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What’s That Smell?

By: Craig Graceffo

During these winter months, you might enter the Zen Den and, besides the scent of diffusing essential oils, catch a whiff of moxa.

Moxa, Artemisia vulgaris, Ai Ye, or more commonly known in these parts as Mugwort, is seen as an invasive to many, yet, in Chinese Medicine, it is a major player. Used as a stand-alone modality or in conjunction with acupuncture to treat a multitude of conditions, everything from the smoke to the residue left behind on the skin has healing properties.

Moxa comes packaged in coarse, semi-pure, or pure forms. It can be applied directly (on the skin via cones), indirectly (on top of ginger, salt, aconite, or on the head of a needle), or with a moxa pole. Moxibustion is the physical act of burning moxa directly or indirectly.

In Chinese Medicine, the qualities and properties associated with moxa are that it is bitter, pungent, and warming; it acts specifically on the Liver, Spleen, and Kidney channels. The main functions of the herb are to warm the meridians, dispel cold, tonify deficient Qi and blood, move stagnation, and stop bleeding. Therefore, if during treatment, your practitioner has ever mentioned Yang, Qi and/or blood deficiency, you are most likely a solid candidate for moxa. And, because it also moves stagnation, the herb is applicable for many types of pain conditions.

Within the clinical setting, you will often see moxa used for symptoms/conditions made worse due to cold and those which are relieved with warmth; so, arthritis, muscle pain, joint discomfort, fatigue, loose stools, gastrointestinal conditions, issues related to immunity, OB/GYN (especially heavy menstrual bleeding) are all indications for this herb. Ai Ye can even turn a baby from a breech position just by holding a moxa pole over a point on the fifth toe.

For centuries, moxa was the preferred method of treatment in Japanese and Chinese households, as even the regular citizenry was equipped with the knowledge of proper technique and basic applications. So, even if you are not a licensed acupuncturist, you have the ability to start incorporating moxa into your daily regimen of self-care as a take-home therapy when not at the acupuncture clinic.

As Shakespeare wrote, “Thou knowest, winter tames man, woman, and beast.” However, there is a proven remedy within moxa to tame the winter frigidity, dispel that cold, and keep your fire burning bright during these frosty months. At your next acupuncture session, ask your practitioner if moxa is a viable modality for you. If so, at-home usage instructions, along with a specific acupuncture point protocol could be supplied.

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