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“My, what big ears you have!”
“All the better to hear you with!”
Or, if you’re a Chinese Medicine practitioner: “All the better to live a long, healthy life with!” That’s because the ears are a manifestation of the kidneys which hold our essence (Jing), our genetic potential, and large ears can be an indication of health and longevity.
Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have long understood this connection between the ears and the kidneys, relating issues such as hearing loss, tinnitus, and ear infections to imbalances of the kidney qi. In clinical practice, we will treat the kidneys while working with these types of disorders. Interestingly, Western medicine also recognizes a relationship between the kidneys and the ears. The inner ear and the kidneys develop at the same time in utero, so if a baby is born with hearing issues, a good doctor will know to immediately check the kidney function.  Ongoing research is still exploring the parallels of specific aspects of the inner ear to renal function. 
The ears are also a valuable microsystem in Chinese Medicine practice. Being a manifestation of the kidneys, which govern our development, the ears are a map of our development. They reflect the whole body and have their own complete acupuncture point system as such. Picture an upside-down fetus when looking at the ears in this way, with the head at the lobe and spine curving up to the little baby bum at the top, with internal organs on the inner portions of the external ear. Paul Nogier, a French Neurologist, is considered the father of auricular medicine, as he measured the electrical conductivity along the skin of the ear and recorded the specific points as a reflexology system, which was then incorporated into Chinese Medicine texts. He based his understanding of this system on the correlating tissue types and innervation between various parts of the ear and the parts of the body they represent.
“The ear is one of the few anatomic structures which are built up of tissue from each of these three primary tissue types to be found in an embryo. Paul Nogier maintained that each tissue type in the ear had a link to the various somatotopic reflections and to the innervation related to that part of the ear.” 
Many Chinese Medicine practitioners diagnose and treat the whole body just using the ears. Abnormalities, tenderness, discolorations, etc. on the ear can signal issues in the correlating part of the body. There have been studies done to test these practitioners’ accuracy. In one study, pre-established medical diagnoses matched with auricular diagnoses over 75% of the time.  Treatment can then be done with needles or ear seeds. The benefit of ear seeds is that they can stay on the ear for up to a week, providing continuous stimulation of the ear Acu-point. Practitioners can also train patients in administering their own ear seeds for home use. Ear treatments have been used successfully in the treatment of addictions, chronic pain, anxiety, and weight loss among many other conditions.
A simple way to experience the amazing healing potential of your own ears is to massage them! In addition to all the acupressure points you will be activating, the ears are the only external access (via the auricular branch) we have to the vagus nerve (the longest nerve) in the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has tremendous benefits, including relaxation, improved digestion, cognitive function, and calming inflammation. So go ahead and give your ears some love and attention… and respect for the amazing body parts they are!
You can also ask your acupuncturist to include an ear seed or 2 onto your ear, if appropriate for you. This can help direct your ear massage to points personalized for you and what you need!
 Auricular Acupuncture & Addiction: Mechanisms, methodology and practice, Book, 2009
This Valentine’s day, whether you celebrate romantic love with a partner, enjoy the love of family and friends, or simply go on with life, marking another day on the calendar, it can be a chance to at least take a moment and honor one of the most important relationships in our lives. In Chinese Medicine philosophy, the relationship at the core of our existence that helps to give our lives meaning, joy, and power is the sacred harmony between our heart and our kidneys.
Valentine’s day lands right smack in the dead of winter, while we are deep in kidney time. Winter’s focus is on the kidneys which represent the water element, so it is a great opportunity to remember its balancing organ, the heart, which corresponds with fire. The relationship between water and fire in the body influences much more than just aspects of our physical health. It actually determines how we engage our purpose in life, how we connect what we love with what we do.
In terms of physical health, this balance between the heart and the kidney function in the body is required to regulate heart rhythm, sleep cycles, water metabolism, temperature, and mental and physical stability. The heart, located in the upper (yang) part of the body, must descend its yang qi (fire) to warm the kidney yin and prevent cold stagnation. The kidneys, located in the lower (yin) part of the body, must ascend their yin qi (water) to prevent the heart fire from becoming overactive. If there is a miscommunication that leads to disharmony in this relationship we can see issues of hyperactive heart fire such as palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, even mania. If an overactive heart fire dries up the kidney yin, we can have issues like dizziness, tinnitus, weak back and knees. Not enough fire to warm the kidneys can lead to cold limbs, fatigue, and edema. The heart and kidneys share a special relationship in Western medicine as well, as they rely on each other for proper circulation, water and waste metabolism, and blood pressure. Disorders of one organ can lead to issues in the other, which is why doctors often say ‘what’s good for your heart is good for your kidneys’ and vice-versa.
A more profound analysis of this relationship has to do with the spiritual energy held in these organs according to TCM. Our heart is the home of our Shen, our heart-mind, the aspect of spirit associated with our consciousness, our desires, insight, and passion. Kidneys house the Zhi, the aspect of our spirit associated with our willpower. This is what gives us our ‘umph’ to face challenges and keep going, our self-discipline, our drive. Together these motivations, our desire coupled with our drive, empower us to carry out our soul’s life plan.
This Valentine’s day, wake up and stretch, rub your lower back to charge up your kidneys, and activate your willpower. Breathe deep, adjust your posture and stick out your chest to let your heart lead the way. Feel the connection between these 2 organ systems in the body, letting you will empower your passions. This internal harmony can fill your life with love on Valentine’s day and every day.
Roses and chocolates are great on Valentine’s Day, but why not also get some acupuncture to help support your heart-kidney connection? You’ll leave feeling balanced at your core and in love with life!