Moxibustion: The Warming Technique for Better Health
More and more, acupuncture is entering into the mainstream. You probably have a friend, coworker, or family member who has praised their acupuncturist to the skies for helping with their back pain, sleep, stress, or something else. Other modalities that acupuncturists use, like cupping or herbal medicine, are also becoming more commonly seen and understood by healthcare practitioners and patients.
Moxibustion (or ‘moxa’ as it is often called) is a technique used by acupuncturists that is less talked about. It is the practice of burning the herb mugwort on or near the skin at acupoints or over regions of the body. This practice originated thousands of years, ago, and may even be older than acupuncture itself.
Moxibustion can be performed in a variety of ways; it can be processed into a charcoal stick that is held over the skin to warm the area, as less processed nap from the plant that is placed on an acupuncture needle or over the skin, rolls of moxa can be placed in apparatuses (called ‘moxa boxes’) that can be placed over the abdomen or back to warm the area, and more. Many cultures throughout history have used moxibustion or similar techniques, and as a result there are many ways to perform the procedure. Moxibustion is typically painless. Patients frequently report how good and relaxing it feels. Occasionally the technique requires a slightly more ‘zippy’ sensation, but it does not last beyond the length of the treatment.
So, why do we do moxibustion?
- From an East Asian medical perspective, moxibustion helps to warm the yang, moves the blood, and dries us ‘dampness’. This means that it is great for people who often feel cold and fatigued, have body pain, or who notice frequent digestive issues.
- In terms of biomedicine, moxibustion has been found to stimulate the phagocytic activity of white blood cells. Translated, this means that our immune cells become more efficient at destroying harmful viral or bacterial cells, which helps to prevent (or treat) colds and flus. Even for people with autoimmune disorders, where the immune system is hyperactive, moxibustion can help to regulate immune function and is shown in the modern literature to benefit conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, there is research being done via the Moxafrica project to see how daily self-use of moxibustion can benefit populations with coinfections of HIV and tuberculosis. Moxibustion has also been shown to be beneficial for women with breech pregnancies in turning the fetus.
- In my own experience as both a recipient and practitioner of moxibustion, I have found that it gives more energy, helps with digestive issues, benefits the immune system, and can be very effective for autoimmune-type conditions and seasonal allergies. It leaves patients feeling warmed, relaxed, and rejuvenated so that they can take on their lives feeling centered in their body.
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice focuses on treating autoimmune disease and women's health. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves to cook, listen to podcasts, read her way out from under the small mountain of books she's accumulated, and cater to her cats’ whims.