How to use moxa: If using purchased moxa, remove its commercial paper wrapper first (but not the white inner paper) and light one end. Hold about ½” above the skin over your chosen area, the distance varying with the person’s tolerance and the amount of heat stimulation desired.
There are three methods of using moxibustion:
1) Hold the stick still and move when heat tolerance is reached, returning after a few seconds and repeating the process
2) Move the stick in a circular fashion to warm larger areas – this is especially good for soft tissue injuries, skin disorders and larger areas of pain
3) Rapidly ‘peck' the moxa stick at one small area without touching the skin. This enables the heat to especially penetrate deeply, very beneficial when strong stimulation is desired.
If several areas need treatment, alternate between them with one of the above methods. Continue until each area turns red, about 5-15 minutes.
While doing moxa, it’s extremely important to periodically scrape ashes off the stick into a container, so they don’t fall on the person's skin (or carpet, clothing, etc.) and burn.
How you extinguish moxa is extremely important; otherwise it can easily continue smoldering and cause a fire. To put it out, either gently twist the stick into a small jar of uncooked rice, or place it directly into an empty jar and screw on the lid. Alternatively, you can tightly wrap the lit end into a wad of tin foil. Sometimes the stick fits into a small-holed candleholder and placing the lit end inside that effectively puts it out. Whichever method you choose, do NOT try to put moxa out in dirt as it will continue to smolder, possibly causing a fire.
Do not burn moxa:
- over the liver (the lower right ribcage region)
- over places of severe inflammation or infection
- over the lower backs or abdomens of pregnant women
- during a fever
- in the vicinity of sensory organs or mucous membranes
- over areas of numbness, little feeling or poor circulation (unless with great caution and awareness since the person could burn easily).
Take care not to burn the skin. If a burn does occur, immediately apply an herbal salve or aloe vera gel to prevent blistering; if a blister does occur, dress to prevent infection.
More uses for moxa
Moxa ashes very effectively stop bleeding (put 1 tsp. in water and drink for internal bleeding, or apply topically for external – beware, this can tattoo the spot for several months).
Moxa smoke beneficially treats sinus infections and blockages. Close one nostril and inhale the smoke into the open nostril. Alternate this process between both nostrils and continue for 3-5 minutes.
Moxa on ginger: For internal coldness, cut up a root of fresh ginger and place the pieces along the spine. Cut moxa sticks into ½” thick slices and set on mesh screens in boxes or cans (about 1” above their bottoms) with holes punched in the box or can bases. Place these boxes or cans over the cut ginger along the entire spine and light the moxa. After, cover this entire assembly with towels. The penetrating moxa-ginger heat will warm the entire body. Alternatively, this process can be done over smaller areas such as the abdomen. Moxa boxes may be purchased or self-made.
Make your own moxa
Moxa sticks may be made at home by picking and drying mugwort (usually from 7 to 14 years – the older the better - although you may use it within a few months), grinding it into a fine powder, sifting and filtering this to remove coarse materials, and repeating this entire process until a fine, soft, wooly powder results. Tightly roll this resulting “wool” in tissue paper to form a foot-long 'cigar'. A regular stick is about 1” in diameter whereas thunder moxa is about 3” thick.
Other: If moxibustion is not available and heat is needed, a hot water bottle, hair dryer, heated stones, or bags of sand or salt heated in an oven or on a wood stove are useful alternatives, although they can’t be used on inflamed areas like moxa can.