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:
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.
It’s hard to believe that only about 25 years ago computers became the thing and I and a few of my friends purchased our first new Eagle computer. At the time it seemed state-of-the-art but alas, Eagle computers seem to have flown the coop and hardly compare with what’s available today. Starting with that, I became a self-confessed sucker for the latest gadget, and I’ve hardly missed a step since. Only a small few have proven to be more trouble than they’re worth.
Despite my weakness for newfangled tech gadgetry, I’m also a traditional herbalist – making me Janus-faced, with half (actually more than half) rooted thousands of years in the past and the other half looking for the latest tools that can enhance my dedication to healing.
If you’ve read some of my latest blogs on acupuncture you will know of my enthusiasm for the TCM technique of moxibustion. The term "acupuncture" is a little misleading. Its Chinese name is ching lo therapy, meaning "meridian" therapy. Needles – the "puncture" part of acupuncture is only one way to stimulate an acupoint. Without lessening the value of the use of needles, I think there are many ways to stimulate an acupoint or acu-area. Needles are one; acupressure is another method, much milder in my experience; but moxibustion may well be superior to these.
Moxibustion works by stimulating a far-infrared heat that penetrates deeply below the cutaneous layers of the body to instantly stimulate the circulation of Qi (vital energy), Blood and to rally a powerful immune response directed to the body both specifically and generally.
One might think that moxa is only good for Cold conditions. Not so. Moxa replaces the icepack advocated by many who are not aware of the fact that pain is caused by stagnation or blockage. Ice only freezes the affected area and in the long run may do more harm than good by setting up a condition for chronic degeneration in the area while heat, especially in the form of moxa, relieves pain by stimulating circulation, thus treating the symptom and the direct cause of pain.
After becoming an aficionado of Japanese direct moxa and taking a weekend class with a famous Japanese expert this past year, I found that it is indeed the most effective healing tool both for the clinic as well as self-healing at home. However, it has a few drawbacks:
1. It requires technique
2. It takes a lot more time than simply inserting needles into selected points
3. There is a risk of accidentally burning or blistering the patient
4. Many people object to the smell of burning Artemesia vulgaris, the herb used for moxibustion
5. Because of the risk of lawsuits from moxa burns, most US insurance companies specifically will not grant clinical liability insurance if one uses direct (burning on the skin) moxa in their practice.
So those are the drawbacks to traditional moxibustion. These are especially unfortunate because as I said, in most cases moxa is superior to needles, and is indicated especially if one is dealing with a condition caused by hypometabolic, Cold Deficiency.
Fortunately, this last year I discovered an expensive new acupuncture gadget manufactured in France called Premio 10. It is an electro-moxa hand-held tool that performs the same functions as traditional burning moxibustion does, but is fast, efficient, and if used correctly, will obviate all of the five primary reasons one may not use moxa either at home or in the clinic.
Simply plug the device into the wall, press the button and the tip of the large pen-shaped tool produces the same intense, far-infrared heat to a specific area as moxa does.
I don’t know why what seems to be such a simple electronic device should come in at a price of around $1,200.00, but there is obviously an opportunity for someone to develop a cheaper version of the same.
In any case, I could not wait. I took the leap of faith and purchased it, thinking that if it doesn’t at least most of the time replace the need for traditional moxa treatment, I could send it back to the distributor in 30 days for a full refund.
Well it didn’t take long for Lesley and me to discover that this ‘puppy’ wasn’t going back. In fact I’m about to order a second one so we have one at the office and one at home.
These winter months with my aging back and joint pains aggravated by Cold and Dampness, I keep it plugged in by my bed and treat myself daily. Besides painful body stiffness, the ancients have taught that regular treatment of acupoint Stomach 36 is effective for increased energy and longevity. Further, stimulating acupoint Governor 14 just below the spinous process of the 7th cervical vertebrae is the most effective point for rallying the immune system for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases as well as stiff neck and shoulders. These are only a very small few of the many uses for moxibustion, now made safe and convenient with Premio 10.
You want to know where to get one? I’ve found a few sites where it is currently sold. You can buy it online at Amazon for $1472 or another site I discovered is IB3Health selling for $1169, which is the best price I’ve seen thus far.
