Tag: Fibromyalgia UK

The trials and tribulations of Spring

Spring is the season of awakening. All things in nature are reborn, revitalised, awoken. The seeds break open their shells and the plants begin their journey towards the light. Birds and animals are more vocal and they start shouting and fighting to prove themselves worthy of the favours of a potential mate.

In Chinese Medicine, spring is associated with the element of Wood: green and vibrant, with the roots firmly grounded in the Earth, drawing its life-force from Water and with the branches soaring towards the Heavens and the Sun.  

Anything green growing in nature plans ahead when to start germinating and growing from a seed. It usually needs at least one cold spell before starting sprouting. A tree will first develop roots, then a trunk and only then it will grow a full canopy. The plan is very precise, the root system matches that of the canopy, so the tree will keep growing below the ground as much as it will grow above it. Every stage is carefully planned and the tree will make sure it has got enough resources to complete each stage and the resources reach all the branches and leaves without any obstacles.

The organ system most affected by Spring in Chinese Medicine is the Liver-Gallbladder. Let’s take a closer look at what Wood is about in TCM

In traditional Chinese medicine, Wood is considered the General. Just like its military counterpart, Wood in the human body is responsible for planning and regulating all the body’s activities. Wood is the one that stores the Blood, the source of all the nourishment around the body. When the body is resting, Wood stores the Blood in the Liver, its major internal organ. When the body is active, both physically and mentally, Wood uses the Liver and its functions to distribute the Blood where it is needed. Just like a General ensures all the operations run smoothly and without obstacles, Wood in the body is responsible for the smooth and free flow of the Qi, because the Qi is the moving force and the energy behind all the functions of the body, both physically and mentally.

At a physical level, the internal organs that belong to the Wood phase are the Liver and the Gallbladder. Wood governs over the joints, tendons and ligaments, the parts of our body that ensure our mobility. Just like a General, Wood is a visionary, therefore it governs over the sense of sight and the eyes.

At an emotional level, Wood relates to anger, frustration, and jealousy. At a cognitive level, Wood controls creativity, initiative, decision making and planning. The spirit of the Wood is Hun, the ethereal soul, our intuition, the part of us that outlives our body.  The virtue that keeps Wood in check is patience. 

Wood imbalances

Now let’s take a look at some of the things that could go wrong in the Liver system by looking at the Wood element in Spring.

Much like the Sun at rising point, Spring causes nature to wake up from slumber and raise. This upward movement of the energy can be seen in all aspects of nature: we enjoy more daylight, the Sun shines its light at a higher angle, the plants start to grow, the trees produce buds, the bees get busy, the birds and the animals come out of hibernation and become more vocal and more active.

Humans feel the rising energies of Mother Nature as well: we feel more energetic, more active. A healthy and balanced person will enjoy and will harness the rising energies of Spring by starting eating more green foods, drinking more water, spend more time in nature, meditate and do light exercise like stretching and practice patience and equanimity.

Failing to control this rising energy or trying to supress it will lead to symptoms and diseases that will affect the body in the long run.

When a person fails to temper this eruption of exuberant energy, the energy in their body will rise abnormally upwards, towards the head. This is called Liver Yang rising or Liver Fire.  

This can translate into:

  • hypertension
  • headaches
  • migraine
  • vision problems
  • insomnia
  • outbursts of anger, jealousy, frustration
  • dream disturbed sleep
  • OCD
  • PMDD

When a person tries to block this eruption of exuberant energy instead of managing it, the energy in their body will stagnate. When the Qi in the body stagnates, everything else stagnates: Blood, Bodily Fluids, hormones and emotions. The main symptom of stagnation in the body is pain. The main symptom of stagnation at a mental level is translated in mood, emotional and mental disorders.

When the Liver fails to ensure the free flow in the body we have Liver Qi Stagnation and various symptoms and complaints such as:

  • dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
  • PMS
  • irregular periods
  • fibromyalgia
  • muscle cramps
  • TMJ
  • IBS
  • constipation
  • emotional and mental disorders
  • improper time and money management

Wind disorders

While there is no Air element in TCM, Wood is strongly related to Wind. In Chinese Medicine, Wind is regarded as one of the “evils” that can cause disease in the body.

