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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Bergner

Burn Baby Burn: What is Moxibustion?

When I was planning this series I asked on Instagram if anyone had any questions about moxibustion, and I was not surprised to find that the most common question was “what is moxibustion?”. Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that consists of burning herbal matter on or above specific points or areas of the body. This herb is known as mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), moxa, or aì yė in Chinese. Moxa has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years, and prominently throughout Asia in China, Japan, and Korea.

Moxibustion is so central to the practice of Chinese medicine that the Chinese word for acupuncture, zhēnjiǔ, is a compound encompassing “needle” and “fire”, meant to represent acupuncture and moxibustion. One of the earliest Chinese medical texts, the Huang Di Nei Jing, states that “a disease that may not be treated by acupuncture may be treated by moxibustion”. In TCM, we use moxibustion to warm the channels and organs, move qi and blood, strengthen the immune system, and promote circulation to relieve pain and muscle tension. I use moxa on many of my patients experiencing pain, digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, or decreased immune function.

So, why have you heard of acupuncture but not moxibustion? Unfortunately, many practitioners aren’t able to practice moxibustion due to limitations in the space they rent. For all its benefits, burning moxa basically smells like marijuana, so many acupuncturists avoid using it if they share a space or work out of an office building.

Different forms of moxa: stick on, pole, and crude (loose)

Moxibustion for Immune Support

In this post, I’m going to talk about the benefits of moxa for supporting the immune system. My past few posts have covered various techniques to boost your immune system, and as the best defense against a viral pandemic is a strong immune system, here’s one more technique you can use at home.

As far as immune support, moxibustion can help boost immunity and shorten the duration of colds and flus. Specific points such as Stomach 36 help to increase white blood cell count almost immediately after treatment. One study found that indirect moxibustion used daily for one week helped to elevate CD3 and CD4 T-cells, which are immune cells that protect the body from pathogens and cancer cells. These cells are critical for the activation of immune cells in order to fight infections.

Another study suggests that moxibustion boosts natural killer (NK) cell activity. NK cells are a type of white blood cell, which play a key role in killing virus cells as well as detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. There is also some evidence that moxa can increase our body’s defense against bacterial infection.

There are a couple options for the best at-home moxibustion tools for self-moxa. I like these sticks, which basically look like giant cigarettes. Pole moxa sticks are best for beginners, but for another technique I like stick on moxa. With each of these, ground mugwort is rolled into a pole or small cone to burn above the skin to stimulate and warm acupuncture points and meridians.

Later this week I’ll be posting a video on my Instagram demonstrating stick on and pole moxa techniques for you to follow at home. I am always willing to send supplies along with a personalized consult. If you are interested in learning which points would benefit you specifically, please reach out: Enjoy, and be well!

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