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March 21, 2012

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Mugwort fights muscle pain and wards off evil eye

BURNING mugwort and other herbs above acupuncture points - moxibustion - has a variety of benefits: relieving sore muscles and maintaining general health.

Moxibustion is an ancient traditional Chinese medicine therapy that stimulates qi (energy) flow and is especially effective in relieving discomfort related to "pathogenic" cold and damp common at this time of year.

By focusing heat on acupressure points (the area around acupuncture points), it treats aches and paints, relieves dizziness, chest congestion and menstrual cramps caused by blood and energy stagnation.

Traditionally moxibustion meant burning moxa - mugwort and other herbs - directly on the skin over acupressure points. But this causes pain, burning and sometimes scarring. Sometimes the burning moxa can be placed to a piece of ginger, salt, or other compound by a skilled practitioner, so that it heats but does not burn the skin. This method is generally not used today.

Indirect moxibustion is safer and quite popular, involving burning a moxa stick an inch or more above the skin. As the heat opens pores, the moxa is more easily absorbed.

Some DIY tools make application easy, such as placing moxa in a wire mesh in a small box over the affected area.

Mugwort (artemesia vulgaris, sometimes called chrysanthemum weed), the herbal essence of moxibustion, is fabled worldwide for curative powers, fighting fatigue, protecting against illness, enhancing dreams and warding off the evil eye. It's also an insect repellent. It's a tall plant with spear-shaped leaves said to repel danger and illness.

Use of mugwort dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC). Chinese mugwort used for moxibustion is folium artemisiae argyi.

The Chinese characters for acupuncture zhen jiu literally mean "acupuncture-moxibustion." Since the two therapies share a similar purpose, they were often used in pairs. However, moxibustion has its own special benefits.

"Both acupuncture and moxibustion aim to unblock the energy channels and thus stimulate the energy flow, yet moxibustion is more effective in dispelling coldness and dampness while warming the meridians. This is due to the characteristics of mugwort," says Cao Yinyan, who used to be a doctor and now runs a private moxibustion health center and a moxibustion training school.

"The human body is just like a running machine. Dampness will rust it while coldness will freeze it," says Cao. "Therefore, apart from adding oil to help it run again, we should also help get rid of the unfriendly damp and cold environment. And that's what moxibustion does."

There are three common types of moxibustion: direct moxibustion with a moxa cone, moxa needle (acupuncture) therapy, and indirect moxibustion with a moxa stick. Direct is self-explanatory. Needle therapy or wen zhen (warm needle) is acupuncture-moxibustion. Needles are inserted into acupuncture points, while the top of the needle is wrapped in moxa and ignited. The needles conduct the heat into the energy channels. Moxa is absorbed through the skin, and inhaled.

Moxibustion with a moxa stick, xuan jiu (indirect), is easier and more popular. A practitioner lights one end of a cigar-shaped moxa stick and holds it close to the affected area for several minutes until the area turns red from heat.

A modern moxibustion box with a wire mesh inside is easier and can be used at home. It should be kept in one spot for around three minutes as energy channels open and the area of warmth spreads.

Doctors suggest drinking a quantity of warm water after the therapy to dispel toxins more quickly. Cold and icy drinks must be avoided since they only worsen the "pathogenic" cold that caused the initial problem.

Moxibustion treatment should be avoided within an hour after a meal. It should also be avoided if a person is exhausted, inebriated or menstruating, doctors suggest.


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