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What is moxibustion?

In moxibustion, dried plant components known as "moxa" are burnt on or very close to the skin as a sort of heat treatment. The goal is to stimulate the flow of Qi, warm the point and or meridian and remove harmful energies from the body. 

Most often, moxa is made from the dried leaves of Chinese mugwort (Artemesia argyi or A.vlugaris), however other ingredients may be used.

What exactly does the practitioner do?

In certain treatments, a moxa stick is held near to the skin without really contacting it. 

The moxa substance is rolled into a stick or pole, much like a large cigar, and then ignited and allowed to smolder to create a highly distinctive and intense heat. 

The burning end of the moxa stick is held over the skin at acupuncture sites that may or may not be present. If you hold the lighting end of the moxa stick an inch or two above the skin, you may induce a reddening and a warming sensation.

In other treatments, a highly refined type of moxibustion is made in to tiny rice grain-sized cones (Okyu moxa) and place on the skin and warmed with incense. 

What can I expect to feel?

Patients often describe a rapid surge of warmth during moxibustion, which spreads outward along a particular route (often correlating with the jing luo channel being treated). This is encouraging news because it shows that the Qi has arrived and that the conduit for the free passage of Qi and xue has been opened.

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

Acupuncture and moxibustion are frequently performed in the same clinic appointment. When combined, the medicines boost each other's efficacy. 

What does it smell like?

The smoke and smell from moxibustion are a minor nuisance. True moxa (made from mugwort), the ideal kind, does emit a lot of smoke when burnt. This is usually not a major issue, since TCM clinics have air filtration and ventilation systems. 

Unfortunately, the aftertaste of burned mugwort is reminiscent of cannabis. In the United States, the vast majority of TCM doctors post discreet notices explaining the source of any unpleasant odors to patients and visitors.

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