As an external pathogen, External Wind is most likely to attack the Lung system, our first line of defence, causing colds, flus, sinusitis, sore throat, coughs, itchy skin, hay fever, etc. All of them very specific for the spring season.

As an internal pathogen, Internal Wind is mainly related to the Liver system because the Liver is responsible for the free flow. There are many diseases caused by Wind, and they are not all related to the spring season, but they might be triggered in spring or by emotional imbalances and most acupoints used to manage them belong to the Liver and Gallbladder meridians. They usually appear suddenly and most of the times have a seasonal or migratory nature:

  • passive-aggressive and bi-polar disorders
  • arthritis pain that moves from joint to joint
  • moving pain of any kind
  • headaches or migraines accompanied by dizziness and nausea
  • vertigo, BPPV
  • tremors and shaking, essential tremors, Parkinson’s
  • muscle spasms, epilepsy
  • stroke, paralysis
  • rashes, itchy skin or genitalia

A few words about Anger

Many people say that Anger weakens the Liver. Truth is Anger is just a response, a symptom, a message that something is not right and the Liver system is not balanced. Many people may not even have very clear cut physical symptom that can be linked to the Liver. I’ve had patients complaining about not being happy about how they manage their tasks and time at the office or about how aimless their lives feel, about not being able to make decisions or not being able to go with the flow. I’ve had people complaining about feeling trapped or stuck, having nightmares or they simply complained about waking up every night between 1 and 3 am. All these are red flags for me that there is lack of free flow somewhere.

Anger is the most powerful driving force in the Universe. Anger is neither good nor bad. Anger becomes a problem when it is untamed, suppressed or repressed.   Without a bit of frustration, the seed will always remain in the form of a seed, failing to fulfil its intended purpose. Without a bit of anger, the little tiny plant that emerges from the seed will never find the power to penetrate the hard shell of the seed and push itself upward through the hard soil towards the light. Without anger and a bit of jealousy, birds and animals will never engage in the loud and sometimes violent act of finding a mate and they will never have the power to defend their chicks and younglings. Without anger and frustration we will always be confined to the same unfulfilling environment, relationship or workplace, we will never find our voice and our battle cry.

Self-care advice

At a physical level, eat appropriate foods in spring. All year round, eat foods that support the free flow of the Qi and nourish the Blood. Also, increase the time spent in nature and introduce slow exercising, such as Tai Chi, QiGong and Yoga. Walking in nature benefits both the joints and the mind.

At a mental and emotional level, spending time in nature and contemplating the vegetation coming back to life is very beneficial. Mindfulness is a must and you should try to integrate it into your daily routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, especially in the morning, to help with the flow of the Qi.

You should embrace activities and hobbies that support creativity, intuition and patience, such as growing and nurturing plants from seeds, painting flowers, and the practice of self-compassion.

Moxibustion: The Magical Art of Burning Mugwort

As a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, the most frequent question I get from the people I treat for the first time is 

What is this this moxa/moxibustion?

The term moxa comes from a Japanese word that translates as burning herb.  Basically, moxibustion is heat therapy by burning herbs and it is an intrinsic part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Why heat?

Across the ages, application of heat has proven to be one of the most effective forms of treatment devised by humans. Some cultures enjoyed the blessings of thermal waters, others applied hot stones to painful areas, yet others used the power of herbs to alleviate pain and would burn them to heal wounds.

Even to this day we make use of warm patches and warm cushions to alleviate pain and discomfort, not to mention the wonderful benefits of a nice warm bath after a long day.

Contemporary Western medicine uses cauterisation procedures, which imply burning tissues in order to remove unwanted elements and sterilise a certain area.

Cauterisation triggers a very efficient and fast emergency response from the immune system. No other pathogen will create such intense and quick reaction in the body than burning fire. By creating a very small, controlled crisis, cauterisation will awaken a sluggish and dormant immune system to respond to the “emergency” call. And, once awakened, it will also deal with any other intruder found in its way.

When talking about traditional Chinese medicine, we need to mention the fact that TCM will never use ice as therapy. Cold is regarded as one of the External Devils or Pathogens. 

One will find plenty of TCM texts mentioning therapies and techniques that can be used to expel Cold, but never one therapy or technique to put Cold back as means of health preservation or health restoration.

