Tag: Massage therapy UK

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.

Chinese massage therapy: what is it and why you should try it

Some years ago, long before I was even considering becoming a TCM practitioner myself, I was receiving acupuncture treatments for PMDD. Apart from the regular sessions with my very own Vlad the Impaler aka Transylvanian acupuncturist, he sent me a list of things I could do myself to speed up the recovery process. Amongst them was one that read: “Treat yourself to a massage every week or every fortnight.” I thought: “Massage? No thanks!”

Truth was the only form of massage I knew was the kind of hard kneading and poking my now ex-husband insisted of giving my shoulders and upper back and I hated every minute of it.

A year later, life decided to take a different turn for me and here I was, in another country, mending my broken heart and picking up the pieces of my life with the loving help of my new partner. I had been passionate about traditional Chinese medicine ever since I was a child, so he encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a TCM practitioner.  I enrolled to study TCM and acupuncture. An inner voice kept pushing me towards Tui Na massage. I discovered a world I never knew existed. I understood why I was screaming in pain when my ex tried his best to relax my neck and shoulders. I became enthralled even more with traditional Chinese medicine for creating this wonderful therapy!

So, what is this Chinese massage therapy?

There are many terms that describe massage therapy in Chinese language. Two of them are: An Mo 按摩, which means “press and rub” and Tui Na 推拿, which means “push and grab”. These terms encapsulate most of what we now in the West know as Chinese massage. Its techniques may seem simplistic, and, most of the times, the Westerners are surprised how these simple, natural gestures can have such a tremendous effect. 

When we hit our head, our first reaction is to put our hand over the area and rub it to make the pain go away. When we have tummy pain or toothache, we press the area with our palms. When someone is upset, we rub and tap their back gently. We instinctively use certain gestures to alleviate pain or provide comfort. We try to calm or befriend a dog or a cat by stroking their heads. Plants grow better when their leaves are touched gently. Stones become shinier and warmer when rubbed. All creatures respond to touch, and touch can both soothe and nurture, energise and invigorate. 

What are the benefits of Chinese massage?

The main purpose of the Chinese metaphysical arts is to preserve balance in all forms and, when the balance is lost, to find means for that balance to be regained.

As part of the great and wonderful family of the Chinese metaphysical arts that stem from the Tao, the Chinese massage fulfils three essential roles, all equally important:    

  • cultivation and preservation of health
  • beautification
  • therapy or restoration of health

Health is a measure of balance: when we get ill, a sign of good health is when the balance is restored in due time and without significant consequences. In other words, health is not a static concept, but the fragile and beautiful dance we perform every instance on this planet in our eternal quest for balance.

Chinese massage as a tool for cultivation and preservation of health

In China, a timely death is regarded as one of the five blessings. Ageing is a natural process that cannot be controlled. How we age is something we can control. By adapting our lifestyle to our age, sex and needs, we can enjoy a good health up to the day we die.

One of the therapies that can assist cultivation and preservation of health is massage.  A good Chinese massage course will not only teach people how to become Tui Na practitioners, but will also teach them on how to cultivate and preserve their own health by using self-massage and QiGong techniques. Cultivation of health starts with ourselves.

By working on the pathways of the meridians, acupoints and sinew channels, Tui Na

  • improves the function of the internal organs
  • lubricates the joints and tendons
  • fortifies the muscles
  • improves immunity  
  • balances the mind  

We do not have to wait to get ill to enjoy the benefits of a regular Tui Na session. In fact, people who have regular massages and self-massages are less prone to health deterioration, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional health.

Health as beauty

According to the ancient Chinese principles, beauty is a sign of good health. A relaxed face and a supple body, combined with a positive attitude, are all signs of good health. This, according to the principles of Chinese metaphysics, attracts wealth and prosperity, even a suitable partner. Beauty is regarded as free, natural flow of the Qi, it means a firm and lush skin, bright eyes that see beauty everywhere, a clear voice that sings and laughs like a clear jade bell, a content heart and a relaxed body.

