by Honora Lee Wolfe, Dipl.Ac.
The Chinese have been researching various anti-aging and life-extension strategies for several millennia. One of the most enduring methods that is still agreed upon today throughout various Asian cultures is moxibustion at several points on the body, used at specific times of year and in varying amounts depending upon one’s chronological age. These practices were first promulgated in writing by a famous doctor from the Three Kingdoms period [220-265 AD] named Ge Hong. Other doctors throughout the history of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese medicine have written about various longevity moxa protocols. I will share several of these protocols in this article.
Moxa on Zu San Li [St 36]
Zu San Li [St 36] is arguably the most important and therapeutically reliable acupoint on the human body. Depending upon one’s source material, this point has potentially scores of uses. In the Song dynasty, a doctor named Zhang Gao taught that “to be sound [of body], San Li should always be wet.” The implication here is that one should raise a moxa blister on this point on a regular basis by burning a large cone of moxa directly on the point, all the way to the skin. In Zhang’s protocol one used direct, suppurating moxa at both equinoxes and solstices, as well as the “beginning” of each season, which in Chinese culture takes place approximately 5-6 weeks prior to each solstice and equinox, which occur at the exact middle of the season in question. One can find out the beginning of the seasons by knowing when Chinese New Year occurs. Then count the number of days from Chinese New Year, which is the beginning of spring in Chinese culture, to the Spring Equinox. Take the same number of days forward from the Summer Solstice and you have the beginning of Summer. The beginning of each season can be calculated in the manner. Books such as these include many anecdotes of healthy centenarians who maintain acute hearing and sight and are still working, free of disease and debility.
Another source encourages moxa on San Li with direct cones the sized of a grain of wheat from day one to day eight of each month. This text does not say how many cones to use, but Korean texts would suggest between 7-10 small cones on each side.
Moxa on Qi Hai, Guan Yuan, or the Dan Tian
In his Qian Jin Fang (Prescriptions [Worth] a Thousand [Pieces of] Gold, Sun Si-miao of the Tang Dynasty, suggested the use of Qi Hai [CV 6] for supplementing the original qi to nourish life and promote health. In another source from the Song dynasty, Dou Cai suggested one should moxa Guan Yuan [CV 4] with 1000 threads each year between summer and autumn. While it is not clear exactly how to perform this protocol, there are so many variations from different doctors, there is nothing wrong with simply making up a protocol that works for you or your patients. For example, one could start in mid-August using 20 small wheat-sized cones each day, continuing through the end of September. That would total somewhere between 900 and 1000 cones. These may also be done directly on the skin, or on top of slices of fresh ginger root.
A modern Chinese moxa expert, Liu Jie-sheng, suggests alternating these two points, using Qi Hai at the Beginning of Spring and Guan Yuan at the Beginning of Autumn. He performs moxa on slices of uncooked ginger punctured with several holes, about 30 cones each time for 10 days in a row.
The Dan Tian is believed to be a three dimensional space in the lower abdomen, located approximately between these two acupoints, Qi Hai and Guan Yuan. The Dan Tian is thought to be “the root of the human body in which the essence-spirit is stored.” Thus using moxa on the Dan Tian can warm and nourish the original qi, invigorate essence-spirit, and protect the root of life. Since the location of this area varies from source to source, one may achieve the same result by using either or both of the two acupoints in this area of the abdomen.
Moxa on the Umbilicus or Shen Que [CV 8]
This point, while forbidden to needling, is considered an important point for moxibustion. In this case, one usually uses a slice of fresh ginger root with small pinpricks in it upon which to place moxa cones. Alternately, one can use a mugwort roll and moxa indirectly.
It is also possible to fill the navel with salt and place cones of moxa on top of that. However, because salt conducts heat very well, one must be careful not to cause a burn in this case. Another source suggests making a paste of warm medicinals ground into a powder, such as rou gui and fu zi, and placing moxa on top of the paste. This last method may be used to enhance immunity in the elderly. A schedule for doing moxa on this point was not mentioned, but one could use a schedule similar to those listed above, such as 300 cones over a period of 15-30 days.
Moxa on Gao Huang Shu [Bl 43]
In early Chinese medical literature, it is often stated that needling on this point is not effective and that only moxibustion could “reach” this point. That suggests something that I have yet to mention in this article, which is that moxibustion is a more powerful treatment than acupuncture using a regular filiform needle.
While regular cones of moxa may be applied directly to this point or over ginger slices for a variety of diseases such a chronic lung infections, generalized aching and pain all over the body, it is also sometimes treated with a paste of Bai Jie Zi (Semen Sinapis Albae), which is slightly irritating to the skin similar to a mustard plaster. When this technique is practiced at the height of the summer heat (July), it is thought to prevent lung disease from occurring during the following winter by boosting immune functions.
If you are not using moxibustion techniques in your practice or for your own health, I highly recommend them. Moxibustion is one of the most powerful tools in Chinese medicine, and is not used as often as it could be for our patients’ benefit.
Much of this information was taken from two sources, A Study of Daoist Acupunctureand Moxibustion by Liu Zheng-Cai, and Classical Moxibustion Techniques in Contemporary Practice, by Sung Baek [Out of Print], as well as the author’s personal clinical experience. To develop a much deeper knowledge of moxa and a wide variety of moxa techniques, check out Lorraine Wilcox's course, A Hands-On Moxa Workshop...which has lots of video and photos along with all her info. Great class!