Moxibustion involves the burning of the moxa herb 艾 on or near the skin. Depending on how moxa is used and prepared, moxibustion can increase either the Yin or the Yang energy within the body. For example, because it is hot ( Yang ) then the resulting cooling effect ( Yin ) will be increased ( like sweating- which cools the body ). We can think about general inflammation/ fever etc. Applying heat to inflammation / tight areas encourages the bodies own defensive mechanism to come into play and thus reduce/ stabilise inflammation or tightness. Moxa is particularly beneficial for people with chronic low-grade systemic inflammation or compromised immune systems. It can also significantly reduce painful swelling caused by trauma from sports injuries/ post-operative surgery.
Physical versus Energetic ( Yin and Yang )
Moxibustion is the physical partner ( yin ) of the more energetic ( yang ) acupuncture needle. We can look at moxa having a more systemic effect on the physical body such as the bodies immune and defensive mechanism. The needle, on the other hand, is less physical and more energetic in its function. Of course, both of these modalities are interchangeable. If you are an acupuncturist reading this, then yes, the needle can be used in a more physical way, as indeed moxa can be used energetically. However, this is one of the paradoxes of Yin and Yang theory, it is both right and wrong at the same time!
Moxibustion is especially very effective if it is burnt directly on the skin as the body will benefit from the absorption of various natural oils- and of course the actual stimulus of heat. Small moxa cones known as chinetsukyu 知熱灸 are neatly rolled by the practitioner before being placed on the skin. They are removed just when they become hot and do not leave any burn. Usually, this is a very pleasant experience. Moxibustion has a very strong effect on the immune and defensive mechanisms increasing both red and white blood counts- the effects of which have been shown to last over a long period of time. It also regulates the acid-alkali balance, cholesterol, gastrointestinal and liver functions to name but a few. It has recently been used in Africa to treat TB in seriously immune-compromised patients.