In addition to performing acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practitioner almost always burns moxa in a therapy called moxibustion. This is an ancient practice known to increase energy in the body and warm it up. The plant burned is Artemesia vulgaris, otherwise known as mugwort. Practitioners burn it on strategic areas of the body, including acupuncture points and along meridians where chi is stuck and/or depleted, giving rise to pain, coldness, edema, fatigue, and other imbalances. Moxa comes in many forms, including raw leaves, salves, topical tinctures, and pressed into pencil- to cigar-size sticks. For home use of moxa, I recommend using a tiger warmer (more on this in the next section). Thousands of years ago, moxa was placed under a patient’s pillow to bring about dreams, visions, and insight, as well as to eliminate nightmares.

Moxibustion can be applied directly or indirectly. In direct moxibustion, the moxa cone rests on your body at the treatment point. The practitioner lights the cone and lets it burn slowly until your skin begins to turn red. Once you begin to feel heat, the practitioner removes it.  Moxa can also be placed on the acupuncture needle and ignited. It burns on the needle until it’s extinguished. The heat travels through the needle to the acupuncture point.

Indirect moxibustion is more commonly practiced. It’s also a safer option, since the burning moxa doesn’t actually touch your skin. Instead, the practitioner will hold it about an inch from your body. They’ll remove it once your skin becomes red and warm.  Another method of indirect moxibustion uses an insulating layer of salt or garlic between the cone and your skin. In another option, “moxa boxes” may be filled with moxa, ignited, and placed on the body.

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