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Why I Light Stuff on Fire in My Office
April 1, 2016
One of my patients recently told me, “I love it when you burn that stuff on my arm but I wouldn’t know how to tell people that you use fire in your practice.”
First, let’s talk about fire. The “fire” I’m using is a relatively mild form. If you’re picturing a flame thrower, forget about it! As in the picture above, I’m actually using a lighter to light a narrow stick of incense so that I can then use the incense to gently ignite a small pyramid of Chinese herbs pressed together and set atop an acupuncture point.
The stuff I’m burning is called “moxa” and it comes from the mugwort plant. The Latin name is artemisia vulgaris, and the process of burning moxa on acupuncture points is called moxibustion.
Moxibustion (or moxa for short) is one branch of the comprehensive system of Chinese Medicine that has been used to prevent and treat disease for over 2,500 years.
Moxa is a great treatment for restoring energy and increasing organ function as moxa is relatively “yang.” Yang energy, in the body and in nature, is reflected in heat, light, activity, and movement; yang is the animating force that helps to catalyze actions and reactions in your body and your heart.
I often use moxa when someone is depleted, exhausted, or cold, or just needing a boost. Depending on the size of the little pyramids or cones I make, I think of moxa as a gentle simmering soup or sometimes it’s slightly more active--like jumpstarting a car battery that’s low on juice.
Like the simmering soup metaphor, moxa can help nourish and relax you. I have patients recovering from chronic illness who actually clap and squeal when I get the moxa box out. They find the process amazingly restorative and so relaxing.
I also like to think of moxa as a love letter. Fire is the element related to the Heart. Moxa adds warmth and nourishment to the system. I often use it on points along the back that hold your original storehouse of energy for particular organs to support those organs in having enough energy to do what they need to get done.
Fire is such a primordial element, and many people thank fire for the evolution of civilization and of the human brain. As Michael Pollan points out in his amazing Netflix documentary series “Cooked” (go watch it right now if you haven’t seen it already), when early humans discovered fire, civilization was catalyzed; with the contributions of fire, we started settling down and cooking our food.
Some traditions also think of moxa as sending a smoke signal up to Heaven. Like using sage to smudge yourself or your house, moxa is known to help disperse stagnant or stuck energy, and I also think of it as a gentle prayer for healing.
While needles move your energy around quite effectively, moxa can have a little more oompf. It can be a bit heartier because mugwort has circulatory and warming properties. Because we’re using heat, we’re also stimulating circulation and blood flow. With increased blood flow, the immune system can do its job more effectively.
Moxa is also great for pain because it’s warming. This is similar to the effect of a heating pad helping to relax sore muscles. It’s also amazing for tendon strains or sprains.
Moxa is not always great for people who feel overheated or who are prone to anger or extreme agitation. Because it can boost qi, I also use it carefully with people who are wanting more more more energy, because giving people extra energy and qi to burn up right away is not a sustainable pattern over time.
There are also certain treatments that are far more effective with needles than moxa, so during the first few treatments especially, I’m almost always using needles rather than adding in some moxa.
Almost every time we use moxa together, I have one patient who says, “I have no idea why I like this so much, but I do.” The good news for her is that you don’t need to know why, but I hope this article gives you a little context.
Next time we burn moxa together, you can think about what you need most. Is your battery low and needing a jump? Are you feeling cold or depleted? Are you wanting to send up some smoke signals to Heaven? Do you want to write yourself a love note and reconnect with who you really are?
I’m honored to stand beside you and help you come back to your purpose.