The use of needles to stimulate acupuncture points and channels dates back approximately 2000 years, to the time when metal needles were first invented in China. Before that, other methods of stimulating acupuncture points and channels were used, such as cupping, massage and the application of heat.
Modern day physiotherapy recognizes the therapeutic benefits of applying heat to injured parts of the body as a means of improving circulation and speeding up the healing process. Physiotherapists apply heat by various means including heat packs, laser and infrared therapy.
In Asia, from prehistoric times to the present day, the therapeutic application of heat was done by burning mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) either close to, or directly on, the skin. Mugwort, commonly referred to as moxa (or mogusa in Japanese) is a common weed that, when dried, processed and burned according to traditional methods, has special healing properties. According to modern research, moxa likely originated in Mongolia and was used for therapeutic purposed before Chinese medicine was developed.
Stimulating acupuncture points with moxa has different therapeutic benefits than stimulating the same points with needles. While needles have a harmonizing effect on the subtle energies of the body and the central nervous system, moxa stimulates tissue and organ repair and improves immune functioning through its effect on the blood.
Moxa can be applied in various ways, either in conjunction with needles or by itself. In Japan over many centuries, a technique was developed of burning tiny ‘threads’ or ‘cones’ of moxa directly on acupuncture points without burning or scarring the skin. This technique uses specially refined moxa that burns at a relatively low temperature, so it is safe and transmits a very pure quality of heat into the acupuncture point.