By Avi Landau
For millenia East Asians have had their aches and pains soothed away by the application of acupuncture and moxibustion. Though no one is exactly sure about just why or by what mechanism, millions of people around the world today can attest to fact that the insertion of needles ( acupuncture) or the application of heat ( moxibustion) to specific points on the body have helped bring them relief from various physical ailments.
This is testament to the indefatiguable efforts of generations of traditional Chinese physicians who over the years built up a vast body of data on which points of the body, when stuck with needles, pressed, or heated, affected OTHER specific parts of the body. Their endeavor goes all the way back to a time when someone realized that a pain in one part of their body, perhaps the lower back, suddenly disappeared when another part of their body was pierced, perhaps by an arrow.
No matter how they hit upon the idea, this system of treating bodily complaints became a part of the STANDARD PRACTICE of maintaining human health within the vast traditional Chinese cultural sphere of influence, including of course, Japan ( to which these techniques were probably introduced in the 6th century).
In recent decades, these traditional forms of East-Asian medical treatment have become more and more accepted outside their usual home turf and acupuncture clinics are now common in the US and many European countries.
( more than 30 years ago James Reston, a highly respected journalist for The New York Times, was in China on assignment and had to be hospitalized for what, if I remember correctly, was appendicitis. After his surgery his pain was controlled with acupuncture. The reports of his experience helped make Americans more open minded about this then very exotic form of medical treatment.)
Though stories of the successful treatment of headaches, stiff necks and lower-back pain are impressive, for me, the MOST AMAZING thing I had ever heard of in connection with the powers of acupuncture and moxibustion was that they could be used to get a fetus in the breech position ( with its head up) into the right position ( with the head down), merely with the application of heat to the small toe!
A tiny cone of MOXA placed on the outer side of the little toe
It sounds incredible, but I have found that it really does often work, even when the pregnancy is in its late stages.
Recently, I talked with Naruto Yoshida Sensei, a teacher and practitioner of acupuncture, moxibustion and massage therapy, who had just successfully gotten a soon-to-be-born fetus to turn over into the proper position, thus sparing the expectant ( though anxious) mother from having to have a Caesarean section.
This is what the treatment involved in this particular case:
When Yoshida Sensei first met the patient, he talked with her to try to gauge her emotional state. Finding her to be quite stressed about her baby being in the breech position ( and don`t pregnant women and their husbands have enough to be worried about already?), and thus probably stiff and TIGHT throughout her body, he decided to begin with some light massaging. He gently worked on her shoulders, lower back, arms, legs, hands and feet.
Feeling that she had become appropriately relaxed and phyically loosened up, he had the patient lie on her side. He then proceeded to place a tiny cone made up of the mugwort plant on the outer side of the small toe of her right foot, and proceeded to burn it. This took a few minutes and gave her a slight burning sensation. This was then repeated two more times.
The same was done to the small toe of her left foot.
A SENENKYU applied to the same spot
This particular acupuncture ( and moxibustion) point on the ouside of the small toe is called the SHI IN NO KYU, and it is this spot which, when stimulated in the proper way, gets the fetus to turn upside down ( which in this case is the right side up!)
As is usual with acupuncture or moxibustion, one time does not always do the trick. In this case as well, especially considering the late stage of the pregnancy, it took two sessions with Yoshida Sensei for things to take a proper turn. And this happened a few days after the last treatment. The patient had continued the treatments on her own at home, with a special moxibustion applicator ( with a small base), called a SENENKYU.
What a relief for the mother-to-be. She can now go ahead with a natural childbirth, which is what she had wanted.
And for us, it gives us an dramatic proof of moxibustions powers ( though 100 percent success cannot, of course be guaranteed.
The SHI-IN NO KYU point on the little toe
By the way, the English word moxibustion, or moxa treatment derives from one of the Japanese words used for the plant mugwort- MOGUSA.
Another word for the same plant is YOMOGI. And I have recently written of how it is used in an important sprintime snack in Japan- KUSA MOCHI.
A SENENKYU applicator, on the left and a moxa cone, on the right
Another interesting point that I would like to mention is that for many older Japanese people moxibustions brings back bad memories of childhood punishment! It was not unusual for parents to discipline their kids by making them sit and endure the little moxa cones buring on their hands.
By the way, in Japanese acupuncture is HARI 、and moxibustion OKYU.
POSTSCRIPT- Acupuncture and Asthma
Right after I had completed and posted the original version of this article, I set off to join a group (consisting of family and friends) at a Chinese restaurant ( which are always more fun with large groups- you can share more dishes!).
Sitting next to me, was a old buddy, who also happens to be a native New Yorker. When I asked him how his day had been, much to my surprise, he told me that he had just come from acupuncture treatment ( every day is teeming with coincidence) !
Apparently, he had once gone to a clinic because he had been having some sort of pain, but when the acupuncturist found out that my friend suffered from asthma he quickly and confidently asserted that he could treat that as well.
According to my friend,the treatments HAVE been effective, and he has in fact been able to cut down on his intake of prescribed medication.
Acupuncturist Naruto Yoshida