My blog here is more in the form of a testimonial but at least take the time to go the following site to learn more about the device:
Other far infrared devices that I use or find interesting are the TDP lamps which I have in each room in my clinic and the hand-held device DPL Nuve. I have not tried this latter device but it may be especially effective for home use.
A film about the healing power of plants
This is the most beautiful film yet produced on what we herbalists are all about. It runs 75 minutes long and features many of our herbal teachers as spokespersons. I especially appreciate the extended eloquent presentations of Dr. William Mitchell, naturopath of Bastyr College, and one of the finest herbalists of our generation. This film is a real feast for the eye and soul and the only regret I have is that somehow I was not one of the numerous herbalists featured.
I echo Dr. Tieraona Lowdog MD’s description of the film:
"From the use of plants as medicine to the impact of environmental toxins on human reproduction—Numen is a beautiful and thought-provoking film that explores the deep relationship that exists between nature and human health. Weaving history, ecology, and modern pharmacy with the very essence of what it means to heal, this visually stunning film should be part of all medical, nursing and pharmacy training programs and/or libraries."
You can purchase your own copy of the DVD and purchase the rights to have a showing in your community.
by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D.
Published by Poetica Press toll free 1-877-POETICA
This is a wonderful book that every herbalist should have in their library. Chatroux offers a short poem for 111 herbs, from aloe to yerba santa. Each one describes most of the properties and uses for each herb in a fun and memorable way. I believe that it is important for healers to maintain their aesthetic sensitivity through the arts, be it music, writing, painting, sculpture, or poetry. Inspiration and creativity is always in play when we are working with patients. While we may be inspired when encountering herbs in nature, a lot of that is dulled by hours of research, study and computer work. This book offers the opportunity to combine both learning and artistic inspiration. True "poetry" may be too eloquent a description of what is contained in this book; I think they could be better described as "useful doggerel."
Here’s a sample:
If you go out to the Battlefield
As in the days of old
Put Yarrow in your knapsack
It’s worth weight in gold
Yarrow for your bleeding wound
A poultice for your knee
Or for a painless hemorrhage
You’ll want to drink the tea
For diaphoresis it’s the King
The stem, the leaf, the flower
Reduce your fever, sweat full fling
We’re talking Yarrow power!
An astringent disinfectant
A urinary healer
Hemostatic and protectant
It’s an aromatic bitter
If you lose your appetite
Have spasmodic ailments
Or your tummy is uptight
If it’s good enough for Achilles
Of Greek mythology
To stop his bleeding wounds
Why, it’s good enough for me!
Doesn’t that say nearly all? Think of a Western herb and you quite likely will find it in this little book. At only $18 plus $3 postage it will make a wonderful stocking stuffer for yourself or for that herbalist among your friends and family.
Incidentally, Chinese doctors trained in the old ways were known as "singing doctors" and learned their material medica via songs and poetry. I always liked that idea and here it is created for Western herbalists by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D, physician-herbalist, mother of two daughter and with a family medical practice in Ashland, Oregon. Chatroux also has written books in a similar vein: Medica Poetica: Malady in Verse and Materia Poetica: Homeopathy in Verse. I like them all very much.
by Samuel Green
Carnegie Mellon University Press
Toll Free: 1-800-421-1561
I first heard of poet Sam Green when Lesley and I visited the composer Alex Shapiro on San Juan Island. Another truly great composer and resident of both Waldron and San Juan islands off the coast of Washington State, Morten Lauridsen is the composer of one of the greatest choral works of our time, the sublime Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light). At a public screening of a film about Lauridsen and his music, he gave a talk describing his love of poetry and mentioned Washington state poet laureate Sam Green who happens to be his friend and neighbor. I became curious about Sam’s poetry and upon reading it, some of it clicked very profoundly as a poem should, when you find the words echoing deep in your heart.
My favorite book of Green’s is his most recent one, entitled The Grace of Necessity published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Inevitably, most of us arrive at that time in one’s life when we become more acutely aware of death, first of parents’, our own, and others’. I think it is within our imagination to sometimes be able to make of death something of beauty. The first group of poems in this beautiful collection is entitled "In the Dark’" and I think more times than not, it does capture the poignant beauty of the final passing. The second group is Sam’s wonderful "Postcard Poems" which is a challenge he made to compose a poem each day, with no editing, on a postcard which he then sent to a friend. Here is Sam Green reading some of his postcard poems:
Here is one of my favorite poems in the book:
Miserere: That We Might Keep Her Present Among Us
For Taryn Hoover
Now, when the apples she might have picked against winter
are falling, let us recall her, let us pick them & eat.
