Moxibustion is an ancient therapy from Asia, but is simply perfect for us northern New Englanders!

Moxibustion involves the use of a heat source to stimulate an acupuncture point instead of a needle. The heat source, known as moxa, is made from the leaves of a plant called artemesia (also known as mugwort or Ai Ye). The leaves are dried and compressed to provide a slow-burning and deeply penetrating heat over the acupuncture point. Moxibustion is used to stimulate the body’s natural capacity to heal. Clinical research and personal experience have shown it can increase energy, improve circulation, decrease swelling, reduce pain, increase number of immune cells, relax the nervous system, improve sleep and balance hormones. It is particularly helpful for patients who have decreased energy, impaired immunity, sensation of cold, or certain chronic diseases such as age-related degenerative conditions, autoimmune disorders, cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome.

At Port City Integrative Health, we utilize a few different moxibustion techniques. One technique, known as indirect moxa, is performed by waving a lit “cigar” of moxa over an acupuncture point without making contact with the skin. The heat penetrates the skin and stimulates the acupuncture point. Aside from the overall positive effects of point stimulation, patients usually only notice the sensation of heat and a pink appearance on the skin, which soon resolves. Another technique, called direct moxa, is performed by placing moxa formed into the shape of a cone or rice on the skin over a thin layer of protective salve. Leith uses this form of moxabustion almost exclusively and will describe it in more detail below.

Japanse Moxibustion Technique, from Leith Nippes, L.Ac

I would like to make it clear that the form of moxibustion therapy I will be discussing is Japanese style and not the typical version as practiced in China (where it is seen as little more than heat therapy.) I use only the ultra gold moxa from Japan, and it is the best quality on the market. Japanese moxa is soft, bright yellow in color, and has a very mild smoke. I start by placing Shiunko ointment on the skin to protect it from the possibility of mild burns. I then place a soft rolled ½ rice grain size piece of moxa standing vertically on the ointment covering the acupoint. Soft hand rolled cones burn quickly thus making the heat tolerable. The moxa is then ignited from the top by a stick of incense. I cover the lit moxa with the open end of the small bamboo tube and press down gently.  The oxygen burns out of the enclosed area, extinguishing the moxa and very little pain is experienced. Many of my patients find the heat sensation to be very mild and even pleasant; some actually fall asleep during the process. A small burn equivalent to that of sunburn is possible, and a small blister may form but will heal very quickly. Through practicing the art of moxibustion, I am able to achieve significant results not always attained by acupuncture alone. It is a secret gem of a therapy!