“You’re Burning What on Me?”

Acupunture needle with burning moxibustion herb on end.

Moxibustion (moxa) is the method of burning herbs on or near the body at acupuncture points. The most common form of moxibustion uses the mugwort plant (Artemisia vulgaris) dried and ground into a moxa-wool. This herb has been used in moxibustion for the last 2,000 years. and it is now common to assume mugwort is used when referring to moxibustion.

There are many different grades of moxa-wool. In my practice I use two types of moxa: super-pure gold moxa and super-pure grade A moxa. Even though the moxa gets close to the skin, patients never feel uncomfortable. They usually feel a warm sensation near the point.

I use the super-pure gold moxa directly on the body at specific acupuncture points. This is called rice grain moxa. During this treatment I use a small piece of moxa, about the size of a rice grain, and place it on the acupuncture point. Then I use a thin incense stick to light the moxa and let it burn until the ember is close to the skin. Before it burns down to the skin, I will snuff out the moxa. Usually I will layer the moxa over the previously burned grain about five to nine times.

Rice grain moxa can treat a wide variety of ailments and is even used on children. I will use rice grain moxa on patients who seem to get sick easily, have low energy, or pain that gets worse with cold weather. Moxa has been shown to increase white blood cell count when it is used regularly. It is also occasionally used as a protocol for depression and insomnia. In Chinese Medicine, most depressed symptoms are caused by blood stagnation from either internal or external cold. Moxibustion can warm and disperse this stagnation. Insomnia may be caused from an imbalance of your body’s day and night systems or your yang and yin, which can also be addressed with moxa therapy.

Another method I use is needle moxa. This method uses grade A moxa placed on acupuncture needles during the treatment. With needle moxa, I will form the moxa into a small grape-sized ball and place it on top of an acupuncture needle. After I light the moxa with the incense stick, I will hold a small spoon, made for needle moxa, under the needle until the moxa burns out completely. I will use one to three balls of moxa per needle.

I use needle moxa with patients who experience certain digestive issues or when they need more heat in their treatment. Needle moxa is particularly beneficial for winter injuries. The invasion of cold in the body can stem from an internal or external disharmony. In these cases, moxa enhances the acupuncture treatment. 

Moxa invigorates all twelve channels and promotes smooth flow in the meridians and vascular system. When the body is deficient or weak, moxa can help strengthen and balance out the body. In general, moxa helps increase circulation and warms the body when used in small amounts. In large amounts, it produces strong heat that can restore health. I love using moxibustion in my practice. It is extremely beneficial, particulally in the winter, and is a great way for patients to continue to reap the benefits from their acupuncture treatment at home.

When patients need moxa regularly, I encourage them to use stick moxa at home. This form of moxibustion looks like a cigar and is not applied directly to the skin, but held very close to the skin until heat is felt. It is easily lit at one end and produces a lot of heat. I will show patients one to two points on their body and how they should apply the moxa before they go home.

Depending on your current condition, moxa may or may not be used during your treatments. It is important to remember everyone’s body and underlying cause of disharmony is unique, so even though you have the same symptoms as someone, the treatment may be different. If moxa will benefit you, I will either do rice grain moxa or needle moxa. With both techniques, I make sure the moxa temperature is comfortable. Patients usually feel slight warmth and relaxation. Sometimes patients can feel warm sensations running through their bodies, feelings of heat deep inside the muscles, or a light tingling at or near the acupuncture point. Moxibustion is a great addition to acupuncture treatments and can accelerate the healing process.

Moxibustion application, similar to acupuncture, is an ancient Chinese art form. I pride myself on staying true to this effective moxa technique developed thousands of years ago. Particularly with winter coming upon us, moxa can be a beneficial addition to your health care routine. Please feel free to call my office for more information on how moxibustion and acupuncture can help you. I offer complimentary consultations and would love to help you heal safely and naturally.

Alyssa Kuge Frain, MSAOM, L.Ac.

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