Heat engenders life. Our body heat encourages circulation, cell nourishment and renewal and healthy metabolic processing. This link between heat therapy and health has been understood and applied by Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Earlier methods involved the application of heated stones to areas of pain or disease, but moxibustion, the topical use of the herb mugwort, can be traced to the Shang dynasty (approx. 1500 BCE- 1100 BCE).
The nature of disease is understood within the parameters of being ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, ‘damp’ or ‘dry’, ‘moving’ or ‘stagnant’. Patterns defined as being cold, damp or stagnant are thought to cause pain and feelings of cold, sluggishness and poor tissue health. The medicinal actions of mugwort are defined as being warming, drying and moving, and are considered ideal for application to areas needing warmth and increased circulation.
Ai Ye, the mugwort herb, is harvested and sun-dried, then crushed forming a fluffy ‘floss’ or ‘cotton’. This moxa floss is used either as is or rolled into cigar shaped sticks. During moxibustion, the moxa is burned and applied either directly or indirectly to the skin, over specific acupuncture points or regions of the body. The moxa floss may be burned in a special bowl or warmer, intended to heat larger areas of the body. Additionally, mugwort balms and sprays can penetrate heat through the tissues without the need for open flame or smoke.
The smoldering moxa floss can be shaped into cones and adhered to the tail of an acupuncture needle, or the moxa stick waved close to the skin surface to conduct heat into the tissues. Direct moxa technique employs the use of a thin barrier between the burning moxa cone and the patient’s skin. With small rice grain moxa cones, the barrier may be simply an application of burn cream for safety, but often the barrier medium is chosen for its’ particular medicinal properties. Salt, ginger slices, garlic slices or oil, pepper and Fu Zhi (aconite) cakes are common choices that enhance the actions of the mugwort herb.