Ontake (Warm Bamboo) Moxa Therapy


A few years ago I attended a workshop in London, taught by an acupuncture colleague of mine called Oran Kivity.

What I learned there provided me with a hugely valuable extra tool to use in my clinic, which has made a huge impact on the success of my treatments and has been greatly appreciated by many clients.

Since this is a new style of treatment developed by Oran himself over the last decade (but based on ancient theories of acupuncture and moxibustion), very few people will have come across it.

Oran has just published a beautiful book on the subject called Moxa in Motion (available on Amazon) so I thought it was time to share some information about the treatment, which is called Ontake.

Moxa is a herbal substance made from the leaves of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which has been used for thousands of years as a healing therapy. Using various techniques, it is smouldered on or close to the skin, delivering a penetrating warmth which helps to improve circulation, relieves pain and inflammation and can also help the digestion and strengthen the immune system. This is called “moxibustion” and is used by many acupuncturists as part of their regular treatment. Ontake is an indirect form of moxibustion, in which a short length of bamboo is filled with moxa which is then ignited at one end. The bamboo thus becomes warm, and is used to stimulate energy flow by tapping, pressing and rolling it along energy pathways on the skin surface.

What makes this treatment unique is that these movements are applied rhythmically, according to the natural frequency of each of the body’s  energy channels (meridians). These frequencies have been thoroughly researched by Japanese acupuncture practitioners, who discovered that stimulating a channel at its preferred resonance produces a much stronger response. So for example, the meridians running down each side of the spine and the back of the legs would be tapped at a frequency of 112 beats/minute, whereas the meridians in the shoulder area respond best to 120 beats/min. This requires the use of a metronome, so the client will hear the sound of regular beat in time to the stimulation on their skin.

I have been integrating Ontake treatment into my acupuncture sessions as an extra way of helping to relax muscles and relieve pain. Results can often be felt instantly and may be quite surprising. Since this therapy is all about balancing the body, it is often possible to reduce tension in one area by stimulating an opposite part of the body which is cold or weak.  For example pain in the upper back might  be effectively treated by using Ontake to warm the lower abdomen and (as described by Oran in his book) a sore throat might be relieved by tapping the lower back. Within the theories of Oriental Medicine there are many different ways of linking one part of the body with another and this is very useful when there is severe pain which can’t be treated directly as the area is too sensitive to touch. For example in cases of nerve pain in the face or neck, using Ontake on appropriate meridians in the feet or hands might be most effective.

Everyone seems to love this treatment. The warmth of the bamboo is soothing, and the regular sound and motion are relaxing. Even the smell of the moxa smoke seems to induce a comforting feeling. Using appropriate techniques suited to the individual, it is safe for everyone and can be used on almost all parts of the body, if necessary without removing clothing. It can be used as an adjunct to an acupuncture treatment or as a whole body balancing treatment on its own.

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