You may consider yourself a fan of traditional Chinese medicine, as long as you only think of acupuncture and spicy tonic drinks. But the practices which this broad term comprises are so many, so diverse, and so weird that you may not feel too eager to give traditional medicine a try once you get a better glimpse of the whole thing.
Among the strangest practices, moxibustion seems to get the first place. What is moxibustion? It is the practice of burning dried mugwort (called moxa) near or directly on your skin. Sounds painful, but it is incredibly common even in the western world.
The rule for moxibustion is simple: put the piece of moxa on the body part that aches, set it to fire and let it burn slowly. At this moment, you have three options: let it burn your skin (it will leave a scar, you know? And if you use several pieces of mugwort, chances are you’ll end up with a mosaic skin), remove it before fire touches skin (sounds better), or simply move the burning piece of moxa along your body without letting it touch your skin at all. Supposedly, this procedure improves blood flow in that area, and consequently treats the problem that caused the pain, whatever that may be.
Moxibustion is sometimes performed along with acupuncture: the practitioner inserts a special needle in your skin, then places a burning moxa on top of it. As you can imagine, it has happened that the smoking piece fell down and burnt the patient, so sticky moxa is now available for those who want to try it (in a licensed practitioner’s office, of course).
But wait a minute: what if you have a toothache, or your eyes and ears hurt? This is the funny side. The Chinese have found methods of putting burning pieces even in those places. Since dried mugwort usually comes in ground form, thus allowing people to make small mounds in the size and shape they need, they sometimes make cigar-shaped moxa and put it in their ears or mouth. They say that the burning piece pulls the pain out. And for the eyes, the Chinese have designed a special kind of eyeglasses (made of bent wire) that act as support for the pieces of dried mugwort.
Add to this some offbeat diets that include donkey gelatin, human placenta, frog tubes, and raw fish guts, and you have got a draft picture of what Chinese medicine actually implies. Is there any scientific background behind all of these methods? Not much – at least not yet. Nonetheless, the West has embraced these practices, so if you want a moxi-burn, you might find it at the nearest spa.