When we talk about Oriental Medicine, the first thing that comes to mind are phytotherapy (the use of herbs to treat) and acupuncture. It is a very poor association of ideas if you consider that oriental medicine has developed just like ours trying to understand the body from all points of view with the means and philosophy available in past ages.
The same idea of modern acupuncture is rather reductive as it is normally considered only the use of the needle and very rarely the use of other complementary techniques that originally were much more frequent even just for the fact that once the needles were very larger and more difficult to sterilize; the further you go back in time, the more you notice that they increasingly resemble surgical instruments rather than today’s concept of needles.
The Chinese character that identifies the practice of acupuncture is actually a double character that contains the sign of metal (needle) and that of fire with a radical above which have been given different meanings including: fire control; something that rolls up; something that matures over time.
In general, therefore, we can see how acupuncture itself, in the original Chinese thought, is considered the union of metal (needle) and controlled fire or moxa. This is very much in line with Eastern medical thinking which provides for the division into Yin diseases and Yang diseases. This dual conception necessarily involves a treatment method that is more Yin (needle) and one that is more Yang (Fire).
So over the centuries and millennia, man has increasingly noticed a favorable response of his body to the application of heat in more or less large areas; the passage probably started from the experience of camp fire or more likely embers of embers which, accidentally touching a point, improved a nuisance that may have persisted for some time.
From these experiences, different forms of heat treatment have been slowly tested up to the modern concept of moxibustion which uses a plant (mugwort) that is dried and made more or less fine depending on the technique used.
The best known moxa technique (also thanks to its use in modifying the breech presentation of the fetus) is the one that uses the moxa “cigar”. The leaves are rolled up creating a real cigar that is lit and brought closer to the acupuncture point that you want to treat.
This technique is very simple and we could consider it almost homemade as it is easily manageable even by non-experts. Obviously, it is also less effective and has some limitations: for example, it is not used on acute inflammatory states as it develops too much heat and can increase inflammation.
There are ways of using moxa that can be more versatile and more effective on a wide range of dysfunctions also because they allow you to treat many more points together.
In particular in Japanese medicine, moxibustion has had a separate evolution from that of acupuncture and has been able to specialize in a greater way.
Already in the Edo period, considered the golden age of Japan, moxa was used in temples or public baths to treat some common conditions; very large artemisia cones (2 cm in diameter) were applied and burned to the end. The practice was very painful, so much so that the “patients” were seated with a pole in front of them to be grasped and squeezed as the moxa burned the skin.
The first to significantly modify the technique were Masters Ken Sawada, Hara Shimetaro and Isaburo Fukaya.
Starting with master Ken Sawada, moxa begins to change and become a more pleasant technique. This happened because at some point in his career he was called upon to deal with the emperor of Japan about whom he could not use the needles due to the belief in the divine origin of the sovereign (to some extent still today this idea is not completely disappeared for the Japanese). He was forced to use a treatment only with moxibustion; the emperor recovered and Master Sawada’s style became very famous and began to spread throughout Japan. The particularity compared to the previous style consisted in the use of a greater number of points that took into consideration different mechanisms of the body, proposing a global treatment called Taikokyu. Sawada also modified the idea of the Triple Heater (a key concept of Eastern Medicine not yet fully understood in Western Medicine) and this concept became the basis of his treatments.
Dr. Hara Shimetaro represents the first Western physician who tried to understand what changes moxa could actually achieve at the level of corpuscular components in our blood. His studies, although inaccurate compared to modern scientific research, represent a first attempt to understand the real mechanisms of moxibsutione.
He became a keen advocate of the practice of moxibustion on ST36 as a longevity system.
He died at 108, retiring at 104 of him from his medical profession.
Isaburo Fukaya represents the most modern interpreter of the classical texts on moxibustion. He further modified the technique trying to make it more pleasant and less painful by modifying the size of the cones and devising strategies to decrease the painful sensation of heat (at his time the concept was still present that the fire of moxa had to reach the skin to have a effect). He was the first to give precise rules to the practice of moxibustion, making it theoretically independent of acupuncture.
I had the opportunity to personally know Isaburo Fukaya’s son who in life is actually a professional guitarist (and for this he changed his name to Hideo Shinma, but he wanted to continue to spread his father’s technique as he had learned it. directly from him.
Together with Hideo Shinma I had the opportunity to practice under the supervision of Master Tetsuya Fukushima who represents the highest authority in the field of Japanese moxibustion and its clinical applications, bringing changes or maintaining the original indications when they have valid feedback in clinical practice.
The modern technique involves the preparation of very small mugwort cones that are placed on the selected point with a cream that acts as a protection and allows the cone to stay in place.
The cone is ignited with an incense and is then turned off when it is about to reach the skin.
The skin reddens as a reaction to the stimulus but is never damaged