Moxa: An Ancient Fire Acupuncture Therapy

Moxa (Moxibustion) is a form of fire heat treatment that stimulates specific acupuncture points of the body. The term is derived from the Japanese “mogusa” meaning herb (mugwort) and the Latin “bustion” meaning burning.

Patient receiving acupuncture treatment to his back

Up until this century, before the advancement of ‘modern medicine’, acupuncturists played the role of physician in China and Japan. The patient population at acupuncture clinics was quite different in those days, consisting of many people with acute life threatening illnesses such as serious infection, systemic inflammation, and communicable diseases. These illnesses are typically ‘heat syndrome’ in traditional Chinese medicine terms manifested by noticeably high fever.

Today, patient populations are quite different compared to in the past. Rarely, acupuncturists encounter serious acute conditions but rather most patients visit with chronic pain conditions, functional disorders, or a variety of stress related illnesses. In the majority of those chronic conditions, the patients have a cold constitution. Even some patients who appear to be manifesting heat, really have underlying chronic cold in their system which creates the heat-syndrome-like symptoms as their body tries to balance.

A cold constitution is triggered or aggravated by over cooling of our body systems. Due to technological advancement, we are exposing our systems to cold of a much higher magnitude than in the past. Two such examples, both of which did not exist in the past, are wide spread use of refrigerators and air conditioners in almost every office and household. Many people are regularly drinking a large amount of icy cold beverages and their favorite ice cream. Air conditioners certainly make our lives more comfortable in hot summer days and nights, however we are then exposed to cold winds not only in winter but year-round. Unlike in the past, cold constitutions are not commonly seen in the cold climate regions only, but anywhere in the modern world including the southern tropics. Furthermore, it should also be noted that many pharmaceutical drugs including common over the counter pain medications are known to decrease body temperature. Other common causes of cold constitution are large consumption of fruits and raw vegetables and ongoing mental/emotional stress.

More so than in the past, people today are in fact having a cold constitution based on eastern medical diagnosis. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and to warm the meridians, leading to the smoother flow of blood and qi.

Moxibustion has been used in tandem with acupuncture to treat a variety of diseases throughout Asia for thousands of years. In fact, the actual Chinese character for what we routinely call acupuncture is Zhen Jiu (or Shin Kyu in Japanese), translated literally, it means “needle-moxibustion.” Moxibustion, which is so integral to the original concepts of acupuncture has not been taught in depth in the Western acupuncture education and training system. Thus, a number of practitioners today practice acupuncture using the needling method only. Using one without the other is like playing the piano with just one hand.