very effective in certain presentations recognized by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Very frequently, the Moxa leaf is ground into a powder-like substance and rolled into a stick, much like a cigar. In this technique, the practitioner will hold a moxa stick over the skin until it becomes pink or the patient feels it is subjectively too hot (Kreitzer, 2017).
Another method, known as Kyutoshin, is to attach a piece of rolled-up Moxa to an already inserted needle at a specific point, lit and allowed to burn until causing the patient to feel warm.
Finally, there is a method in which a moxa cone (a larger bunch of moxa pinched into a pyramid shape) is set upon another medium such as ginger, garlic, or salt, and then lit until the patient feels too warm. This method is popular due to the added effects of the medium separating the moxa from the skin.
Direct Moxa Therapy
“Direct Moxa” is also sometimes used, particularly in Japanese style moxibustion therapy. They two main techniques of Japanese direct moxa are called Okyu and Chinetsukyu.
Okyu is performed by creating “dabs,” which are very small balls of pure moxa the size of half a grain of rice, that are then applied directly to the skin and burnt (Kreitzer, 2017). The dabs are lit using special incense with multiple rounds performed to have an effective and powerful treatment. The small nature of the dabs makes the treatment minimally noticeable by the patient.
Okyu is most beneficial to treat the yin and to soften hardness in the soft tissues of the body (Hook, 2017). It can also be said to impact the blood and deep stagnations directly. Most often, this technique is used on empirical points in the same manner an acupuncture needle would be, not to add heat but to stimulate the point (13 Moxa, 2011).
Chinetsukyu is a milder technique used to strengthen, warm, and augment qi & blood (Hook, 2017). It can be done with a less pure grade of moxa, and are often bigger than the Okyu dabs with more of a cone shape and broader base (Hook, 2017).
Chinetsukyu moxa cones have more fibrous plant materials used when the moxa is produced, giving it a more broad and superficial effect (Hook, 2017). The more coarse the material, the more moving this technique.
Traditional Chinese Medicine may also use something known as “scaring moxa” in which the moxa is burned directly on the skin in order to create a blister or scar. This is not commonly practiced in the west.
- 13 Moxa: Okyu (Direct Moxa) and Chinetsukyu (Warm Moxa). (2011). Shonishin: Japanese Pediatric Acupuncture. doi:10.1055/b-0034-69206
- Deng, H., & Shen, X. (2013). The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,2013, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2013/379291
- Hook, M. (2017, August 01). Practical Japanese Moxa. Retrieved July 14, 2018, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/practical-japanese-moxa-michael-hook/
- Kobayashi, H. (n.d.). Origin and History of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Retrieved July 14, 2018, from http://www.kobayashi-rouho.com/en/history.html
- Kreitzer, S. (2017, May 15). Why you needed to try moxibustion yesterday- Moxa 101. Retrieved July 14, 2018, from http://acupuncturecentertoronto.com/blog/needed-try-moxabustion-yesterday-moxa-101/
- Moxibustion. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2018, from https://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/moxibustion.php