Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's That Smell?

It's called moxa! And it's a critical component of your acupuncture treatment.

If you've ever had an acupuncture treatment, you probably know what to expect: extremely thin, sterile needles inserted into your body at certain points, a gentle distending sensation, and relief from whatever you happen to be suffering from (as Chinese medicine professionals, we know that acupuncture treats almost everything, but not everyone shares our view. Here is a list from the World Health Organization of conditions acupuncture has been proven to treat effectively).

But there is another, equally important method of treatment that Chinese medicine doctors use. Moxa is the burning of dried mugwort leaves (艾叶 Ai Ye in Chinese, artemisia in Latin) on or near acupuncture points. Moxibustion stimulates acupuncture points in much the same way as acupuncture needles.

There are many different forms of moxa. The most common is the use of a moxa roll, seen above. There is also needle moxa, direct moxa, the ever-popular moxa box, and many many other variants. Most people report feeling a pleasant warming sensation. As with any technique involving heat, there is a slight chance of a burn, but in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist that chance drops to nearly zero.

Now, about that smell. Some people enjoy it, while others can barely tolerate it. It smells exactly like what it is: a fragrant dried leaf. Now there are some misguided people who think that it smells similar to marijuana, but it's actually quite different. But just in case your appointment is before work, you might want to ask for a note from your Chinese medicine doctor explaining why you smell the way you do.

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