Moxibustion is an ancient Eastern tradition of heat therapy that is as old as acupuncture. In fact, the term acupuncture in Chinese is formed by two words; "Zhen Jiu". The word "zhen" means needle and the word "jiu" means moxibustion. Moxibustion and acupuncture have been traditionally used as a pair since the beginning of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and continues to be a very powerful combination for most practitioners of TCM today.
Moxibustion involves heating up a particular acupuncture point by burning a very specific herb, Artemisia Vulgaris, or commonly known as "mugwort". This herb is chosen because of its very warming properties, and its pure yang nature, having the ability to restore the primary yang energy.
The most common type of indirect moxibustion is when a practitioner uses what is called a "moxa stick". The "stick", which roughly resembles the shape and size of a cigar, is made out of tightly rolled mugwort with sometimes small amounts of other herbs. The practitioner lights one end and holds it close to the area being treated causing a strong sensation of heat.
Another popular technique of doing indirect moxibustion is with the use of acupuncture. With this technique a needle is inserted in the desired acupuncture point and then a small cone-shaped piece of herb is attached to the top of the needle. The herb is then ignited and as the herb burns the heat travels down the needle warming up the meridian.
From a TCM point of view, perhaps the most common indication for using moxibustion is the presence of Cold. Cold causes the Qi to slow down and in many cases to stagnate resulting in excruciating pain. Moxibustion warms up the meridians and expels cold. Achy, cold joints respond great to moxibustion. Moxibustion is also used to induce the smooth flow of Qi and Blood. This is done in areas where there is clearly a deficiency of Qi and Blood or on acupuncture points that are known for their ability to smooth the flow of Qi and Blood. Mugwort and heat are both warming and yang in nature, and when combined during moxibustion the result is a very powerful way of strengthening the yang energy. For this reason, moxibustion is widely used with patients that are weak and frail lacking yang energy. Ancient Chinese masters have been using moxibustion as prophylactic for thousands of years. By applying moxibustion on specific acupuncture points on a regular basis they are able to stay strong and healthy until the last day of their lives. Thus, moxibustion is also used as a preventive treatment.
From a western medicine point of view, moxibustion increases the production of white blood cells. Studies have shown that white blood cell count begins to increase immediately after direct moxibustion, and reaches a peak 8 hours later. This peak is maintained for 24 hours. Similarly, studies have shown that moxibustion increases the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. For subjects who had an average hemoglobin ratio of 78% just before direct moxibustion, the ratio increased steadily to reach a peak of 90% in eight weeks. Applying direct moxibustion continuously for 15 weeks, it takes 22 weeks for the red blood cell count to return to what it used to be before moxibustion. It also shows a substantial increase in the following blood components: the sedimentation rate of red blood cells, platelet count, the speed of blood coagulation, blood calcium, blood glucose count and the capacity to produce antibodies. Moxibustion has also been proven to improve the overall blood and lymph circulation.
Moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian.