I often give clients a stick of moxa to use between appointments, especially if they run cold or are overstressed.
Pole moxa is shaped like a long cigar with paper on the exterior. It burns quite hot, with a very directional heat and has a strong aroma that some people mistake for cannabis. There are “smokeless moxa” sticks that I do not find to be as useful for warming points or body areas. Use the moxa in a room with good ventilation and have a small jar of dry sand, a metal cigar tube (cut your stick to fit) or a moxa snuffer. Also use a good lighter- I prefer the gas matches with a long handle which keeps my fingers away from the heat during the time the head is lighted. And you need an ashtray so that you can gently remove the hot ash.
Pole moxa is made of compressed mugwort snuff, often mixed with other warming or aromatic herbs. To use the moxa, you tear off about an inch of the outside paper layer, but not any inner layers. Light the end with the lighter- it may take a while to get the surface hot. Blow lightly to make the end glow. While you may start with some of the surface not ignited, it should eventually form a glowing coal. Hold the moxa about an inch above the point or area to be warmed. If you place the thumb and index finger of your other hand around the point, you will have a better idea of the heat. This is especially useful for diabetics of people with a neuropathy in the legs that might prevent feeling the heat. (If you don’t feel well in either your hands or legs, then have your acupuncturist administer the moxa.)
Circle the end of the pole in small clockwise circles above the point. When it is too hot, immediately move it, either to another point or away. Feel the point and see if it loses heat quickly. You should retain the heat for several minutes, but this may take several applications. When the ash starts building up, gently shake it on the edge of the ashtray- the ash is hot enough to cause a burn, so you don’t want it falling on your skin. A little burn cream or ice can deal with burns if you miscalculate. Your acupuncturist may give you other instructions depending upon the effect she wants.
Finish by burying the moxa in the sand or snuffer or enclosing it in the cigar tube so that the flame suffocates. Air out the room afterwards, but you stay warm to enhance the effect. Keep the area that you warmed covered.
The most usual points for self moxa are Kidney 3, in the triangular area behind the inner ankle; Stomach 36, about a hand’s breadth down from the bottom of the knee just lateral to the tibia. You will usually feel a slight indentation at the point, but using moxa is somewhat less exact than needling, so follow your instructions and don’t worry. You may also be given a body area to moxa like the lower abdomen, and circle widely around the midline unless instructed otherwise.
If you are pregnant with a breech baby, your midwife or acupuncturist is likely to give you moxa to use on the outside lower corner of the little toe, Bladder 67. This may happen fast or may take regular treatments for over a week, but my midwife colleagues say you won’t reverse the position if the baby turns by doing it too much.
These three points are shown below after the video.