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Moxibustion is essential to the practice of this profound and beautiful medicine.
In the practice of Five-Element Acupuncture, moxa smoke is ubiquitous; as a practitioner, you’ll be working in it, and breathing it, all day and every day you work. Here are some tips for practitioners to reduce your smoke exposure and protect both your patients and yourself.
Reduce the amount of smoke in your treatment room
Install a ceiling exhaust hood that vents to the outside. This may not be feasible for most practitioners, but if you can have this done, it's the most direct method to remove as much smoke as possible right from the outset. Smoke rises. Send it out the top.
Use a window fan, exhausting out. Choose an office space that has
openable windows. Not only do you need natural light to properly see the patient’s color, you want to send as much smoke outside as possible. There are many sizes and shapes of small fans. The one that tends to best fit is narrow and rectangular shaped. It has an accordion fitting at one end that lengthens to fit your window width. These can be placed horizontally, for traditional windows, or vertically, for side-sliding windows. This is an inexpensive (under $50) solution that is an absolute must if you have no other direct ventilation.
Use an air purifier. Choose one that covers twice the square footage of your treatment room, but at the same time is the quietest you can find. Check out the decibel level in the specifications. Footprint size, cost of filter replacement and overall looks are all factors you’ll need to consider. It’s a personal choice. Use both the window fan and the air purifier for better results.
Use a moxa lighter to light the moxa cones rather than using an incense stick. You’ll still need incense sticks on hand for checking Akabanes, but you don’t have to light moxa with them. Once you cut out the incense stick, you’ve cut your smoke in half. You’ve also eliminated breathing toxins from your
butane lighter! After much research, I and a couple of graduates from the Institute of Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Inc. have found a lighter that works well for lighting moxa cones. It’s electronic, charges via USB, and holds the charge for at least a couple of full-time days before needing to be plugged in. It can be charged overnight so it’s ready the next morning. If you google “electric moxa lighter”, check out the one with the fine wire filament heating element. In contrast, the “torch” style lighters aren’t the choice for this medicine; they're too hot to hold near the small moxa cones used in Five Element Acupuncture. The “electric moxa lighter” is shipped overseas and takes a while to arrive in the US, but it’s worth the wait.
Extinguish the used moxa cones more quickly. Add a few drops of liquid dish or hand soap to the cup of water you use for extinguishing moxa cones. The soap reduces the surface tension of the water such that when you drop the cone into the cup, it sinks and is extinguished immediately. Sometimes those little moxa cones sit atop the water , burning away while you’re lighting the next point. This means you’ve doubled the smoke generation, even if only for a few seconds. It’s a small thing, but it adds up. By sinking them immediately, over the course of a day, you’ve reduced your smoke exposure by several minutes. Over the course of a year, that’s hours of reduced inhalation. Extrapolate that over the course of your career—it’s well worth it.
Protect the mucous membranes of your nostrils to reduce irritation to the sinuses and upper respiratory tract. Line your nostrils with oil before you start your day of practice. The oil will moisturize the mucosa and also trap tiny particulate matter in the air before it gets to your sinuses and lungs. I use an Ayurvedic blend called Nasya Oil. You can use any food grade oil as well: olive, coconut, sesame, almond, etc. I prefer Nasya Oil because it’s also infused with herbs that benefit the nasal passages. Whatever oil you choose, drip an eighth to a quarter teaspoon into your palm. Roll the pinky finger of the other hand in the oil and massage it up as far as you can gently and safely go into your nostril. Repeat with the other nostril. Wash your hands, then gently pinch your nostrils together and release while gently sniffing in. Sniff like this 3-4 times. Then gently wipe or blow your nose to clear away excess oil. You can use a cotton swab to apply, but please be careful because you could cause harm! When you use your own finger, you’re less likely to go too far or use too much pressure.
This simple technique has a subtle but profound effect. At the end of the day, you’ll feel less dried out, less tired (from breathing smoke all day) and generally less “affected” by the smoke.
You can dab a small amount at the entrance of the ear canals (don’t stick your finger in your ear!) for added protection for the sinuses. It’s simple but it’s powerful.
“Cover” your skin. If you’re particularly sensitive to smoke and/or have sensitive skin, use a simple food-grade oil (right out of your kitchen cabinet!) and massage a light amount of oil over your entire body before starting your day. Since the skin is the largest organ of the body and anything you put on your skin is absorbed, use food grade oil to feed your skin. After applying, if you feel greasy, simply rub yourself down with a dry towel. The perfect amount will have been absorbed and the rest is wiped off, leaving your skin feeling smooth and moisturized, but dry to the touch. Avoid commercial lotions that contain chemicals and preservatives, fragrances or colorants. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin. The coating of oil over the body “seals” you and protects you from both the chemicals and drying effects of being in a smoke filled room. You’d be surprised how much the oil, both on the skin and in the nostrils, protect you and reduce ill effects of smoke exposure.
Five-Element Acupuncturists need more water. We’re exposed to smoke all day long, and this dries us out. The basic recommendation is to “drink half your body weight”. Take your weight in pounds and divide by two. This is how many ounces of water you should drink per day. Example: Weight = 150 lbs (68 kg); Water intake = 75 ounces (2.2 liters). If you’re exposed to drying agents, such a smoke, you probably need a little more water per day, at least while you’re working. I don’t believe in forcing water down the pipes, however. Use your sensibilities to become more aware of how much you drink and how often, how moist your mouth and nose feel, and adjust the amount of water you consume to align with your activity and lifestyle.
Wear a mask. If these tips still leave you feeling too exposed (to smoke), you can use a surgical or particulate mask. Surgical masks typically have three layers of filtration and are lightweight, not too hot to wear, are easy to use and are inexpensive. Particulate masks are typically sold in hardware and home improvement stores and are thicker, with more layers of filtration. They’re a bit less comfortable due to the heat and moisture of your breath inside the mask, but do provide more of a barrier. I always have surgical masks on hand for times when patients come in with a cold or flu (we both wear masks during the whole treatment) or when I’m feeling particularly sensitive to smoke. In following all of the above tips, however, I find its only a couple of times a year when I need a mask (usually when I’m getting over a cold and my sinuses or throat are more sensitive). If your patient is particularly sensitive, offer a mask and keep enough on hand for every visit.
Infrared Moxa Pens? I’m a purist, so I don’t use them. The furthest I’m willing to stray from the original medicine is to use a moxa lighter instead of an incense stick to light the moxa cones.
The tips described here are easy to follow and incorporate into your practice and daily life. Chose one and find out for yourself what difference is made. By far the best choice is to reduce the amount of smoke in the treatment room without compromising patient care. Exhaust fans, air purifiers and moxa lighters tend to reduce smoke to such a large extent that further steps aren’t needed. Take the extra steps to protect yourself, and you can practice with greater safety for years to come.