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What is Moxibustion and How Does it Work?

Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves burning dried mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) on or near the surface of the skin to promote healing and improve health.

During a moxibustion session, a practitioner typically lights a cigar-shaped stick made of compressed mugwort, known as a moxa stick, and holds it close to the skin or inserts it into a holder and places it over specific acupressure points. The heat from the burning mugwort penetrates the skin and stimulates the flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is believed to be the body’s vital energy (Bio-electricity), along the meridians/channels or energy pathways.

Moxibustion is thought to work by increasing circulation, improving the flow of Qi and blood, and strengthening the immune system. It is often used in combination with acupuncture to enhance the therapeutic effects of the treatment.

Moxa has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, digestive disorders, menstrual cramps, and respiratory problems. Today, it is still widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as in other forms of alternative and complementary medicine.

Indirect Moxibustion

Mugwort, the herb used in moxibustion, is believed to have a warming effect on the body and to be able to penetrate deeply into the skin. It is rich in volatile oils, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, mugwort is also believed to have a tonifying effect on the liver and kidneys and to be able to promote blood circulation.

It is also often used in combination with acupuncture, but it can also be used as a standalone therapy. In acupuncture, the needles are inserted into specific points along the meridians or channels, while in moxibustion, the heat is applied to these same points using burning mugwort. The combination of acupuncture and moxibustion is thought to enhance the therapeutic effects of both therapies, as the heat from the burning moxa is believed to stimulate the acupuncture points and help to release blockages in the energy pathways.

There are two main types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. Indirect moxibustion uses a small amount of mugwort which is placed directly on the skin and burned until it is extinguished before it burns the skin. In indirect moxibustion uses a small amount of mugwort which is placed on top of a piece of ginger or garlic, or on a special moxa holder, and burned. The heat is then transferred to the acupuncture points through the ginger or garlic or through the holder.

Medicinal Use: Mugwort has a long history of use in traditional medicine systems, such as Chinese medicine and traditional European herbalism. It is believed to have various medicinal properties, including being used as a digestive aid, promoting menstruation, relieving joint pain, and treating various skin conditions. However, it is essential to consult a qualified healthcare professional before using mugwort for medicinal purposes, as it can have side effects and interactions with certain medications.

Cultural and Folklore Use: Mugwort has been associated with various cultural and folklore practices. In some traditions, it is believed to have protective properties and is used for rituals or placed under pillows for vivid dreams. It has also been used as a natural insect repellent and as a component in smudging or cleansing ceremonies.

The use of burning Moxa is generally considered safe when performed by a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner, but it is not recommended for people with certain conditions, such as fever, or certain types of cancer. It is important to consult with a qualified TCM practitioner before undergoing moxibustion or any other form of alternative or complementary therapy.

How is Moxibustion used in Midwifery

Moxia is sometimes used in midwifery to help turn a breech baby to the head-down position before birth. A breech presentation, where the baby is positioned feet-first rather than head-first in the womb, can increase the risk of complications during delivery and may require a cesarean section.

In traditional Chinese medicine, burning mugwort is believed to stimulate the acupuncture points on the feet or small toe, which are associated with the uterus and pelvis, and to promote the downward movement of Qi, or energy, in the body. This is thought to help the baby turn head-down.

The moxibustion technique used for turning a breech baby involves holding a burning moxa stick about an inch away from the acupuncture points on the feet or small toe for about 20 minutes per session, once or twice a day for several days. This can be done in a midwife or acupuncturist’s office or at home with guidance from a qualified practitioner.

As with any medical procedure, it is important to consult with a qualified practitioner and to discuss the risks and benefits of burning moxa for turning a breech baby.

Moxa punk used in the practice of moxibution

About Mugwort (aka Moxa,)

Artemisia vulgaris, commonly known as mugwort (the herb used in moxibustion), is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa but has been naturalised in many other parts of the world. Mugwort is known for its distinctive aroma and has been used for various purposes throughout history, including culinary, medicinal, and cultural uses.

Culinary Use: Mugwort leaves have been used in traditional cuisines in some cultures. They can be used as a flavoring agent in dishes such as soups, stews, and teas. However, it is important to note that mugwort should be used with caution in cooking due to its potential toxicity and the presence of certain allergenic compounds.


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Page last updated: 27th June 2023




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