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Moxa, moxabustion, moxibustion:

posted 4 Apr 2012, 02:13 by Andrea AnJia   [ updated 4 Apr 2012, 02:35 ]

The word moxa comes from mo gu sha, Japanese for mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris). Moxa + combustion = moxibustion: the practice of burning moxa.

Moxibustion has a long history of use in China, which can be traced to the Chinese Zhou Dynasty (1045 to 256 b.c.). Excavation of Mawangtui’s remains in 1973 revealed two medical texts describing the use of moxa therapy in the Qin dynasty (2550-206 b.c.).

Moxa was also used outside of China, with evidence suggesting it was introduced into Korea and Japan in the 6th Century. However, it was over 1000 years before the practice became known in Europe. Originally it was thought to have been brought to the west by German Dr. E Kampfe in 1690, but recent work suggests that the term moxa was first introduced to the west in an English book about moxibustion published by Hermann Bushoff in 1676.

Since ancient times, fresh mugwort leaves are collected, dried, and grounded into “wool”. There  are several  ways of  using moxa: it can be burned directly on the skin (moxa cones and rice grain moxa), it can be attached to the needle and then set on fire, promoting a nice warm feeling. It can be placed on salt or ginger, but also, it can be rolled into a cigar, (aka moxa roll or moxa stick). A fully qualified acupuncturist is trained to use all methods of burning moxa, however due to practicality, safety and cost effectiveness, we may teach our patients to self treat with moxa sticks at home. Moxa roll is considered “indirect moxa” as it does not touch the skin, and is thought to produce mild heat.

First available in the Ming Dynasty, smoky moxa stick is user-friendly and soon became highly popular. Medical historians believe that moxibustion pre-dated acupuncture, and needling came to supplement moxa after the second century. Allegedly, the practise of moxibustion originated in the north of China, as it was cold and people had to warm themselves using fire. In Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used to expel cold pathogens. Moxa warms the visceral organs, hence treating cold invasion.

The use of heat to treat illness is also known outside TCM. Hippocrates (460-375 b.c.) is known to have said that if a disease cannot be cured by medicine then heat should be used; and if heat did not cure than the disease was untreatable. To date, western medicine might use heat to treat pain, chest complaints, and other ailments, promoting a nice sense of relaxation.

Smoky and smokeless moxa roll:

Moxa roll resemble a Cuban cigar. The smoky stick looks fresh and is wrapped in paper, while the smokeless roll is made of fresh moxa turned into charcoal. The burning smell of fresh moxa is strong and might resemble cannabis. Smokeless moxa has a less intensive fragrance.

Burning smokeless moxa is unpopular in China, where people are accustomed and favour the smell of fresh moxa. Meanwhile, in the west it is becoming highly popular, partly due to smoking ban but partly to do with health concerns with regards to smoke.

Please be advised that one should not self treat prior to consulting an acupuncturist. Moxa is very powerful and there are several individual techniques and contra indications to its use, which if not attended to can lead to serious injury and possibly death.

This blog is based on an extract of my study on the use of moxibustion to treat breech pregnancy with views of having this treatment widely offered on the NHS which lead to further studies and an article being published on the international Journal of Chinese Medicine.

References to this blog can be provided upon request.

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