What Is Moxibustion?


Moxibustion is an energy healing practice developed by the Chinese that uses a burning/warming technique and a healing herb called mugwort. A trained practitioner, most commonly an acupuncturist (in the United States only a licensed acupuncturist may practice moxibustion therapy), uses a hot moxi-stick to warm specific areas of the body.

In the most common administering of the moxibustion technique, the smoldering stick is placed near the surface of the skin and is held there under close observation until the skin turns red, which usually takes a few minutes.

Moxibustion and the Breech BabyTwo more extreme, but less common, techniques include burning of a “moxa cone” directly on the skin surface. A moxa cone is a cone shaped concentration of mugwort, similar to a incense cone. In one method, the burning cone is left on the skin until blistering occurs, eventually resulting in a scar. The other removes the burning cone before blistering and, therefore, does not scar.

Obviously these two methods can be extremely painful and are therefore not recommended. There are far more energy healing options available that do not require you to experience such pain.

Moxibustion and Meridians

The placement of the moxi-sticks is important for effectiveness. Similar to other energy healing therapies, moxibustion is meant to stimulate the meridians of your body. The meridians are the channels within you in which the flow of Qi, an energy force that flows throughout our bodies and brings harmony and balance, is found.

Qi is made up of the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. Yang, the cold force, can become stronger than its opposition, Yin. When this occurs, your body becomes unbalanced and disorders manifest.

The use of moxibustion to warm the cold energy brings your Qi back into balance with Yin and therefore restores balance and harmony to your body.

Mugwort and Moxibustion

MoxibustionMugwort is the herb used in traditional Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion techniques. Leaves from the Mugwort plant, the herb used in preparing a moxi-stick, is native to Asia as well as other countries and contains essential oils that are released into the air when the leaves are ignited.

Mugwort is recognized as beneficial both for its medicinal qualities and for its warming properties. When used in moxibustion, Mugwort is dried and burned, most commonly in stick form where the leaves are rolled and fashioned into a moxi-stick.

A moxi-stick, or mugwort stick, resembles a small cigar in appearance and is used by igniting the end. When the flame dissipates the smoldering end becomes the tool for moxibustion treatments. This smoldering end will continue to burn until extinguished.

moxibustionMugwort can also be further processes to a paste and formed into cones that can be burned directly on the skin (still not highly recommended) or stuck to the ends of acupuncture needles. When attached to acupuncture needles, the heat generated during burning also heats the needle and increases the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment.

The Origin of Moxibustion

The ancient practices of acupuncture and moxibustion therapy originated in China.  Eastern coastal areas of China gave birth to the practice of Acupuncture, while Moxibustion takes its origin from China’s northern areas. The significance of this is important only in the understanding of how Moxibustion therapy came into practice for some of its specific uses.

The people in northern China suffered from ailments related to cold. They relied on animals as a source of food, especially milk. Because of the cold climate and their diet, they were particularly susceptible to intestinal issues and abdominal pain. These types of issues are best healed with heat.

Therefore the practice of using Moxibustion warming techniques on particular points of the body became a practical medicinal tool. Warm compresses were also used as a healing technique for larger areas of the body.

How to Use Moxibustion

The use of applied herbal heat is used to treat a variety of conditions similar to the use of acupuncture, acupressure, and other energy healing techniques. The goal is to remove blockages in the meridians and allow for a free flowing of Qi. Blockages in Qi result in many health and mental disorders including stress, anxiety, depression, physical pain, and weakened immune systems. Similar to other eastern medicine, moxibustion is best used as preventative medicine rather than as a cure for illnesses or diseases.

One of the most well known uses of moxibusiton is for pregnancy, labor and delivery. One seemingly unlikely, yet effective and popular use for moxibustion is that of turning a breech baby.

Moxibustion and the Breech Baby

Everyone wants a smooth and stress free labor and delivery of a baby. The mom, doctor and baby will all benefit when the delivery is without added stress. A baby coming into the world in a breech position can be very stressful for both mom and baby.

A breech baby is one that is upside down near the time for delivery, meaning if they were delivered in this position, their buttocks would come out first, not their head. Babies are supposed to arrive into this world head first, and there are dangers for both the mother and the child when the baby is in the breech position.

Moxibustion has been used very effectively to turn a breech baby. Usually, this practice is done around the thirty-fourth week of pregnancy although it can be started earlier. It is never too late to start this therapy, but once breech is determined, therapy should be started as soon as possible.

Studies show that Moxibustion has been successful to help the baby turn itself around in approximately three out of four cases, which is a very high success rate of nearly 75%.

Breech Baby Moxibustion Treatment

moxibustion for breechThe treatment process uses the outside corner of the small, pinky toe (near the nail) as the acupressure point in this procedure.  Moxibustion sticks are placed close to the acupressure points and allowed to heat the skin. The acupuncturist will permit the skin to become as warm as is tolerable, for approximately fifteen minutes or so.

Usually, during the first few minutes, the baby will begin to move around in the womb.  This process is usually done when the pregnant woman is lying down as this is the most comfortable for her and it is also the easiest way for the baby to move in such tight quarters.

It is highly recommended that this technique be done in the controlled environment of an acupuncturist’s office. This allows for proper monitoring of the burning moxi-stick so as not to burn your toes. However, if this is not an option, home treatment is also possible.

At Home Moxibustion – Use with Caution

A DIY technique, sometimes used by the more daring mom-to-be, is done at home while seated in a chair. You will need to obtain 2 moxi-sticks. These can be purchased in a Chinese Herbalist shop, but not all of us have access to such resources. Click here to purchase moxi-sticks on Amazon.

It is highly recommended that you perform this method with somebody else present, either a spouse, family member, or friend. You will need someone to monitor the burning sticks and make sure you don’t get burned.

What you will need is either for someone to hold the moxi-sticks in place near the pinky toes, or rig some way for the sticks to be mounted near the toes.

One possibility is to use books (any genre will do because this is not about reading!) of any thickness. The thinner the books, the more you will need.

Sit on the floor with your back supported, like against a wall. Extend your legs out and point your toes upward, toward the ceiling. Stack books on either side of your feet until the top of each stack is near the same height as your pinky toe. Place one moxi-stick on each stack pointing towards your foot and keep them in place with additional books stacked on top.

Light the moxi-sticks and allow the flame to dissipate. Move your feet so that the smoldering end of each stick is as close to each pinky toe as tolerable, but not so close to burn your skin.

Leave the sticks in place for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, while continuously monitoring them to assure the smoldering ends do not ignite the books and that they remain close to the pinky toe. Ash will form, so have something below each stick to catch the ash.

After a few minutes, you may begin to feel the baby’s movements.  This is best done when you will be able to lie down after treatment completion to give the baby plenty of room – and time – to change into a head’s down position.

If possible it is a good idea to use moxibustion therapy at night, that way you can be at rest and lying down for several hours to allow for a greater chance for the baby to successfully move into a head’s down position. Sometimes treatments are given twice a day, and it may take several days of therapy for the baby to achieve the new desired place.

Moxibustion in Western Medicine

Moxibustion therapy may seem a little odd for those who are used to traditional western medical techniques, but to the Chinese people this ancient healing art has become a part of their holistic plan for health care.

Western medicine is slowly recognizing the use of ancient Chinese medicine as a legitimate form of therapy. Many feel that eastern and western medicine are good compliments of each other. Eastern medicine is often used as preventative medicine where western medicine is reactionary. Used in combination, they are a way to treat the whole body in an effective and modern way. Moxibustion is one such practice that works well in this manner.


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