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Fire cupping result
on Gwenyth Partlow
Chinese doctors using a technique called moxibustion mix dried and powdered herbs such as mugwort into a peanut-size cotton ball or cone and ignite them above an acupuncture point on the skin. The ignited herbs are removed when a warm sensation is felt. The procedure is repeated several times.

Doctors using the technique of cupping place bamboo jars or glass cups on a patients skin and light a taper (a piece of cotton or paper) and place it inside the cup long enough to suck out the air and create a vacuum. The sucking cup leaves behind a red circular mark that lasts for several days.

Acupressure, also known as "shiatsu," is similar to acupuncture except that the meridians and points are stimulated by pressing them with fingertips, elbows or knees instead of punctures with needles.

The Chinese also use massage to treat a number of ailments such as back pain and sore muscles. Most massages are performed by acupuncturists who sometimes use unorthodox techniques such as bloodletting and scraping the skin the skin with coins or porcelain spoons.

Bee stings have been used on people with gangrene to prevent amputation. Reuters described the procedure on a 56-year-old diabetes suffer with gangrene that had begin spreading from his toes up his feet and legs. The bees were placed on the man’s foot and provoked to sting him to stimulate the flow of blood to the rotting, blackened flesh. Bee stings have been used in China for 3,000 years to treat back pain and rheumatism.. Now they are being used to ease inflammation and fight bacteria infection and are being investigated as a cure for liver ailments, diabetes and cancer.

Good Websites and Sources on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) / ; National Center for Biotechnology Information resources on Chinese Medicine ; Skepticism of Chinese Medicine ; Chinese Medicine Chinese Text Project ; Wikipedia article on Traditional Chinese Medicine Wikipedia ; American Journal for Chinese Medicine On Moxibustion : Acupuncture ; Moxibustion Video YouTube ; Wikipedia article on Fire Cupping Wikipedia ; Article on Cupping


Moxibustion utilizes mugwort ground to a powder and processed into a stick that resembles a cigar. Practitioners burn the fluff, or stick, near or on a patients skin to stimulate the flow of qi. They say it replenishes yang energy in the body and helps alleviate conditions caused by a deficiency of yang. These include indigestion, shortness of breath, fatigue, menstruation pain, and problems with the neck, shoulders, waist and legs.

According to tradition moxibustion appeared around the time that Chinese learned to use fire. Early healers believed that disease-causing yin energy and spirits could be repelled by fire. Moxa was said to have a pure yang nature that allowed it, when burned, to carry away “bad spirits” with the smoke. Moxibustion is said to have been widely practiced in the Tang and Song dynasties but went into decline in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the Emperor’s doctors insisted it was indecent for the Emperor to expose his body to acupuncture or moxibustion and therefore was banned among the upper classes.

Moxibustion is not widely practiced in China. Li Weiheng, director of the China Association of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, told the China Daily that there are two reasons for this: 1) smoke is generally not tolerated in hospitals and clinics and 2) there is little money in it. The sticks don’t cost very much and the practitioner spend a lot of time holding the moxa stick,

On the benefits of moxibustion over acupuncture, Li said, “While acupuncture serves to direct and divert the energy patients already have, the problems with most people nowadays is that they don’t have enough qi and blood. Moxibustion can replenish this energy.”

Moxibustion Treatment

Moxibustion sessions usually start with a consultation that helps the practitioner determine which acupuncture points to target. The point for the diaphragm for example is a couple finger widths from the naval. Indigestion is treated at a point four fingers above the naval and four finger to the right.

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Fire cupping

Describing a moxibustion session given to businessman named Cheng, Ye June wrote in the China Daily, “After slipping into the pajamas provided he lies down...The moxibustionist burns a stick of moxa, or dried mugwort herb, 15 centimeters long and four centimeters thick. He holds the stick about an inch above Cheng’s skin, focusing the heat on three different acupuncture points for about 10-15 minutes each....The entire session takes about 80 minutes, including 20 minutes of massage.”

Cheng sought the treatment for the stress and wear and tear of a busy day, “It is an intensely warming and relaxing experience.” he said. The experience also helps his general wellness he said: “I used to catch a cold often. But in the past five months, I have had a cold only once.”

Image Sources: Wellington Physiotherapy; Wedgeweeod Acupuncture; Acupuncture Products; Qi Gong Foundation; Micheal Moon at Lotus Space; Wikipedia; BBC

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2010

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