When you walk into an acupuncture clinic, you may smell a strange earthy aroma in the air – this is moxa.

Moxibustion, commonly known as moxa, is a type of traditional Chinese medicine often used during acupuncture treatments for a variety of health issues. It involves burning an herb called Ai Ye (mugwort or wormwood) and applying the resulting heat to specific points on the body for therapeutic results. This herb is used because it is warm in nature and promotes circulation. The heat that is generated by burning the herb increases the flow of energy to the area resulting in healing.

What does moxa treat?
Moxa helps with many issues relating to different organ systems of the body. Not only does it generate heat on the skin, but it drives this heat deep into the body to promote healing to the bone. For this reason, moxa is used for conditions that arise from coldness or stagnation. Moxa is used to warm the meridians and allow smooth movement of qi (energy) and blood while stimulating the organs.

Moxa may help with musculoskeletal pain such as arthritis and chronic muscle stiffness, digestive problems such as constipation and diarrhea, lack of circulation that causes pain and numbness, infertility and gynecological disorders and more.

How is moxa done, and does it hurt?
There are two main types of moxibustion techniques: indirect and direct. Indirect moxa is a technique that involves burning moxa while keeping the herb off the skin. This includes holding moxa that is crushed and wrapped in special paper a few inches above the skin or placing a cone of moxa on the tips of acupuncture needles.

Direct moxa involves placing a tiny amount of burning moxa directly on the skin. With this method, the heat penetrates deeper into the skin. A protective layer, such as a balm is applied to the skin. Then, a small amount of moxa the size of a grain of rice, is placed on top of this topical. The moxa is then burned and quickly removed before it burns the skin. Although this may sound painful, it is quite painless!

By Dr. Nirali Patel