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Moxa and The Ancient Healing Art and Practice of Moxibustion


I often get asked the question, “What is that stuff you are burning?” and how does it help me? What is moxa? That amazing healing plant we are burning is called moxa and it has been used for thousands of years to promote healing and warmth, and as a longevity practice in ancient China. It is an ancient healing art and extraordinarily valuable, let me tell you why. 

What is Moxa?

Artemisia vulgaris, or mugwort, is a small plant with a big reputation! Harvested for use in Chinese medicine to promote the flow of qi and circulation. (I always bring some home with me from Nepal, where it can be found on nearly every hiking trail in the villages we work in!). Applying the dried herb on specific acupuncture points and then allowing it to burn slowly is a form of heat therapy called moxibustion. There is loose moxa as well as moxa packed tightly into a stick.  

How to Use Moxa?

Moxa can be used in a variety of ways: cones of moxa can be applied on top of inserted needles or directly on the acupuncture points. Moxa sticks are gently passed over certain areas of the body to stimulate the movement of qi by warming the meridians. These sticks can be taken home and you can actually work on your own acupuncture points! This plant has also been used by the shamans of the Himalayas to open ceremonies and to place under your pillow at night to eliminate nightmares and to gain spiritual insight. 

One of the most revered acupuncture points is actually right in the navel! And, no – needles are NOT involved here so don’t worry, but we do burn larger cones and greater quantities of moxa here atop a bed of salt. The salt acts as a protective layer for the skin and body and it also works as a conduit for the heat of the larger moxa cone. This point is incredible for warming the abdomen, supporting the urinary, digestive, and reproductive systems, and is very helpful for getting back in touch with our own inner strength. We can also burn moxa on slices of ginger to warm the digestion and stop diarrhea as well as on slices of garlic to get sluggish bowels moving. 

How Does Moxa Work?

Burning moxa works by stimulating movement in the blood, and lymphatic system, and boosts the immune system by strengthening the body’s ability to expel pathogens. The quality and level of resilience in our system are built with the support of Moxa. Therefore we can more easily fight off any cold and flu invasions! 

During these colder, darker months here in Colorado, I often use more moxa during acupuncture sessions to really build warmth, and energy, engage the immune system, and release coldness. And while all acupuncturists are trained to perform moxibustion, five-element acupuncturists tend to use it the most. 

According to nature, winter is a time to slow down, rest and restore. When we don’t listen to what we need and become out of sync with natural rhythms, we are more vulnerable to decreased energy and attacks on our health. Moxa is applied on acupuncture points as a way to warm the point before needle insertion – in this way, it is like building a nice, cozy fire to welcome a guest into our home! Who doesn’t like the sound of that?!

What is Moxa Good for?

Moxa supports many areas of our overall health.  The effects of moxa support: 

  • Gynecological issues, menstrual pain, heavy bleeding
  • Breech position of the fetus
  • Headaches
  • Sluggish and overactive digestion
  • Pain management
  • Arthritis
  • Cold limbs
  • Lower back and neck pain
  • Immune system support and protection
  • Calming and Grounding
  • Mood and anxiety support


Co-authored with Brittany Sanelli 🙂

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