火龙灸 Huŏ Lóng Jiǔ
Fire Dragon Moxibustion
Traditional Chinese Medicine is now as modern as it is ancient. In many acupuncture clinics needles are connected to electronic stimulation devices and TCM practitioners are deciding how they will treat patients based on western medical diseases rather than through traditional diagnosis. Even Chinese herbalists are abandoning classical theory, using their medicines not for their flavors or thermal natures but for their ability to fight viruses, regulate endocrine function, reduce inflammation, and so forth.
There’s still a branch of Chinese medicine that will forever remain ancient to people, however, and that’s the jiǔ in zhēnjiǔ 針灸. Moxibustion. There is something special about the burning of mugwort leaves. A sense of wonder remains in the smoke and fire that as a species we can’t help but respond to with quiet and captivated eyes. I’ve seen the same thing in the eyes of people sitting across from me at campfires, and I’ve seen it in the reverence of acupuncturists as they set àiyè 艾叶 aflame, like they’re making an offering to that ’something bigger’ that extends up beyond the exhaust fans and shingles of the clinic, out beyond the front door and parking lot, away from the world we’ve shaped with concrete and polymers. It reminds us of far away places, those found out in the farthest corners of remaining wild on Earth. It also connects us to deeper place within ourselves, the deep ancestral memories that remain in our DNA from a time long before our grandfathers were birthed from our great grandmothers, when fire equated with survival.
The practice of moxibustion demands attention, and not just because it is impressive to watch. A sense of precision and care is necessary because moxibustion is dangerous. When performed incorrectly, patients get burned. The burning of mugwort is not for the careless.
These days we tend to see cigar-like moxa sticks being hovered over patients’ abdomens or barrel-shaped wads set aflame on the tops of needles. Some practitioners shape the herb into small cones and place them on the skin. Others who seek a sort of mastery of this specialty practice pinch and roll rice grain size threads and skillfully place and burn them into the skin at acupuncture points like little needles of fire.
Fire dragon moxibustion is another way of using the herb, and unlike these other methods of practice, it is reserved only for specific patient presentations. As a technique it involves the Dū Mài 督脈 (Governing Vessel), ginger, garlic, moxa floss, and fire. Indicated for conditions that result from Cold and Deficiencies of Yang, it also is a more extreme treatment. Like all extreme treatments, it comes not without costs. These will be discussed further along.
Dū 督 describes a person who “oversees,” “superintends,” or “governs.” As a channel, it’s referred to classically as ‘The Sea of Yang’ and is thought to regulate the Yang of the entire body. Its points of access involve not just the spaces between the spinous processes of the vertebrae, those that run up and over the centerline of the skull, or that taboo spot known as Cháng Qiáng 长强 (Governing Vessel 1) that lies just inferior the tip of the tailbone. A collateral branch arises from GV-1 and ascends along both sides of the spine which is structured by a series of 34 ‘extra points’ called the Huà Tuó Jiá Jǐ 华佗 夾脊.
This Fire Dragon treatment utilizes both the primary and collateral Dū from the base of the spine up to the neck at Dà Zhuī 大椎 and thus strongly affects the Qi of the whole body. Though most western TCM practitioners have heard about it, few have been taught its technical application.
Below is a basic informational guide for practitioners that describes how to perform this intriguing procedure.
How to Perform Fire Dragon Moxibustion
(Actions: Supplements Yang, Warms the Channels, Expels Cold, Expels Wind, Strengthens the Spine.)
To perform this technique you will need to prepare several items:
After the treatment is completed. Allow the patient to sit, relax, and prepare themselves to go back out into the world. It is possible they may feel light-headed or adrift. Encourage them to return weekly until the condition has resolved. And that is it. Huŏ Lóng Jiǔ 火龙灸. Fire Dragon Moxibustion.
[These photos were taken at the Wang Ju-Yi Applied Channel Theory Research Center and Clinic, in Beijing. Much appreciation to Dr. Wang Ju-Yi, Jonathan Chang, and other students who made this learning opportunity possible.]