Moxibustion is the application of a certain kind of heat to various points or general locations on the body to treat and/or prevent disease. The heat is generated by “moxa wool” in the form of a cone, stick or wand made from the dried herb Artemsia Vulgaris, which is a species of chrysanthemum. The moxa leaf is bitter and acrid, producing warmth when used in small amounts and strong heat when used in large amounts. The mild heat is used to deeply penetrate the muscles. With proper instruction and safety precautions, moxa can also be used as a home therapy.
Some classic applications of moxa therapy are to aid in recovery after a long or debilitating illness, to strengthen the immune system, and to help turn a breech baby. Most people describe the feeling of receiving moxa as quite comforting.
In the United States, we most often use indirect moxibustion, which means the moxa is burned over the designated area until a spike of heat is experienced repeatedly. Or, a small shield will be placed on the skin, and a small moxa cone will be placed on the shield. When the cone burns down, it may be replaced 2-5 times. Afterwards, the skin may be reddened for several hours.
Moxibustion generates smoke, and this can be problematic for those with respiratory issues or allergies. It is advisable to run an air filter while performing moxa, and/or open a window if possible, to minimize discomfort to the patient and practitioner. If you smell it, some people will think you’ve been burning sage, but others will wonder if someone has been smoking weed nearby.
Moxa has many uses and qualities attributed to it, this from the New Edition of the Materia Medica:
It is of pure Yang nature, having the ability to restore the Primary Yang from collapse. It can open the twelve regular meridians, travelling through the three Yin meridians to regulate Qi and Blood, expel cold and dampness, warm the uterus, stop bleeding, warm the spleen and stomach to remove stagnation, regulate menstruation and ease the fetus… When burned, it penetrates all the meridians, eliminating hundreds of diseases.