I'm sorry but it seems that I’ve always given special attention to the ears! As a student, I took every opportunity to learn so most weekends you could find me taking a seminar or course. And no, it wasn't great for my social life. But, I think my studies have paid off because now I get to share a tip to calm your body down even when your mind can't.
(Me and Dr. Tao in China 2009)
In 2006, I took a 3-day seminar by the late Dr. Lichun Huang, the world’s leading expert on auricular (ear) acupuncture. Dr. Huang exclusively practiced auricular acupuncture: she did not use any body acupuncture points! Amazingly, she could diagnose diseases in the body simply by observing the ear. Her efficacy was inspiring to me as a new acupuncturist.
How does ear acupuncture work? Ear points stimulate the vagus nerve. Stimulating the vagus nerve allows our autonomic nervous system to get out of "fight-or-flight" (sympathetic) and go into "rest-and-digest" (parasympathetic) mode. We can't be in both...just one or the other. Thus, stimulating the vagus nerve is very calming for our body. I love this "hack" because it can "override" a busy or anxious mind and get right to where alarm lives, in our bodies! Consider the vagus nerve's pathway...a melding of form and function. The vagus nerve starts in the brain, goes around the ear and ends at the feet! On it's long and winding path, the vagus nerve goes through the esophagus, heart, lungs and organs. Thus, it is in charge of our breathing, heart rate, swallowing, digestion, and intestinal motility. And now, researchers are looking at the vagus nerve for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Somehow, the ancient Chinese were already aware that stimulating the vagus nerve can help us stay calm.
Most of my patents get some form of ear acupuncture. It is just so effective for (mostly) everything! Ear points are even safe in pregnancy and they won’t “distract” from the focus of a patient’s main treatment goals. For instance, if someone comes in with heartburn, I can treat them with body points for that. Then, I'll add ear acupuncture to help them with back pain, which isn't acute but annoying.
I hesitate to say it but I am also (in)famous for my “to-go” needles. Yes, I said it. To-go needles are the "pet name" given by a witty patient. To-go needles are typically called “press tacks” and that sounds scary. The needles I use in clinic are tiny, 0.3mm to be exact. Not really tacks at all! You might be laughing but I’m serious (and I'm laughing, too). Many patients ask for their to-go needles every week and notice when they don't. I gently place them on specific points on the outside of the ear and that's it. They're really more like stickers because the needle rests on hypoallergenic micropore tape. And they can stay on for as little or as long as you want. It's even been reported that to-go needles lasted for a month on safari in Africa! I’m as surprised as you are. Most patients forget that they are there. But I advise patients to squeeze their to-gos when they are stressed or in pain. This "activates" them further to bring on quick relief. To be honest, these are the most expensive needles that I use in my clinic but I will do to-go needles for every patient at no extra cost because they are that good! I just want you to feel better and by doing to-go needles, it's a way for me to know that my patients will have a helpful tool in between treatments.
If you’re not “lucky” enough to get your own “to-go” needles, here is a trick to stimulate your vagus nerve for stress relief: Massage your ear to find a tender spot. If there are no tender spots, find the triangular fossa, the area of the ear close to the top that resembles a triangle. Use a medium amount of pressure and breathe out with a big sigh of relief that you'll feel better soon!
Thank you for doing this with me!
PS. The easiest birthday ever thrown...thanks Chuck E. Cheese's! Maya wanted to dress as a cat because "cats eat mice".