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Those of you who are already patients of mine know I take pride in my office. It is essential to me that from the moment you walk in the door at AcuZen, you have left some, if not all, of your troubles behind. They are checked at the door as you enter into a place of complete serenity, where your well-being is of the utmost importance and everything is done to ensure your absolute comfort. I have actually been told by a patient that his blood pressure drops as soon as he arrives for his appointment.

There is a distinct smell in an acupuncturist’s office. I would like to think it is from the aromatherapy I burn daily to help instill a sense of calm and relaxation. However, at times it is also from the moxibustion that has been burned during treatment of a patient. It is well known that the smell can easily be mistaken for that of marijuana. I recently had an external vent installed to help expel the smoke and smell after a treatment so it doesn’t linger. In case my neighbors weren’t previously curious how a Jewish girl came to be an acupuncturist, I am pretty certain they now wonder exactly what it is that I do in my office all day. But that is for another week and another article.

Moxibustion, or moxa, is an herb that is also known as mugwort, or Artemisia vulgaris. It has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years. The plant itself is fast-growing and can reach heights of up to four feet. All its parts are collected, including the leaf, stem, and cotton-like fluff. While parts of it can be infused as a tea, most often it is dried and made into moxibustion.

Moxibustion has numerous forms that are used in Chinese medicine for a multitude of purposes. There are different grades of moxa, varying in purity, which are chosen accordingly for specific uses. The purest grade burns more cleanly, more consistently, and at a slightly lower temperature. Moxa with more impurities is darker in color and used when a higher temperature and faster rate of burning is desired.

There are numerous types of moxibustion, which can all be classified into direct or indirect moxa. Indirect or pole moxa is something I often use in my practice. It appears similar to a small cigar which is lit and burned over an area of the body or to warm needles that are in place. It is my preferred method as it allows me to concentrate on a large area while simultaneously using a symptomatic approach to pinpoint and focus on a specific acupuncture point. At times I may utilize needle-top moxa, where the herb is rolled into a ball and placed on top of a needle, lit, and burned. The warmth that is generated will be infused into that particular acupuncture point via the needle, allowing the effects to penetrate into the viscera.

Yet another form of moxa is rice-grain moxa. With a skilled technique, the herb is often rolled between flat bamboo slats into tiny pieces, approximately the size of a rice grain, hence its name. It is then applied directly to the body using an all-natural burn-cream barrier and lit. Because the warmth is subtle, in this type of moxa a specific number of rice grains will be utilized, burning one after the next, until the desired effect is achieved. This is commonly used for patients who need an immune boost, such as those who are weak or deficient, or who may be undergoing chemotherapy. There are also boxes that house the burning moxibustion, allowing it to rest over an area where the heat penetrates though the box. Scarring moxa is something rarely used in the U.S. and is reserved for serious illnesses where the scar left from the burn is considered to offer extensive healing properties. At times, moxa can also be burned over a slice of garlic or natural sea salt for specific isolated uses.

When moxibustion is utilized in conjunction with acupuncture, the benefits to the body are enormous. The warmth and healing that is experienced is remarkable. It is successful in drying dampness in the body, something commonly seen in patients suffering from arthritis when there is inflammation around the joints. You can actually see the joint inflammation recede during the course of the moxa treatment. I have had wonderful experiences where patients came in with an acute injury to a knee or ankle, and utilizing moxa I was able to help decrease the pain and swelling and actually improve the lubrication and ease of the joint movement.

Its applications are widespread. I have had great success in treating patients suffering from a shingles outbreak. You can see the blistered vesicles dry out and visibly shrink throughout the course of the treatment. People suffering from Reynaud’s syndrome, or those suffering from a severe cold feeling, often described as feeling chilled to the bone, really enjoy the benefits of moxa. One of the most amazing applications is that burning moxibustion over the acupuncture point bladder 67, which is found on the pinky toe, has been proven successful in turning breech babies when utilized at the right time during the pregnancy!

I love having wonderful tools in my toolbox. Moxibustion is one of the numerous modalities I am able to utilize to ensure the greatest comfort and healing to my patients. When healing the natural way, the benefits are enjoyed and experienced in their entirety for optimal health and wellness.