An acupuncturist sticks pieces of burning plant roots on my shins and the bottoms of my feet to help calm my back pain and anxiety — it's a practice called moxibustion, and it's my favorite form of self-care.
If you're unfamiliar with the technique, moxibustion is the warming and stimulating of acupuncture points using moxa, a dried Asian herb derived from the mugwort root, and is often incorporated into acupuncture sessions. According to Donna Hernández, a licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist at the Yinova Center in New York City, the 2,000-year-old practice can improve the circulation of blood flow and Qi (what is believed to be one's life force or energy), as well as aid in relieving pain, fatigue, anxiety, infertility, and digestive disorders.
I stumbled upon moxibustion thanks to a Google search deep dive in a time of desperation. Completely defeated by my mental and physical aches, a slew of holistic-based articles led me to the practice. Now, I always finish my 90-minute sessions with five minutes of moxibustion.
Although moxa comes in many forms, from balms to incense to cones, my acupuncturist uses stick-on moxa, which looks as though the end of a cigarette was placed on a small metal bolt, so it stands up straight. My acupuncturist sticks one onto the center of each of my shins and one at the bottom of both my feet. She then lights the ends and lets them burn down towards my skin.
Once lit, the moxa sticks can cause slight pain in the literal heat of the moment. The root is on fire, so you feel a burning sensation as it shortens toward your skin — but it's worth it. Trust the process. It shouldn't actually burn your skin, so always speak up if it gets too painful.
Hernández clarified that the moxa is placed on the bottom of your feet to warm the Kidney 1 acupuncture point, a calming and nourishing point that helps ease the spirit of the body, ground the patient, and pull out inflammation.
The point below your knees on the center of your shin is called the Stomach 36 point, which is known to aid back pain, Hernández said.
Within the first few seconds of the five-minute practice, the earthy, sage-like smell of the burning root fills the room, and you feel a wave of relaxation come over your body. After, my mind is still, my back is pain-free, and I seemingly float home.
This elevated state of relaxation lasts for a few hours after my acupuncture session, but I do feel that my anxiety and back pain is milder for the following week.
Hernández noted that moxa is very powerful and drying, so it's important to use sparingly. Although you can partake on your own, it's wise to learn best practices from a certified acupuncturist first, as moxibustion therapy varies from person-to-person depending on what needs to be remedied.
I have yet to try any holistic treatment that compares to moxibustion; the immediate relief I've felt is unparalleled to other practices. I am forever grateful to Google and my acupuncturist for the introduction. Now, I know how to instantly reset my body and mind when I need it most.