The word describing acupuncture in Chinese is zhen jiu 針灸 (literally needles and fire) that refers to the actual needle therapy (zhen 針) and a warming technique (jiu 灸) employing the use of the refined product of the leaves of the mugwort plant (artemisia vulgaris). The word moxa comes from Japanese mogusa (mugwort) blended with combustion “burning”, hence literally “burning of mugwort”.
Moxibution was already considered an established therapeutic modality in one of the oldest surviving medical collections of ancient China: the mawangdui silk texts dating back 2500 years (huangdi sijing 黃帝四經). This simple fact makes moxibustion one of the oldest continuously practised medical procedures in the world.
Moxibution techniques can be grouped in two broad categories:
involves burning small cones of moxa of variable sizes (generally smaller than a rice grain) directly on the skin with the aim to project the heat deep into the body (over acupoints it produces a tiny “pinch” of heat)
involves the use of moxa cigars that are waved over broad areas of skin or the use loose moxa lumps burt on the head of the needles or on top of layers of other substances like garlic, ginger or salt.
The effect is to improve local circulation and, like acupuncture, to influence the way qi 氣 is conducted within the body. This means that the effect of moxibustion is local (e.g. anti-inflammatory) and systemic (e.g. improved immune responsiveness).
Before the advent of antibiotics during the thirties moxa was used with documented success in the treatment of TB in Japan.
With this in mind, the charity Moxafrica since 2008 has been investigating the use of moxibution therapy for the treatment of TB in environments where drugs and diagnoses are shamefully scarce.
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