If you’ve ever walked into an acupuncture clinic and wondered what that herbal smell was, chances are someone’s having moxibustion. While moxa does appear to look very similar to a cigar, the health benefits are completely different thankfully!

Moxibustion is not something inhaled. Rather it’s a heat therapy used in Chinese medicine. It’s a controlled and therapeutic heat that’s held directly above the skins surface, which is used to warm the area and increase circulation.

The heat that comes from moxibustion is generated by burning a herb called Mugwort– more commonly referred to as moxa. Moxa is rolled up into a stick, which is either held in the hands of the practitioner, or is suspended in place with the assistance of equipment. Some practitioners may also use moxa in combination with salt or ginger.

Moxa never comes into direct contact with the skin; it’s held 3-4 cm away from the body’s surface. It’s similar to having a heat pack or hot water bottle applied to your body; expect to feel warmth during the treatment. As the moxa stick is 1-2cm in diameter, the heat will only be felt in a targeted and specific area, such as an elbow, knee or shoulder.

Unlike acupuncture, moxibustion uses thermal heat to create a treatment response. This type of stimulation can alter cell activity, blood flow, pain perception and muscle state. What this does is stimulate the body’s natural healing process, reduce pains and increases tissue stretching. For these reasons, moxibustion is commonly used in this clinic for treating muscle tension and chronic muscle pain.

Unfortunately, not everyone can have moxibustion done on them. It’s not advised if you suffer from reduced skin sensitivity, have sustained a recent physical injury or are feverish. Caution must be used in pregnancy.  This list is not exhaustive. It’s best to discuss individual circumstances with your practitioner.

If you’re looking to stretch and relax those tired muscles, then ask your practitioner about moxibustion!