Let us recall her as the leaves start their turning,
as seed pods of maples spin & drift in the fickle wind.
As long vowels of rain spill from the sky’s dark sack,
let us bring her back – not as a burden,
no knapsack of grief that will bend us –
But a velvet presence come from the spun cocoon of pain.
Let us recall her because we can, it is easy, the memory
collective, each story shared like bread, elemental as salt.
Let the stories gather as tiny birds
add themselves one & one to the flock,
their small throats gathering the One
Great Song that is more than themselves alone.
Now in the shortening days when light unbraids
too early, let us astonish each other
with love, as though, through us, we channel her desire.
Let us summon her here that she be present
among us, because the true burden is absence
because joy, O my neighbors,
can be grafted to loss and bring fruit everbearing.
though there is grieving,
there is never true separation, never a leaving.
My son turned me onto this app, and many of you undoubtedly must use it already. Spotify makes the music of the world available to everyone either for free or with a modest monthly subscription.
If you feel a bit melancholy and want to resonate with a piece of music, get a copy of the translation of Goethe’s poem Aber Abseits Wer Ist’s? and follow it as you listen to the comforting angelic voice of the late but unforgettable Kathleen Ferrier as she sings Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7S162WFNI8
I’m a great advocate of moxibustion in my clinic. While acupuncture with needles basically moves existing Qi in the body, moxa which uses heat from the burning fluff of the mugwort plant not only moves Qi but puts energy into the meridians. Because it doesn’t puncture the body, it is a technique that herbalists can learn to administer to their clients directly, usually providing more immediate and sustaining results than can be expected from herbs alone. The two modalities together are highly complementary and will greatly enhance one’s practice.
Premio-10 is an electro-moxa tool that generates the same far infrared heat as moxa herb without any of the negative aspects associated with its use.
At $1200, Premio-10 is a wonderful business expense that will greatly enhance your clinical practice.
It is available from LHASA Oriental Medical Supplies at http://www.lhasaoms.com/Premio-10-Moxa.html
You may need to find a licensed acupuncturist to purchase it for you.
Conception Vessel 4, called guan yuan or "origin pass"is located approximately two inches above the top of the pubic bone on a straight center line down from the navel. It is approximately directly opposite Governing Vessel 4 located between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae on the spine of the back. Like Governing Vessel 4 with which it is often used, it is a foundation point for the entire body and an intersection point for the Conception, Spleen, Liver and Kidney meridians.
Conception Vessel 4 treats all deficiencies of Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood. A major point for Kidney-adrenal deficiencies, it treats low back pain, bone disorders, early morning "cock-crow" diarrhea, rectal and uterine prolapse, incontinence, and frequent night-time urination. It treats all menstrual irregularities with Deficiency, Cold and/or stagnation (pain), scanty menstruation, and pale blood. It also treats infertility, impotence, seminal emission, amenorrhea, and bleeding during pregnancy. Finally, restoring warmth and Qi to the dan tian below the navel is used for chills, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, and unconsciousness.
While it should not be used by the untrained on women who are pregnant, it is used near or during the time to ease delivery.
The last point I will discuss in this series about moxa is an "extra" point, meaning it is not on a meridian. It is called Shimian, meaning "lost sleep," and is located in the middle of the sole of the heel of the foot. This is a point where stick-on moxa is best applied. It is used primarily for insomnia. It restores the natural circadian rhythm of the body, treating difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, and assuring sleep that is adequate and refreshing. This point happens to be in a direct physiological line with the pineal gland, enabling the production of melatonin to induce a deep, sound and restful sleep. It can be used for insomnia issues caused by stress, noise, extreme temperatures, environmental change, sleep schedule problems, jet lag, certain medications, caffeine, and general overstimulation of nervous energy.
This works as an ongoing or as needed treatment and in my experience is more effective than drugs, sleeping pills or herbal sedatives. It can be safely used in combination with either of these.
