Moxibustion is a versatile and powerful method of providing therapeutic warmth. It uses dried mugwort, known in Japanese as mogusa, and in English as moxa.
Moxa may be attached to a needle to warm it, or rolled into a small cone that is placed directly on the patient. Or a roll of moxa like a long cigar could be used.
People often find that warmth from a hot water bottle or wheat bag helps their back, abdominal or menstrual pain, and the use of hot rocks for relaxation in spa therapies is popular. But somehow burning stuff seems less ‘medical’ than acupuncture with its sterile, fine needles and precise point location. Moxibustion also stimulates acupuncture points to bring about systemic effects. It is such an essential part of Chinese medicine therapy that the term often translated as acupuncture, 針灸 zhen jiu, literally means acupuncture and moxibustion.
Moxa has properties that make its therapeutic warmth more effective. It warms the channels, disperses cold, and relieves pain, and is used in herbal medicine for these properties. It seems a bit juju that the therapeutic properties of the herb can be introduced to the body by burning it nearby, but that’s one reason it’s done. The other is that mugwort is easily made into a form that burns in just the right way.
It seems like juju that burning moxa near a specific acupuncture point can turn a breached foetus, but even midwifes are learning to do it.
Sometimes patients will be asked to use moxa themselves at home. Here’s a video on how to do it: