Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Warm Yourself with Moxa!

What is Moxa? Moxa is an herb (Artemesia vulgaris) that is used in Chinese Medicine both topically and internally to bring heat into the body to improve Qi and Blood circulation (that is the short answer). I will be focusing on its topical application here.

Why would you want to use Moxa, you ask? For many reasons that will shortly become evident.

Moxibustion (the practice of burning moxa on or near the body) is older than the practice of acupuncture.  Acupuncture was used as a supplement to Moxa therapy in about the 2nd century B.C.E.  Today Moxa is used as an adjunct to needles and is commonly used to enhance their efficacy for certain conditions; Moxibustion is powerful enough, however, to stand on its own. In a previous post (Balance of Yin and Yang) I described what it means to have too much or too little heat or cold in the body, and the types of symptoms that might arise because of those imbalances. Moxa can be used when there is either excess cold or insufficient heat, but it can also be used with certain injuries, even when inflammation is present. Moxa is also excellent at treating all types of stagnation, which is why it is so useful when it comes to injuries, be they chronic or acute.
To review, when there is pain present, there is some level of stagnation, where the Qi, Blood or Fluids is not flowing properly, like having a clog in a drain. When the clog is cleared, flow is restored and pain goes away. Heat is one way to get things moving and that is why Moxa can be effective for pain. The different styles of Moxa use different amounts heat to treat the body so some methods are effective to use even when there is heat/inflammation already present. For example, with tennis elbow (extreme pain on the outer elbow, often with referred pain into the forarm) the muscles and tendons of the elbow are inflamed causing pain. Often times, I won't use needles immediately because the area feels so "angry" and needles would just exacerbate the pain. Moxa, like the Ibuki-style Moxa shown above, can calm the muscles and irritation, reducing the inflammation and pain and allowing better Qi and Blood flow through the elbow. Better flow means faster, more efficient healing, since the healing nutrients in the blood can better access the injury.
If I wanted more warming, like if there was Cold in the body, I might use Warming Needle (see photo to the right) to send the heat deeper into the body. This feels really good for people with lower back pain or menstrual cramps (or both!). The Moxa burns longer and sends the heat down the needle shaft, deep into the body. It feels very nourishing to the body and helps those deep aches. I have found it very useful when treating osteoarthritis of the knee, sciatic pain as well as loose stools and digestive problems.
The one downside to Moxa is the smoke. Thankfully there are smokeless versions (which I use in my practice) that are highly effective and better for your breathing that the more traditional forms of moxa. The key is using the right form of heat for each condition. I have yet to meet a patient that doesn't love Moxa!