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What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant materials called “moxa” are burned on or very near the surface of the skin. The intention is to warm and invigorate the flow of Qi in the body and dispel certain pathogenic influences.

Moxa is usually made from the dried leafy material of Chinese mugwort (Artemesia argyi or A.vlugaris).

What exactly does the practitioner do?

In the U.S., practitioners generally hold a burning moxa stick close to, but not touching, the surface of the skin.It produces a unique form of very penetrating heat. Direct moxa is a method where loose moxa is rolled into a small cone (about the size of a rice grain) and burned directly on the skin. Vaseline may be spread onto the skin to ensure that the moxa cone will stick. The moxa cone is lit with the end of a burning incense stick. Tweezers are used to take the cone off when the heat becomes uncomfortable.

What can I expect to feel?

It is not uncommon for patients receiving moxibustion to report a sudden flooding of warmth that quickly radiates along a specific pathway away from the site of application. This is a good result, as it indicates the arrival of the Qi and signals that the flow of Qi has been freed in the channel.

When is moxibustion used?

Examples of what moxibustion is used for:

Pain due to injury or arthritis
Digestive problems
Gynecological and obstetrical conditions, including breech presentation in late term pregnancy
Protection against cold and flu strains

Unlike acupuncture, which is almost always done by a trained practitioner in a clinic setting, moxibustion can be easily used at home. It is not uncommon for Chinese medical practitioners to train their patients to use moxa on themselves to strengthen the effect of the clinical sessions between appointments.

What does it smell like?

There is a small inconvenience associated with moxibustion: the smoke and odor. Although there are so-called smokeless varieties of moxa, the preferred true moxa (made from mugwort) does produce a lot of smoke when burned. Sometime, moxa will smell like marijuana when burned and patients should be forewarned.

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