Riddle me this: What keeps a scaredy-cat away from acupuncture and getting a second piercing in their earlobe? Yes, that’s easy: needles. And, yes: I’m that scaredy-cat. While I completely understand, rationally, that acupuncture doesn’t actually hurt and the nice people at piercing stations generally give you a stuffed animal to hug while you get done up with ear jewelry, I still won’t commit to either practice. However, I can commit to auriculotherapy, a practice that covers both the aesthetic benefit of piercing and the wellness benefit of acupuncture and melds them into one with the help of ear seeds. And as an added bonus, no needles are involved.
Before I get ahead of myself, some basics: Auriculotherapy is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) ritual that, as you can imagine, dates back thousands of years, when it first popped up in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. And, the holistic treatment is getting a resurgence of interest today. So how does it work?
Auriculotherapy is very similar in effect to that of acupuncture by way of activating your energy meridians. Your chi (or qi) is an energy current that flows through your body via different pathways or meridians, and TCM recognizes 20 of them. If a certain part of the body is giving you trouble, the idea is that the corresponding meridian is blocked. One way to rebalance yourself is by accessing acupuncture or acupressure points—and the ear features many of those.
“In TCM, the ear is a microsystem of the whole body with dozens of pressure points ready to transform body and mind,” says licensed acupuncturist, massage therapist and co-founder of WTHN Shari Auth, DACM. “These points have healing properties such as calming the mind, boosting immunity, reducing pain, and more.” And when Auth says “microsystem.” And that’s where ear seeds come in.
Check out what happened when What the Wellness host Ella Dove tried using ear seeds for herself in the video below.
“Originally, ear seeds used in TCM were the actual seeds from the vaccaria plant, which is known commonly as the Prairie Carnation. Today, both plant-based vaccaria seeds and metal beads are used for the same effect,” Auth says. “Ear seeds work by putting light pressure on specific acupressure points on the ear to stimulate that point, and modern clinical research has shown the effect these points have on neurological pathways.”
“Ear seeds work by putting light pressure on specific acupressure points on the ear to stimulate that point, and modern clinical research has shown the effect these points have on neurological pathways.” —Shari Auth, DACM
In fact, research published in 2018 outlined noted effects of auriculotherapy for treating migraine headaches, radiculopathy (pinched nerves), and polyneuropathy (the simultaneous malfunction of peripheral nerves throughout the body). By analyzing previous research on the matter, it supported that auricular acupuncture could be qualified as an evidence-based medicine when it comes to these neurological issues. (And weird detail, but I love it: The study author also found that auriculotherapy had favorable results for treating hiccups.)
Another meta-study concluded that auriculotherapy can work as an “adjunct therapy for pain management and, therefore, reduce analgesic use to minimize potential adverse effects and tolerance.” Auth also shares that potential benefits of auriculotherapy include balancing hormones, calming the mind, boosting digestion, supporting immunity, detoxing and improving focus.
And in addition to when you’re too squeamish for or not interested in traditional acupuncture, you can use ear seeds and auriculotherapy in conjunction with the practice whenever you want to revitalize your qi.
“Ear seeds are a great complement to an acupuncture treatment because they help extend the results and offer continued healing at home, but they can also be used on their own when you’re too busy to get into the studio for an acupuncture treatment or are traveling,” says Auth. “While wearing ear seeds, you can apply light pressure to activate the effects of the seed for an extra boost. It’s wellness on-the-go, and the ultimate feel good bling.”
Curious about other acupuncture-adjacent wellness treatments? You might want to try out Moxa heat therapy. Or if you want to get fancy with your face, give those Instagram-worthy acupuncture gemstone facials a go.
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