The ears are frequently neglected, but they hold a special place in the heart of most East Asian Medicine practitioners.  The auricle of the ear, the external, protruding part, is actually a microsystem that represents the whole body.

The ear has been mapped in detail to reflect associated areas with the entire human body. Due to its high level of accessibility, this auricular microsystem can be used to treat health conditions affecting all parts of the body. Stimulating points on the ear can alleviate problems associated with nearby regions of the face and head, as well as relieve pathological disorders in the chest, abdomen, lower back and feet. According to microsystem theory, there are no direct connections between the ear and specific distal body parts. Rather, nerves from the ear connect to reflex centers in the brain that send neurological reflex pathways to the spinal cord, which in turn, sends them on to the neurons reaching distal body parts.

There are a number of ways that ear massage can improve your health.  Everything from pain to insomnia can be addressed utilizing auriculotherapy.  Regardless of what you are working on with auriculotherapy, the motions are always the same.  Hold your thumb on the back side of the ear and your fingers on the front of your ear.  Start at the top and roll the outer edge of your ear between your thumb and first finger all the way down to the ear lobe and repeat.  Then pull from the inside to the outside.  Do it as strongly as you feel comfortable with. The sensation may feel a little irritable to your ears, but that’s ok. This is actually a sign you are doing it right.

Here are some ways that massaging your ears can help improve your overall health.

1. Stress Relief – Once you’ve gotten the ears warmed up, you may notice that you feel calmer.  Let yourself be still and breathe, and you will notice a serotonin release. This is because the innervation of the ear goes right to the brain. So this tool gets you out of the “fight or flight” mode of the nervous system and into rest and repair. This is a natural mechanism in the body that helps to calm you down.

2. Pain Relief – Ear massage triggers the release of the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins. Studies have demonstrated that ear stimulation increases levels of endorphins in both the blood and cerebrospinal fluid.  Ear massage also aids in breaking the pain-spasm-pain cycle. Most chronic pain is due to the constriction of connective tissue surrounding muscles in spasm. Muscles remain in spasm when the brain instructs motor neurons to initiate and sustain their contraction. The stimulation of ear reflex points connected to the brain can reset the brain’s electrical prompts, stopping unwanted activation of spinal reflexes.

3. Addiction – Auriculotherapy is used throughout the world to reduce substance cravings and assist in the detoxification of addictive substances.  An allopathic neurological basis for using auriculotherapy as part of drug detoxification focuses on the area of the ear primarily used in addiction treatment, the concha. The two concave or hollow areas of the outer ear, the concha, correspond to the autonomic nervous system via the vagus nerve and the brain’s hypothalamus. Influencing these nervous system components enhances relaxation and maintains balance. Auriculotherapy’s release of endorphins has the additional benefit of improving mood without the aid of the addicted substance.

4. Insomnia – A good night’s sleep is frequently dependent on whether or not the monkey brain is quiet.  Studies indicate that auriculotherapy can help calm the nervous system, which eases the chatter in the mind and leads to a deeper, more relaxed sleep.  A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, demonstrated that regular ear massage for dementia patients, over several months, improved their quality of sleep and led to fewer altercations with their caretakers.

5. Energy Boost – Need a caffeine kick every morning?  Instead, you can try rubbing your ears a bit more intensely. Stimulation of nerve endings on your ears can activate certain brain centers and make you fresh and mindful. So, whenever you feel tired and low on energy, try a vigorous ear massage first.

While the majority of research has focused on ear acupuncture, auriculotherapy works with any type of ear stimulation.  Since the ears provide direct access to the central and peripheral nervous systems, spending some time to focus on your ears can truly be beneficial.  And best of all, you can do it anywhere with no negative side effects or interactions with any medication you might be taking.  Give it a try.  You might just become an ear massage junkie.

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