This point could threaten the profits of the pharmaceutical sleeping pill industry if more came to realize is value. Sleep is golden and is, along with food, drink and activity, one of the pillars of healing and health. This simple treatment alone, which anyone can do just before retiring to bed at night, will prove of tremendous benefit.
I sincerely hope that I’ve done an adequate job describing the value of moxabustion for self-use and clinical use. For many conditions, it is more powerful than acupuncture, and with the modern advances of smokeless moxa and stick-on moxa it is very easy to administer. Please see my previous blogs on moxa for back pain, colds and flu and moxa on Stomach 36 for energy and increased immunity (this latter blog includes links for purchasing moxa).
Following are some Youtube videos you might want to check out to see moxa applied on a live person.
Last time, I talked about moxibustion and its uses on the acupuncture point Stomach 36. There are several other uses and locations for moxa, which I will discuss in this and subsequent blogs. Best of all, moxa is an inexpensive treatment that can be applied at home. Following are a few more highly useful moxa points that yield profound, nearly immediate positive results.
Lower back pain
Indirect moxa applied for 10 to 20 minutes over the lower back and wherever reactive points can be located provides immediate and oftentimes long-lasting relief from pain. It is a far better treatment than the application of icepacks which stop the pain by cutting off circulation; moxa relieves pain by facilitating circulation.
The application of five stick-on moxa pellets directly on Governing Vessel 4 (Ming Men, or "Life Gate") located directly on the spine between the second and third lumbar vertebrae, supplements Yang Qi for the entire body and effectively treats lower back pain. Using indirect moxa about an inch and a half to the left and right of this point in the area of Bladder 23 on the small of the back will further add to the treatment. Of course, always try to find the sensitive trigger points as these are the most effective for treatment of acute pain.
Colds, Flu and Fevers
Moxa on the point called Governing Vessel 14 (Da Zhui or "the Great Hammer") raises the Yang immune system of the entire body and is the most effective treatment for colds, flus and fevers. It is located directly on the seventh cervical vertebra of the spine.
The value of doing moxa on this point cannot be understated. It will induce perspiration, which is the first line of treatment for all invading pathogens. Being the meeting point of all the Yang acupuncture meridians, it is indicated for all exterior conditions, protecting the body from the invasion of exterior pathogens. It prevents and treats colds, flu, fevers, clears heat, and strengthens the neck and spine. It is also used for bone issues, arthritis, spurs, scoliosis, problems with the arms and hands, epilepsy, hypertension, insomnia and nosebleed.
It seems counterintuitive that one would apply heat to treat inflammation, but with moxa it is not only the heat that is having an effect, but the stimulation of circulation and the proliferation of white and red blood cells.
Next time: Moxa for insomnia and infertility.
Moxibustion, commonly called "moxa," is one of the methods used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where the downy fluff of the leaves of Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort) is burned directly on or near the skin of specific areas of the body. Mugwort is a member of the Asteraceae family. There are many subspecies in China, Japan and the US. It has analgesic, detoxifying, blood-moving and anti-parasitic properties. In moxibustion, mugwort is processed into a fine wool that can be shaped into cones or formed into rolls that burn quickly at a low temperature.
Moxibustion therapy may be even older than acupuncture, with its origins perhaps stemming from an accidental burn from a spark while sitting near an open campfire. At some time over the course of thousands of years, someone is likely to have experienced the relief of chronic symptoms such as arthritic or rheumatic conditions as a result of the exposure to heat. Moxa has been found to be effective for immuno-compromised, deficient diseases. I don’t think there is another treatment modality that surpasses the benefits that moxa can impart for deficiency diseases, especially diseases caused by a hypo-metabolic, Yang-deficient condition.
While there are many ways to use moxa, they all can be divided into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct moxibustion is when a small amount of the herb is burned directly on the skin over selected acupoints or areas of the body. Indirect moxibustion uses moxa rolled into sticks burnt and moved over specific points or areas of the body. For the purposes of the general use recommended in this article, I recommend using only indirect moxibustion.
