Moxibustion is a widely known Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) modality that is commonly used to treat various disorders and illnesses. It is famous for its remarkable healing effects on an individual’s overall health. Originally, moxibustion is done by burning dried Chinese herbs - Aì yè (aka: mugwort or moxa) and applying heat on or near the specific acupuncture points on the body. It positively stimulates blood flow and Qi, which causes the body to maintain its stability and balance.
History of Moxibustion
This Chinese treatment modality has been practiced since ancient times until now. The practice of moxibustion originated from the idea of living habits and disease characteristics of the northern alpine nation, specifically in Su wen, Yi Fa Fang Yi Lun (Deng & Shen, 2013). After the Han dynasty in ancient China, health professionals and doctors have advanced the moxibustion treatment and later promoted it widely for others to use (Deng & Shen, 2013). The perspective of moxibustion has also expanded over time as it has been introduced to other countries, such as Europe and other parts of Asia. Ever since many practitioners came upon moxibustion, they began creating new inventions of this practice by developing different methods (Zhang, 2004). Its importance progressively becomes more evident and noticeable towards most populations.
Growing Popularity of Moxibustion in the World
Since then, moxibustion was known to be a popular alternative therapy, aside from acupuncture, in China and many other Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Many TCM practitioners and medical doctors have utilized this invention to treat patients with their health issues. Although moxibustion is seen as highly valuable in Asian countries, it is not as popular as acupuncture is in the United States. However, it is slowly gaining more popularity over the time since it was first introduced. Only certain types of moxibustion are most commonly practiced in the US. According to the World Health Organization, the practice of moxibustion and acupuncture has been approved in 103 member states, which means that it will be included in insurance coverage and enacted by the legislature (Xiaodong, 2016). Aside from the United States, this practice has also reached the European countries. In these countries, the Dutch East Indian Company’s employees acquired information about moxibustion and presented it to the people (Bai, 2014). In addition, moxibustion has gained popularity and recognition through the internet, social media, television, radio, and other media. The more people communicate to each other about the history and effects of moxibustion, the more people will realize its importance and start utilizing it to cure diseases and promote wellness.
Types and Functions of Moxibustion
Moxibustion can be classified into three different types, which are traditional moxibustion (done directly or indirectly by applying burned moxa onto the acupuncture points), drug moxibustion (irritant drugs are used in place of the acupuncture points to create skin blushing and blistering to treat disorders), and modern moxibustion (instead of using actual moxa fire or heat, chemical or radiation-related methods that give off the same thermal energy, such as laser, electrothermal, and microwave, are used to achieve similar effects of traditional moxibustion) (Deng & Shen, 2013).
Traditional moxibustion is divided into two categories: direct and indirect.
Direct moxibustion deals with placing burning moxa directly onto the person’s skin. It also comes in two different methods, which are the non-scarring method and the scarring method. In the direct non-scarring method, burning moxa cones are placed onto the individual’s skin but taken off once pain is starting to occur (Sacred Lotus, 2021). This method is used on patients who indicate blood deficiency, cold or Yang deficiency (Sacred Lotus, 2021). Although it may leave a temporary red mark on the skin, it prevents the individual from experiencing further pain or receiving bruises, blisters or burn marks. On the other hand, the direct scarring method involves putting burning moxa cones right onto the surface of the skin, causing bruises, blisters, and immense pain. This method is used on patients who indicate signs of asthma, developmental disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, or weakness in their bodies (Sacred Lotus, 2021). In ancient China, the TCM doctors believed that scarring signifies a successful treatment (Sacred Lotus, 2021). However, due to the outcome in pain and permanent scarring, this method is not as preferable to use on patients anymore.
Indirect moxibustion is most favorably used because of the minimal pain. Burning moxa is placed either on top of an acupuncture needle, over a slice of ginger on the skin, or held above the skin for several minutes (Wong, 2021). Aside from ginger, other materials can be used in the moxibustion technique, such as salt or garlic. With heat application, the individual will experience more relief and relaxation.
Theory of Moxibustion in TCM
The nourishing effects of the moxibustion are based on the theory of TCM; the keys behind all of its therapeutic treatment are the meridian system, moxa and fire (Deng & Shen, 2013). The meridian system consists of channels where the energy (aka: Qi) flows through. Each meridian contains many acupuncture points which corresponds to a certain part of the body. In TCM, it is believed that there must be a balance of Yin and Yang to achieve a holistic health. Utilizing the meridian system will guide the individual to maintain their bodies’ stability effectively and successfully. In terms of moxa and fire, it is believed that using fire or heat can eliminate Yin and maintain balance in the individual’s body by bringing back Yang; applying heat can reduce pain, activate Qi, and eliminate the negative aspects that cause damage to one’s health (Deng & Shen, 2013).
The materials used to supplement the heat are what makes moxibustion successful. Certain fire materials that are heated in the moxibustion method are used to treat certain health issues. For instance, bamboo fire is used for tendon injuries, orange wood fire for skin pain, cedar wood fire for ulcer and pus, and jujube wood fire for emaciated body (Deng & Shen, 2013). Using moxa fire itself is more considered and suitable because of its impressive healing abilities on several diseases and disorders. Also, the moxa material is easier to obtain and acquire.
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Hsieh, C. H., Tseng, C. C., Shen, J. Y., & Chuang, P. Y. (2018). Randomized controlled trial testing weight loss and abdominal obesity outcomes of moxibustion. Biomedical engineering online, 17(Suppl 2), 149. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12938-018-0571-8 (Retraction published Biomed Eng Online. 2020 Jan 24;19(1):6)
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Health Issues Moxibustion Can Treat
Moxibustion is used to treat a wide range of health problems just as conventional medicine can. For instance, it can be used for both men's and women's reproductive health, digestive health, immune function, and more. Essentially, it is known to relieve chronic pain, improve blood circulation, and maintain overall wellness.
Most patients would attend moxibustion therapy to treat malposition, colitis, and diarrhea (Deng & Shen, 2013). It was found that moxibustion can reduce pain caused by primary dysmenorrhea. Women who suffer from primary dysmenorrhea experience menstrual pain, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, and fatigue. After receiving moxibustion treatment, results showed that menstrual cramps and pain were significantly reduced (Yang et. al, 2017).
In addition, there were claims that moxibustion induces weight loss and prevents obesity. Research showed that combining moxibustion therapy with other educational weight loss programs help participants significantly reduced waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (Hsieh, Tseng, Shen, & Chuang, 2018).
Lastly, it was reviewed that moxibustion has therapeutic effects on insomnia and sleep health. Past studies have shown that moxibustion therapy was more effective than conventional medicine, oral Chinese medicine, and other alternative therapies (Sun, Yuan, & Yang, 2016). Participants in the trial displayed better sleeping quality and less sleep troubles. Reports from different studies have also shown success on using moxibustion for insomnia. It revealed that placing a burning moxa stick on the acupuncture point, KI-1 Yongquan, once a day for about 15 minutes in a 7-day period greatly reduces insomnia (Maciocia, 2009, p. 478).
All in all, moxibustion exhibits great healing properties that can be beneficial in solving any health challenges. Consistent use of moxibustion therapy will ensure quick recovery, instant pain relief, and better body function.
In conclusion, the introduction of moxibustion to different countries have inspired many others to expand this TCM modality and utilize it to help people achieve a better quality of life. The beliefs and theories behind moxibustion are the key to its success. Learning about the process, systems, and materials in the moxibustion therapy informs individuals why it is highly significant in China. By seeing all the health benefits that moxibustion can bring to the community, more doctors and health practitioners have started to include this method in their clinics.