Moxibustion as part of traditional Chinese medicine

The Chinese character for Acupuncture is a symbol which can be translated as acupuncture-moxibustion, which means that the two techniques, acupuncture and moxibustion complement each other or stem from the same medical branch.  Some written TCM texts claim that acupuncture needles have the ability to transfer and disperse energy when placed in the acupoints, while acu-moxa has the ability to awaken the energy in the acupoints.

One image that pops into my mind when I try to explain to somebody the difference between acupuncture, acupressure and acumoxa involves a sleeping dragon – the acupoint. Acupuncture awakens this dragon by poking a spear into her back, acupressure shakes her awake, while acumoxa not only awakens the dragon, but puts the fire back into the dragon’s breath.

To Mugwort or Not To Mugwort

Nowadays, there are several means to perform moxibustion, acumoxa and heat therapy.

Traditionally, acumoxa and moxibustion have been performed by burning Ai Ye, aka Artemisia argyi, aka Mugwort, a herb known for its special properties in numerous cultures.

The Artemisia family contains more than 200 different plants, all of them used in ancient traditional and herbal medicines for their properties.

In TCM, Mugwort is the main herb to be processed for acumoxa and moxibustion. However, TCM also uses Artemisia absinthium, aka Wormwood to make a vast array of herbal remedies: teas, infusions, herbal formulas, cooking herbs, essential oils, poultices, ointments, skin patches and incense. Additionally, since the two herbs have the property of repelling insects and pests, they are also placed above or around the front door, to protect the homes from insects, but also from unwanted guests.

In the ideal situation, the TCM practitioner is able to use mugwort moxa in their treatment premises. However, modern practices have limited the use of mugwort as a means of performing acumoxa and moxibustion. The main “complaints” come from the fire-fighter brigade (burnt mugwort produces smoke), but also from the clients (some are sensitive to smoke and also the smell), sometimes also from the other tenants in the building.

Smokeless moxa (charcoal) & indirect moxa device

Smokeless versions of acumoxa and moxibustion make use of specially treated charcoal, which produces about the same amount and intensity of heat but less smell and virtually zero smoke,

Another variant are the TDP infrared lamps with mineral plates. These have been designed by the Chinese as a more modern alternative to mugwort and they have become quite popular among the practitioners and clients alike. In fact, it is very seldom one will walk into a TCM treatment room and not find one lamp waiting there to be used.

However, no matter how modern or safe the more modern approaches might be, they cannot replicate the original murwort plant. Apart from the unique burning temperature and burning time, mugwort contains specific essential oils and other herbal components that the more modern instruments have yet failed to replicate. The fact that the ancient practitioners chose mugwort as herb of choice for this therapy means that there is actually no real substitute for it.

Ways to do moxa therapy

There are several ways in which moxa therapy can be included in TCM treatment sessions. Depending on the client’s complaint, the practitioner will choose the best form of moxibustion therapy.

Acumoxa focuses on applying moxa on acupoints. In this case, the moxa cones are either attached to the acupuncture needle that is being inserted in the acupoint, or the moxa is used on its own. Acumoxa uses the same acupoints as acupuncture and acupressure, only the means to manipulate the Qi at the point is the moxa cone. The heat of the moxa will penetrate the acupoint and will activate the desired response for the specific treatment.

Acumoxa can be direct or indirect.  In the case of direct moxibustion performed on an acupoint, a small amount of mugwort is rolled in a small cone or thread and it is placed directly in contact with the skin. The practitioner then sets the mugwort cone on fire and lets it burn all the way down. This type of moxibustion will leave a burn mark and a small scar. The practitioner will not go back to that specific acupoint until the scar has completely healed. This type of practice,  called scarring or marking direct moxibustion,  is very popular in the countries that created this type of traditional medicine (China, Japan, Korea, etc), but very rare in the Western countries.

The most performed direct acumoxa practice in the West is called non-scarring or non-marking direct moxibution. In this case, the small burning moxa cone or thread is left in place just until the client alerts the practitioner that they can feel the discomfort caused by the heat of the burning moxa cone. The burning ashes are then quickly removed from the skin before they can cause any scars or marks.

Indirect acumoxa will use a form of medium between the skin and the burning moxa cone or thread. Traditional mediums are ginger or garlic slices or paste and salt in the case of the navel. More modern approaches will place readymade moxa cones on a cardboard base. Depending on the make, the base will enable the mugwort smoke to reach the skin or not.

