Chinese mugwort, or Ai Ye, is an herb commonly used in herbal decoctions (strong medicinal teas). It may also be used as a type of heat therapy, and when the herb is prepared to be used in this way it’s commonly referred to as moxa. Burning the moxa is called moxibustion, and that can be done most commonly in one of two ways.
The loose form of moxa has an almost wooly quality to it. A small pinch of it can be rolled between the fingers and compressed to produce a rice-grain size and shape. One end of the rice grain moxa is placed on the skin, directly on an acupuncture point. The end that’s away from the skin is lit with an incense stick or something similar. As the moxa burns closer to the skin, the patient reports to the acupuncturist that heat is being felt, and at that point, the acupuncturist removes the moxa.
Moxa may also be bought pre-rolled into tubes or sticks resembling cigars. In this case, one end of the moxa stick is lit, creating  a glowing red tip, again like a cigar. The lit end of the moxa stick is then held near a particular acupuncture point, never touching the skin, and the acupuncturist usually makes a small circling motion or a pecking motion with the moxa stick, so that the patient never gets uncomfortably hot at the acupoint.
A third variation, where loose moxa is applied to the handle of an acupuncture needle that’s already been inserted into the patient and then lit, is referred to as acumoxa. In this case, the warmth from the moxa travels down the length of the needle and into the patient. This provides a gentle warmth that is usually pleasant to the patient.
Moxibustion is typically used to treat cold conditions, and to stimulate or augment Yang qi. Some herbalists contend that the qi of moxa is very close to the qi of the human body, making it an excellent qi tonifier.
Cupping is a technique that traditionally employed bamboo cups, although today thick glass cups are most often used. A vacuum is created by using forceps to hold a burning cotton ball inside the cup. The cotton is then withdrawn and the cup is quickly placed on the patient’s body, creating a suction. Some companies now make cups attached to small vacuum pumps which will pump the air our of the cup, eliminating any possibility of burning while creating a more controlled vacuum.
The cups may be left in place, causing a temporary local blood stasis, in order to draw toxins out from relatively deep areas of the body. The cups may also be moved, usually up and down along meridians on the back, in order to release pathogenic factors near the surface of the body and relieve many of the symptoms commonly associated with colds, flus, and other more superficial conditions.
When using electroacupuncture, electrodes are clipped to needles that have been inserted into the patient, and a mild electric current is then passed between the needles having the attached electrodes. The two types of current used are milliamp and microcurrent stimulation.
Milliamp current is a little coarser, and employs various waveforms to achieve different effects and so that the body doesn’t adapt to the stimulation. This may cause a visible contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue, or it may simply be felt as a gentle buzz or vibration. This type of current is commonly used to help release tight, spasmed muscles or to reduce any pain condition more quickly.
Mircocurrent is finer and more subtle, and may be barely noticed at all by the patient. This is most commonly used to increase the effect of any acupuncture treatment, including those not involving pain.
Historically, if an acupuncturist wanted to increase the stimulation of the needles, he would have to stand by the patient and manipulate the needles by hand, in some cases twirling the needle 180 times a minute for up to 20 minutes. Although electroacupuncture can’t replace all types of manual stimulation, it has the virtue of insuring that the patient gets the additional stimulation that may be called for, especially when the acupuncturist may otherwise not have the time (or stamina) to provide it.