Moxibustion, or moxa for short, is a technique used by acupuncturists to warm an acupuncture point, needle or an area of the body by burning an herb called mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) over or on the skin.
Indirect moxa describes the use of a moxa pole that looks like a cigar and, when lit, glows like a piece of charcoal. The lit moxa pole is held about 1″ away from the patient’s skin and moved in small circles for a few minutes until the patient says it feels too hot or the skin under it gets pink. Direct moxa describes the use of a tiny, sesame-seed-sized piece of moxa wool (dried, processed mugwort leaves that has a wooly, spongy quality) placed on the skin over a layer of protective ointment. The piece of moxa is lit, burning itself out within seconds, creating the sensation of a hot pinprick or just heat at an acupuncture point.
As crazy or foreign as these techniques may sound, they are extremely effective and widely used by acupuncturists all over the world. Some common uses of moxa include:
- Reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis, especially when the arthritic joint feels worse in cold, damp weather
- Relax tense, knotted muscle tissue by warming the muscle and bringing blood flow to the area
- Reduce the pain of endometriosis, ovarian cysts or garden-variety menstrual cramps by warming, relaxing the uterus and promoting better circulation
- Encourage a baby in the breech position (feet down rather than head down) to turn by warming a point on the smallest toe with a moxa pole, once per day for 10 days – usually this treatment works best when performed around 34 weeks of pregnancy
- Direct moxa works extremely well in the treatment of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, as it can stimulate acupuncture points in eares where it may be too painful to insert a needle