Moxibustion can also be used for large areas of the body. In this case, the practitioner focuses more on the overall painful area and less on the acupoints. Because direct moxa will cause a large scar tissue, this procedure is only performed indirectly. The practitioner will light up a mugwort or charcoal roll and just place it in the close vicinity of the skin, until the client can feel the area turning hot. This kind of indirect moxibustion is also ideal for the TDP infrared heat lamp with a mineral plate, or more traditional instruments such as copper rollers.

The effect of the moxa treatments can be enhanced by means of mugwort ointments and skin patches, as well as other warming pads. However, they should be used with caution and only if the practitioner recommends them, as they can scald the skin.

What are the benefits of moxibustion therapy?

So now, after we’ve seen what moxa therapy is and how it can be performed, the remaining question is why. Why do so many people from so many countries, like China, Japan and Korea, willingly submit themselves to such procedures that will burn their skin and leave scars?

Mugwort is said to have the following pharmaceutical properties:

  • antiasthmatic
  • antibacterial
  • antidiarrheal
  • antitussive
  • cholagogic
  • expectorant
  • haemostatic
  • sedative and hypnotic

Traditional Chinese medicine uses mugwort to:

  • warm the channels (acupoint meridians and collaterals)
  • stop bleeding
  • disperse Cold
  • calm pain
  • dispel Dampness

Cultivation of Health

A special moxa protocol for cultivation of health. Indirect smoking mugwort moxa was used. Hollow base so that the mugwort smoke will travel to the skin
Red marks due to heat, brown marks are volatile oils from mugwort, they will remain on the skin for several days, enhancing the treatment results

If you start digging a well when you’re already thirsty, you are too late.

As any other form of therapy in the traditional Chinese medicine, moxa therapy is first and foremost used for cultivation of health. Many of the moxa treatment protocols have been originally designed to help the body stay healthy when it was still healthy.

People in China, Korea and Japan will still perform moxa treatments regularly as part of cultivation of health, especially during the seasons most affected by Cold and Dampness: Spring and Autumn.

Regular moxa sessions will improve overall health and vitality and moxa is highly recommended especially for people over 40. In fact, certain moxibustionists will make their students perform moxa on themselves regularly as a regimen for good health and vitality. In the older days, young men were encouraged to marry young ladies with moxa scar marks, as a sign that these ladies were taking good care of their health and well-being.

Health Restoration

Indirect acumoxa using smoking mugwort as part of a treatment for health restoration. Will not leave volatile oil marks on skin as the base is solid and will not allow the smoke to travel to the skin. Only red marks from the heat will be visible

The moxa properties make it the ideal choice when treating many complaints caused by Cold, Dampness and Stagnation:Aches and pains

Aches and pains

  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Knee pain
  • Lumbago
  • Back pain
  • TMJ
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bunions

Lung and respiratory conditions with Phlegm or mucus

  • COPD
  • Sinusitis
  • Common cold
Abdominal moxibustion on salt (navel) as part of a treatment for IBS and diarrhoea

Digestive disorders

  • IBS
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

Sexual and reproductive conditions

  • Infertility (in TCM it is related to a Cold Uterus or Testes)
  • Painful menstruation
  • Erectile dysfunctions

Pregnancy complications

  • Breech presentation

How long a session and how many sessions?

Depending on the nature of the session – cultivation of health or health restoration, moxa treatment protocols start from a minimum of five sessions, from once a week for the cultivation of health to every fortnight or every month and they last very little in time (max 30 min).

Depending on the nature of the complaint, the treatments can be combined with acupuncture, acupressure, medical massage or cupping. In this case, the sessions may last up to one hour.

!!! Caveat !!!

Like any other form of TCM treatment, moxibustion has its precautions and contraindications and only a qualified TCM practitioner will be able to determine whether you would benefit from this therapy or not.

All forms of moxibustion will leave your skin red and sometimes blistered, much like after spending a whole day in the summer at the beach. Your practitioner will advise on the specific after-care.

Please do not perform heat therapy or moxa on yourself or other people! Moxibustion is not a universal solution to all your aches and pains and it can cause a lot of damage to your health if practiced incorrectly.

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