Moxibustion is the practice of burning a herb on or close to the body in order to generate specific therapeutic effects. The herb that is used is Artemesia Vulgaris, commonly known as Mugwort. The leaves of the mugwort plant are dried and refined to remove the rough stems and the resulting compound, which is known as moxa or moxa punk, has a soft and fluffy consistency which is readily moulded and burns smoothly.
Moxibustion can be applied in a wide variety of ways, either directly or indirectly. With direct moxibustion a cone of moxa punk is rolled or moulded and placed on the skin. The cone is lit at the top and burns down slowly, allowing a gradually increasing penetration of heat through the skin. When the patient feels the heat intensifying, the practitioner quickly removes the cone before it leads to burning.
The practice of moxibustion has a long history. The early references to moxibustion practice are from two thousand year old Chinese texts and Artemesia Vulgaris has been cultivated in both China and Japan for many centuries. There is no doubt that the practice of warming the human body to relieve illnesses and discomforts would have coincided with the mastery of fire making, far back in our historical development. The practice of moxibustion is a specific refinement of that innate activity.
It should be noted that the practice of moxibustion in China, whilst common, is less highly regarded as compared to acupuncture practice and their range of moxibustion techniques limited. In Japan, however, moxibustion is very highly regarded and their range of moxibustion techniques is far more developed. As a therapy in its own right, combined with the full perspective of Oriental Medicine, moxibustion is regarded in some Japanese schools as being of equal or even greater value to the use of acupuncture needling. Its ability to tonify or nourish the internal organs, via the channels and points on the surface of the body, certainly makes it an invaluable enhancement for the immune system and defender against disease.
The fundamental principle involved in moxibustion is the promotion of blood circulation. The body has a homeostatic requirement for maintaining a fixed temperature; when an area on the surface of the body is warmed in excess of other areas, the body needs to ensure that no over-heating occurs, so it responds by dilating the blood vessels and increasing the flow of blood in the heated area. This increase in blood flow automatically enhances the vitality of the local tissues because the blood brings more nourishment and oxygen to the cells, eliminates more carbon dioxide (and therefore disperses the acidity of the local tissues) and brings more of the immune defending cells such as phagocytes and lymphocytes to the area. So just as with acupuncture, the application of moxibustion has an immune enhancing effect; the body responds to the stimulus by increasing the vitality of the local tissues. This simple, local principle is further enhanced by the ability of moxibustion to effect not only distal areas but also specific functional systems of the body, in other words the organ systems and the channels of Chinese Medicine.