Another method that is a step between between indirect and direct moxibustion is the use of stick-on moxa. These are individual pre-formed moxa cones fastened to an adhesive base. When lit and applied to the body, these are burned all the way down, depending on the sensitivity of the patient. Because the moxa herb burns out a few millimeters above the skin, it is not likely to cause a burn or blister in most individuals. (There are several different brands of stick-on moxa cones, but the one that I prefer is Chosei-Kyu, Ibuki stick-on moxa.)
Direct, semi-direct stick-on moxa, or indirect moxa produces degrees of sensation depending on the method and intention of the user. One can use moxa to create a generally warming sensation. Or, one can allow it to burn until one briefly feels a sharp zing, which is considered to be energetically the most powerful approach for moxa.
From a TCM perspective, both acupuncture and moxibustion exert therapeutic effects through the vascular and neurologic circulatory systems. However, "moxibustion gives as well as moves," while acupuncture with needles only "moves." When treating deficient people only with needles, they may be too weak to mount a strong positive response. However, when treating with moxibustion, it not only stimulates circulation but it gives energy in the form of heat to the areas where it is applied.
Moxa is one of the most effective methods to relieve spasm and pain. There is an active debate between those in the West who advocate ice to prevent and relieve pain and TCM practitioners who feel that moxa is more permanently effective. Personally, I’ve found the latter to be true but if in doubt, one can first apply an ice pack to treat acute pain and later use moxibustion to effect a more lasting result.
I believe that just as the medicinal properties of common herbs and weeds found in our environment is our birthright, I believe that the use of at least a handful of common acupoints falls into the same category. Today I'd like to introduce you to the most important acupoint on the body, Stomach 36. It is called Tsu San Li, translated as "Leg Three Miles." The name comes from the ancient belief that one exhausted from walking such a long distance that they don’t feel they can take another step, can stimulate this point and go another three miles. This belief is so firmly entrenched in Chinese and Japanese folklore that in Japan, where walking long distances was simply the way that people got around, one is cautioned to not undertake such an arduous journey with another who did not first stimulate their Stomach 36 point.
Stomach 36 has so many uses that it is sometimes called "the point of 100 diseases." It increases energy, stimulates the immune system, warms the body, treats diseases of the legs, waist, nervous and uro-genital systems, allergic and respiratory diseases and generally physical and mental weakness. While moxibustion on this point may be used on someone with mild hypertension, it is contraindicated for use in acute hypertension.
Finding Stomach 36
To accurately locate Stomach 36, measure four fingers of one hand from the bottom of the knee-cap along the outside margin of the fibula. You should notice a depression at this spot and that is Stomach 36. In general each point should be stimulated for approximately 5 to 10 minutes and there should be a reddening of the skin in the area. Watch a demonstration of moxa on Stomach 36 here.
Moxibustion can be self-applied. Before beginning, be sure you are in a well ventilated space. Have a match, lighter or candle to ignite the moxa stick, a non-flammable plate to periodically tap the ashes onto, and a bit of tinfoil to wrap around the tip to snuff it out upon completion of the session. The unused portion of the moxa cigar can be reused until it can no longer be held.
After briefly teaching them how to treat themselves, I commonly send my patients home with a moxa stick and directions on how to warm up Stomach 36 or some other select acupoint. This works wonders on patients undergoing severely debilitating treatments such as chemo-radiation therapy. It not only revives the patient’s energy, but with increased circulation and vitality, their body is better able to utilize the intended benefits of such therapies. This can be done once or twice a week and more often if one is suffering from a disease associated with chronic weakness and deficiency.
In moxibustion, burns can occur accidentally or in a some instances deliberately. Believe it or not, this only makes for a stronger treatment. Not that one should begin by inflicting blisters with the early attempts at self-moxibustion, but if by chance one occurs, the immune response that occurs over a small point has a generally positive effect on the immune system overall. A blister should just be kept clean and covered until it naturally heals.
Llhasa OMS carries all forms of moxa.
Moxa is even available from Ebay.
Chosei-Kyu, Ibuki stick on moxa. These are found online and can even be purchased on Amazon at http://amzn.to/13rwqSW
Moxa rolls are also available from various sources including Amazon at http://amzn.to/13rxmH2
If you want to try the nearly smokeless moxa cigars you can find these at http://amzn.to/13rxmH2. The only drawback I see from these is that, being charcoal of the herb, it takes a little longer to light. I recommend using a candle to ignite these.