Moxibustion is a warming therapy employed in Chinese Medicine. It involves burning an herbal medium directly on acupuncture needles, directly on the skin, or around/along an acupuncture channel/point. Sometimes an intermediary substance is placed between the skin and the moxa. The function of moxibustion is to move qi and remove stagnation through warmth.
As with acupuncture, moxibustion is an ancient technique. Recently, some texts have been uncovered that suggest moxibustion is as old as the cavemen. In the northern mountains of China, cold was once thought of as an evil, pernicious influence. In their caves, they observed that cold caused illness and pain. They also observed that heat (from a fire, for example) would help to alleviate these symptoms.
From fires, they began employing coals and burning sticks. These were used to treat cold, arthritic joints. Then they began to notice patterns. As certain areas of or lines along the body were warmed, certain effects were were noted. It is thought that this is where channel theory began.
As herbal therapy began to evolve, they started using specific herbs instead of coals or embers until today where the primary herb used is Chinese Mugwort. This is a fairly common herb found in the artemis family. The underside of the leaves are fuzzy. The herb is dried, ground and then sifted. The fuzz, when separated, makes a fleecy material known as moxa.
Today, the moxa is rolled into long cigar-like shapes and after being lit, is used to warm a specific point, channel or area. The fleece can be rolled into balls and placed on the needles themselves. Or the fleece can be rolled into cones, which are usually smaller than a grain of rice (yet known as rice grain moxa), and placed directly on the skin and lit on fire. From general (rolled moxa) to penetrating (needle moxa) to specific (rice grain moxa), the warming therapy has a very relaxing, nurturing effect.