What is Moxibustion?
Moxibustion is the therapeutic practice of burning moxa wool, made from the dried leaves of the herb Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), on or above the body. The roots of heat therapy can be traced back to the natural urge of people living in cold climates to warm up painful body areas. Over a period of time they found various ways of transferring heat to the body, one of the first being stones heated to a suitable temperature and pressed onto the skin.
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (approx. 220 B.C.E) provides us with one of the first written references to moxibustion :
The north is the area where things are closed off in storage. The mountains and the hills where the people dwell have bitterly cold, icy winds. The tribes of this area lead a nomadic existence, eating mainly dairy products. This causes the people to have chilled organs, resulting in full diseases. The most appropriate treatment for this is moxibustion. Thus it can be seen that moxibustion originated in the north.
From this we can deduce that moxibustion has been a medical therapy for well over 2,000 years. Moxibustion goes hand in hand with acupuncture. It is said that needles will influence your Qi more, while moxa will influence the blood more. It is rare for a classical acupuncture treatment not to include some form of moxibustion.
The effects of Moxibustion
The effects of moxibustion have been scientifically researched in Japan since the early 1900′s. The reason for this was the pressure that Oriental medicine was under from the reforms established by the Meiji Government (1868 – 1912). In later years this data was to be extremely useful in resisting pressure from the occupying forces led by General MacArthur. MacArthur in particular nearly destroyed the practice of moxibustion by banning its use completely, believing it to be an instrument of barbaric torture. It was only after the experiments proving moxibustion to be therapeutic in nature were re-examined that the ban was lifted. Moxibustion has been found to have the following effects :
- Raises the white blood cell count.
- Raises the red blood cell count.
- Increases phagocytosis.
- Raises haematocrit levels.
- Increases blood platelets.
- Raises blood sugar levels.
- Encourages alkalosis while discouraging acidosis.
- Increases the body’s immunological substances, such as antibodies
- Reduces cholesterol.
- Increases albumin levels.
- Gammaglobulin levels rise.
- Magnesium ions decrease as calcium ions increase.
- Blood vessels initially contract but then dilate giving rise to improved blood circulation.
- Peristalsis and gastrointestinal function increases.
- Liver function is enhanced, pigment is improved, and the urobilin is decreased.
- Internal Secretions are improved.
- Adrenal cortex function is activated.
From the JAMSF Newsletter, Volume 1, Issues 3 & 4.
There are two main categories of moxibustion. Each category contains different forms of application. They are scarring moxibustion and non-scarring moxibustion. Due to our modern views on health, physical appearance, and litigation, the scarring kinds of moxibustion are very rarely used in Western countries. The down side of this is that some of the potent therapeutic benefits of moxibustion are not provided in a treatment.
Obaidey, E., ( 199? ). Introduction to Moxibustion. Tokyo : Japan Acupuncture and Moxibustion Skills Foundation Newsletter