The Ear as a Microsystem

By Hannah Fries /

The Ear as a Microsystem

If I told you that a daily ear massage could help to balance every system in your body, would you believe me? Well, auricular (i.e. ear) stimulation has been shown to regulate cardiovascular, respiratory, neuroendocrine, and gastrointestinal activity, to name a few. 

Auricular therapy has been applied for pain relief, for the treatment of epilepsy, anxiety, and obesity, and for improving sleep quality.”

Yep, you heard right - your ears are meant for so much more than Spotify. 

The ear has been utilized as a means of both diagnosing and treating health disorders for thousands of years. Stimulation of the ear by massage, cauterization, piercings, and bloodletting was practiced in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and the Middle East to influence health. 

Chinese medicine’s most famous ancient medical text, the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), speaks of both the diagnostic and healing capacities of the ears. It suggests that the ear is connected with all 12 meridians directly or indirectly, and that stimulating the ear can initiate harmony of Qi and blood.

EAR CHINESE MEDICINE

We know that various treatments of the ear have been used as a means of healing in China for at least 2500 years, yet it seems that auricular acupuncture found new life in China and beyond in the mid 1900s.

In the 1950s, after learning about auricular cauterization as an effective treatment for sciatica, the French physician (and trained acupuncturist), Paul Nogier, discovered that the ear is shaped like an upside-down fetus. He went on to develop an intricate map of auricular acupuncture points that correspond to virtually every region and process of the body.

IN CHINESE MEDICINE, THE EAR IS USED AS A MICROSYSTEM TO TREAT THE ENTIRE BODY. 

“Ear acupuncture is a well-known application of the principle that a single, small part of the body reflects the whole.” - Maciocia

Just as the human being is seen as a microcosm of the greater ecosystem, so the ear (as well as practically every other body segment, such as the face, hands, and feet) can serve as a representation of the entire human body. 

THE FETAL MAP OF THE EAR

In viewing the ear as an inverted fetus, the head is found at the bottom, the back along the outer edge, and the feet at the top. More specifically: 

  • The earlobe corresponds to the head and brain
  • The concha, or center of the ear, represents the major internal organs
  • The antihelix (the curved prominence just inside the outer rim/helix) is analogous to the spine
  • The scaphoid fossa (the groove between the helix and antihelix) correlates with the upper extremities
  • The antihelix crura (of the upper ear) constitutes the lower extremities

As such, acupuncture points found on the ear can help to regulate the body's internal organs, structures, and functions, as well as balance the mind and spirit. Furthermore, abnormal changes (i.e. discoloration, peeling, nodules, blood vessels, or pitting) on the ear can be indicative of internal disorders related to the location of their corresponding points. 

Most sources cite over 200 auricular acupuncture points in all, and some sources report significantly more (upwards of 1000)! Are you more convinced about that daily ear massage yet?

EAR SEEDS CHINESE MEDICINE

ARE YOUR EARS BUZZING? THE NERVE!

In addition to being a holographic representation of the body, the ear is such a powerful entryway for healing due to its innervation by many cranial and spinal nerves, the most significant of which is the vagus nerve, with branches found in the concha and external ear canal.

The vagus nerve “controls the activity of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems and has effects on smooth muscles, blood vessels, sweat glands, and the endocrine system. Numerous investigations showed that vagal tone was elicited by auricular acupuncture or auricular acupressure. It is described as a reflexive treatment of physical, emotional, and neurological dysfunctions via specific zones on the ear where these dysfunctions are reflected”

NEEDLES, SEEDS, MAGNETS, LASERS, MOXA, and MORE!

While small needles or moxa are often used on ear points during an acupuncture treatment, these points may also be stimulated for a longer period of time by applying small seeds (from the Vaccaria plant), magnets, metal pellets, or tiny press tack needles held in place with a small piece of adhesive tape.

In my practice, I use 24k gold “seeds” to tonify in cases of deficiency related to the chosen points, and stainless steel “seeds” to promote sedation in cases of excess.

The continuous mild pressure they exert is amplified by stimulating the seed with a few seconds of fingertip massage every few hours. With a little bit of pressure applied throughout your day, these subtle, yet powerful point combos can empower you to access healing on your own terms!

PLANTING THE SEED(S)…

I’m now offering GUIDED EAR SEED TUTORIALS from afar (i.e., virtually). I also offer auricular acupuncture and ear seeds for my patients in my private practice in Santa Barbara/Los Angeles. Ask me about it during your next session!

Hannah Fries is a California-based licensed acupuncturist and herbalist (L.Ac.), writer, and Integrative Body Psychotherapy allied professional. She seeks to discover & alchemize the psycho-emotional and spiritual roots of disharmony in the physical body to help her clients transform the obstacles that interfere with their innate healing capacity. Find out more about Hannah and her work on her website at https://www.friespirit.com or on Instagram @friespirit.

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