Moxa Season and Common Colds in Chinese Medicine
Mugwort, Artemesia, is the only herb we burn in Acupuncture treatments to bring in warmth and "yang" energy into the meridians and organs. The dry herb has a consistency of dense cotton and commonly is used by being rolled into thick incense sticks that we burn and hold close to the body. We also use loose moxa by making it into a tight cone shape and placing on a slice of ginger or a bag of salt on the abdomen or lower back. We sometimes use them as a ball that sticks to the top of the needles, and sometimes as small cylinders that stick to the body directly with a holder on the bottom. We also can use moxa heat packs and metal or wood containers that we can burn moxa inside and place them on our body.
In general with acupuncture we are mostly distributing the flow of energy. Think an irrigation system, we are opening and closing new pathways. We move the stagnant places to create more flow in the dry areas. Sometimes we even tap into deeper resources of the body to create flow in a channel that needs it more.
The only way we can actually add any substance or energy to the body is through the use of herbs. If I feel someone is in need of a nourishing treatment, I definitely subscribe herbs for them. For example during peri-menopause, the yin deficiency can manifest as symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats. The use of cooling and yin and blood nourishing herbs balances the hormones and alleviates these symptoms. Or if someone is suffering from blurred vision, poor night vision, dryness, or floaters, the herbs can nourish yin and blood and help with the vision alongside acupuncture treatments.
I also use herbs to move stagnation when there is a more persistent pattern at work and the weekly acupuncture is fortified with use of daily herbs at home. For example conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, IBS and migraine flare ups during menstruation benefit from blood moving herbs that also affect the hormonal balance. Or if someone is suffering from congestion, allergies or asthma, specific herbs to break the phlegm and warm up the digestion and tonify the immune system is used. If someone is going through a stressful time at work, daily herbal supplements to move the energy is used. In this case the herbs are working on the "qi" or energy level and prevent the stagnation of energy to lead into deeper imbalances. In addition, in cases of injury we apply topical herbs that are warming and help reduce pain and inflammation in order to heal injuries.
However Moxa, Artemisia, is the only herb that we burn to warm up the body during or after acupuncture treatments. Burning moxa is not like burning an incense, Moxa is an herb that is pure "yang" energy. Meaning that it has a lot of warmth and moving and healing potential that seeps into the body. A lot of times when we apply moxa it takes a few minutes to notice the warmth of it. In my experience the more depleted or cold we are, the longer it takes for the body to register the heat. It almost feels as if the body is sucking the heat in, and only when it feels nourished enough we start to feel the warmth, or the burning sensation. At that point we should stop the moxa and move to another area. We can return to the initial place a few times.
I use moxa during the moxa season almost everyday. These are one to two weeks before and after the days that correspond with new moon in the month before the change of seasons. The change of seasons happen four times in the year, however we only use Moxa during the cold months for this purpose. That is the end of Fall before Winter, and end of Winter before Spring. In the northern hemisphere, they roughly fall into the months of November and February.
It is believed that during this time, before the seasons change, our Ming Men, or Gate of Fire, which is the lower back area, is open or more susceptible to cold invasion. The lower back is a very important area. Right behind the kidneys, it is considered the source of all our body functions. This area is supposed to always be warm to touch, thus called the Gate of Fire, fire being the source of life.
The moxa season is also the time of the year when the weather keeps changing and the hot and cold changes creates confusion in our dressing and behavior. Usually most of us catch cold during this time. Unfortunately once we catch cold during the moxa season it also penetrates deeper and chances of it becoming a lingering situation is higher. Sometimes in those of us with more stress or weaker immune systems, the symptoms linger from one moxa season till the next one.
In Chinese Medicine, cold is considered a pathogenic factor that invades the body. It starts from our outmost layer of defense, the Wei Qi, or the energy and warmth that is just outside our skin. If there is a break in this energetic layer, the pathogen can enter the next protective layers which are the skin and muscles. At this point we start feeling sensations of chills, or muscle aches. If we succeed in pushing the pathogen out of our system, by the therapeutic means of sweating, then we might be able to feel better right away. But if the pathogen enters deeper into the body cavities and organs, then we are in for a longer battle.
In order to strengthen our immune system it's highly recommended to apply moxa during the moxa season to the following areas:
Acupuncture points Stomach 36, or Zu San Li, which is found four finger under and outside the knee caps.
Spleen 6, San Yin Jiao, which is four fingers above the ankles in the inside.
We also apply moxa on lower abdomen, under the navel, and lower back.
Any parts of the body that suffers from pain.
The only contraindication is on abdomen during pregnancy, and above the navel in general.
Personally I either use metal containers or moxa heat packs.
It's important to not place it directly on the skin, don't fall asleep with them, since they can heat up to 140 F. Also as long as you store them in a closed lid jar, you can reuse them multiple times.
Finally in case you actually catch a cold, the first moment you feel the chill, you should go under a hot shower, specially run the hot water on your head and spine, till you don't feel the cold anymore. Then take herbs that make you sweat. I use Ge Gen Tang or Jing Fang Bai Dou San. A big cup of ginger tea will be good too, and go under the covers and sweat it out. Make sure you don't over sweat, once a day for two or three days is fine. This way you might be able to kick the cold out of your system before it lodges in deeper and turns into a lingering situation.
For those of you who are interested, some of the information in this blog is from my teacher Susan Johnson on Moxa Season and Ming Men.