Moxibustion is the application of heat to acupuncture points and is one of the oldest and most effective forms of oriental therapy. It is a technique that originated in China and was introduced to Japan more than a thousand years ago. There are two different types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. Japanese Acupuncturists adopted both methods but prefer to use direct moxibustion because of its effectiveness. Direct moxibustion has almost disappeared from Chinese Acupuncture techniques.
Both direct and indirect methods create heat by burning moxa, an herb derived from drying the underside of the mugwort plant's leaves. Mugwort is part of the chrysanthemum family. Great variation occurs in the grade of moxa available for therapeutic practice. Japanese moxibustion uses the highest grade of pure moxa possible, which allows for its application directly on the skin Direct moxibustion is applied by using the fingers to roll a small amount of moxa into the size of a sesame seed or half of a grain of rice. This piece is then placed on the skin at an acupuncture point and burned with a special type of incense. The result is an intense, penetrating heat that stimulates the acupuncture point involved without being uncomfortable for the patient. Discomfort is minimized because 1) only extra-pure moxa is used and 2) the moxa is rolled into the smallest size possible.
Direct moxibustion achieves clinical effectiveness through its cauterization (burning) effect and its deep penetrating heat, effects which indirect methods are not likely to achieve. When moxa burns the skin, it causes an elevation in blood cell counts (especially that of white blood cells). This cauterization effect strengthens one's immunity. Also, the burning of moxa directly on the skin produces a deep, penetrating heat that is very effective in reducing pain and inflammation.
Moxibustion is best combined with Acupuncture but, when done alone, can also achieve excellent results. In Japan, moxibustion is used for the treatment of a wide range of disorders, especially neurological and musculo-skeletal ones. It is also used regularly for the prevention of "dis"ease and the maintenance of health and well being.
Only in Japan are there separate licenses for the practise of acupuncture and moxibustion. This requires practitioners to uphold a high standard of training in moxibustion therapy. While it a technique adjunct to acupunture outside of Japan, moxibustion therapy in Japan requires a higher degree of specialization to obtain a National licence.