Moxibustion: Feel the burn if you want to heal!
With the cold of winter upon us, many people will begin to “feel” the weather. Lower backs will hurt, while bones and joints will ache just a little more than normal as the temperatures start to drop.
In the U.S., many turn to acupuncture to heal these pains. In Japan, there’s a traditional oriental therapy, called moxibustion, which uses heat on certain points of the body to help heal.
Living in Japan, you may have heard a Japanese coworker or friend talk about hari and kyu when referring to back or leg pains.
Hari (acupuncture) and kyu (moxibustion) may sound mysterious and painful, but they are known as the two most popular oriental medical therapies, and many Japanese consider them effective, time-proven treatments for chronic symptoms.
I’ll often employ these therapies after straining my back, have stiff shoulders or just feel too tired after a long walk.
While I visit a licensed practitioner for a normal acupuncture treatment, I always apply moxibustion myself at home. I feel the smoke and smell of the burning herb in moxibustion helps me relax despite its penetrating heat.
According to Akira Oikawa, a licensed practitioner of acupuncture and moxibustion, the latter is a traditional heat therapy that burns dried mugwort, called “moxa.” Moxa is a small, rice grain-sized cone of mugwort that is applied directly to particular points on the skin.
“Moxibustion is effective in treating chronic problems, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia and gerontology,” Oikawa said. “It also works for pains due to injury or arthritis, gynecological and obstetrical problems. It can help protect against cold and flu strains.”
Oikawa usually makes coned moxa by picking up and rolling dried mugwort with his index finger and thumb. He adjusts the amount of heat depending on the symptoms.
“If you make the cone tighter, it become hotter when you light it,” Oikawa said.
Then, the moxa is lit with an incense stick and applied to particular healing points.
The heat of moxa usually lasts 20-30 minutes, stimulating the points to alleviate the symptoms.
How does it work?
According to oriental medicine, energy and blood flow along the meridians of the body, but it is often jammed and blocked due to an accident, injury, fatigue or unhealthy life habits. Stimulation by heat to proper moxibustion points dissolves the blockage, restores energy and improves blood flow.
There are about 600 moxibustion points, and where you apply depends on the symptoms. For example, Oikawa applies moxa on the sole, called “yusen,” when a patient seems to be suffering from insomnia. For those who are suffering from stomach pains, he usually puts moxa on six points on the back.
According to Oikawa, one of the most important facts in moxibustion is applying it repeatedly to the same point for a greater result.
“I actually apply moxa on the navel no less than 50 times when I treat patient who complains chronic cold hands and legs,” he said.
There is a risk of being burned from moxibustion. Traditional coned moxa burns near the skin, but the heat needs to be put out before the fire contacts skin.
In fact, the traditional method of moxibustion used to a form of punishment for Japanese children. As a child, my parents would threaten me with moxa if I was misbehaving.
Modern forms of treatment
Recently though, moxa has become instant and much safer. The new and improved version is called “sennenkyu” (literally a thousand-year moxa cautery), and it enables us to enjoy moxibustion ourselves without getting burned.
Sennenkyu is placed on a paper-pulp pad. The hole of pad conducts heat to skin surface while the pad prevents fire from directly contact skin.
Boxed sennenkyu, containing 100-200 moxa, is available at most of drugstores for $10-20.
There are varieties of moxa, from soft to strong, so you can choose one according to your condition. Attached instruction and curated body map of healing points shows where to apply them.
The usage is fairly easy.
After picking up moxa from box, peel off the seal of pad. Ignite the top of moxa with match or lighter and stick to healing points in accordance with the attached map. Don’t move for 10-20 minutes until the fire of moxa burns out and cools down. Then remove the burned moxa.
Moxibustion has been around for hundreds of years, and the traditional therapy just might be the key to get rid of that nagging back or joint pain you can’t seem to shake.
Location: 77 Uchihomachi, Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture