Often shortened to Moxa, this is a treatment in which a herb, Artemisia Argyi (a type of mugwort), is burned to warm individual acupuncture points or channels. It’s history has been traced back to what is now Western China, over 2000 years ago. Indeed, the Chinese word for acupuncture, ‘Zhen Jiu’, translates as ‘needle fire’, showing the key role moxibustion has always played in Chinese medicine. In more recent years, lots of research into moxibustion has been carried out in Japan and it is from here that it was first brought to the West in the early 20th century.
Moxa can be used in a variety of ways. In traditional Chinese acupuncture, indirect moxibustion is done by burning the moxa on the end of a needle, or by using a moxa stick held a few centimetres from the skin over the point or channel to be treated.
Direct moxibustion is done by placing an intermediary substance such as some salt or a slice of root ginger on the skin, then burning the moxa on top of this. Japanese practitioners have refined these approaches to develop ‘rice grain’ moxibustion. Here, the skin is protected with a specially formulated ointment, then tiny pieces of moxa, the size of a grain of rice or smaller, are burned directly on the skin.
In both China and Japan, moxa is used to maintain health and wellbeing and as a treatment to promote longevity, in addition to it’s use alongside acupuncture needling to treat many ill health conditions. Modern research in Japan suggests that moxa may help to boost the immune system. This is being verified by work being carried in East Africa by charity Moxafrica, https://www.moxafrica.org who are using moxa to support patients with drug resistant malaria, often co-infected with HIV, with very promising results.
The therapeutic effect of moxa is believed to be due to a combination the effects of plant compounds with medicinal properties and the effect of the heat from burning the moxa. Indeed, research has shown that the infrared radiation profile emitted when moxa is burned is very similar to that given off by the human body, enabling the heat from burning moxa to penetrate deeply into the tissues.