Chinese massage as beauty therapy

  • improves the tone of the skin
  • helps the skin perform its essential functions of respiration and toxin removal
  • improves muscle tone  
  • accelerates metabolism
  • reduces fat tissues
  • optimises digestion

Tui Na as a medical therapy

Tui Na uses bodily manipulation techniques to fight against the number one enemy of health: stagnation.

The principle of free flow is one of the fundamental principles in traditional Chinese medicine and the rest of the Chinese metaphysical arts. The Qi must be allowed to flow freely to perform its functions and keep everything in balance. If the free flow of Qi is impaired, stagnation occurs.

Stagnation is the main culprit of any disease (dis-ease, lack of ease) and one of its main symptoms is pain: physical, mental, emotional.

By releasing the stagnation in the joints and muscles, Tui Na can improve the overall health of people suffering from a multitude of complaints:

  • arthritis
  • sports or repetitive injuries
  • muscular skeletal conditions
  • digestive disorders
  • gynaecological complaints
  • emotional distress

How does Tui Na work?

Traditional Chinese medicine operates with both matter and energy.

As a physical therapy, Tui Na uses a series of techniques to manipulate the physical body by means of acupressure, massage and stretching techniques. Physical manipulation aims to move the Qi and Blood so that the muscles, joints and tendons are warmed, lubricated and tonified.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, our physical bodies are vulnerable not only to the weather conditions or to other internal illnesses, but they can also store and become affected by our emotions and traumas.

At an energy level, the Tui Na practitioner guides the Qi using their hands and fingers into the acupoints and along the meridians to release and disperse stagnation or bring more energy into a specific area. In this respect, the practitioner’s fingers and palms act as acupuncture needles, guiding the Qi in order to supplement, reduce, or disperse the Qi in the affected areas. 

What to expect during and after a session?

Chinese massage sessions are versatile in many ways.

Because it was created to meet the needs of rich and poor alike, TuiNa can be performed with the person lying down on a plain blanket on the floor or in the field, seated on a stool or lying down on a nice and soft massage table.

Tui Na can be done with the person fully clothed, partly clothed or with no clothes on. Traditionally, the practitioner will use a white cotton sheet as a medium between them and the clients treated. TuiNa doesn’t necessarily need oils as mediums, they are rather used as aromatherapy, to increase the warming or the cooling effect of a treatment or to address a certain condition.

Depending on the aim of the sessions, the TCM practitioner will take a brief medical history of the client.

Because the techniques are designed to move Qi and Blood, TuiNa sessions may take only a few minutes in length, thus being much shorter than regular massage sessions. The sessions may last between 30 and 45 minutes.

Medical Tui Na

Medical Tui Na will take a full medical history and assess the best course of treatment for the specific situation. Most likely, the treatment sessions will also include cupping or moxibustion and therapeutic oil formulas.

The manipulations are performed exclusively within your range of mobility and comfort. While some areas might feel tender initially, you should not feel any major discomfort and the tenderness should subside.  

Expect a healing crisis after the first few sessions! This can be in the form of aches and pains becoming worse, emotional issues surfacing or feeling more tired than usual.  

It is essential that you communicate with your practitioner during and in between the sessions, even if you may think some of the symptoms and signs are irrelevant or embarrassing.

For optimum results, medical Tui Na should be performed once a week or every fortnight, with a course of treatment of 8 – 10 sessions, depending on the medical condition to be treated.  

Cautions and contraindications

As with other therapies, women who are pregnant or actively trying to conceive will receive special treatment.

Always inform the practitioner if you plan on donating blood before or after the session

Treatment will be denied to people who are

  • under the influence of alcohol, sleep inducing medication or recreational drugs
  • weak
  • very ill
  • with high fever
  • very tired
  • very hungry or fasting
  • very full (have just eaten a large meal)

Other cautions and contraindications are to be discussed with the practitioner, based on the full medical history and the type of medication and other forms of treatment received from medical professionals or holistic therapists.

It is advisable to allow the body to rest and work through the healing process before taking any other form of holistic or alternative treatments at least 24 hours before undertaking another session of any kind, including Reiki or spa treatments.

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