When traveling, do you find yourself with a pounding headache or a super stiff neck? Perhaps some annoying sinus pressure during flights and excessive ear popping? Most of us have heard of pressure point bracelets for stimulating the anti-nausea point on the wrist, but acupressure can also help with aches and pains associated with travel. This routine was developed when I was en route to Thailand on a particularly cramped flight, but it can apply equally well on long car rides or at conferences.
See the video for a short demonstration of the ear, face, and hand massage routine which I will outline below.
Use a dulled toothpick, a cocktail swizzle stick if you are fancy, or your own finger if you prefer to be minimalist, to press gently into the points. Do not press to a point of pain but to the point of a slight ache or feeling of mild tenderness. Hold point pressure for three seconds as you rhythmically press the series of points.
Routine in a nutshell:
- Ear: Pressure points along spine line, brain, point zero, shen men. Massage ear by pulling gently in all directions and pressing into all the surfaces, against skull
- Face: Pinch eyebrows from inner to outer, press temples, pinch bridge of nose and follow border of cheekbones out to ear (above jaw) and massage the jaw muscle. Press into center of face at hairline and follow hairline to edge of forehead. Brush hands through hair from front to back.
- Hand: Press into metacarpals from knuckle down toward wrist, at index finger and pinky. Focus on tender points toward knuckles for neck/face/ear pain and toward wrist for back pain.
Now the expanded version:
1) EAR ACUPRESSURE
Starting at the highest point on Figure 1, follow the red dots down along the curve of the antihelix, noting any tender points. This pathway is a microcosm of the spine, starting from the low back at the top of the antihelix all the way to the head at the bottom. As you are pressing, if you find a particularly tender point, hold it with light pressure while gently stretching the back and neck. The amount of movement is up to you- even just the initial few millimeters of movement is enough to activate the muscles that you are targeting to relax along the spine.
As you reach the lower end of the antihelix it turns into the soft bump of the antitragus. This area images the neck, base of skull, and brain, and as you press closer to the earlobe it images the face and jaws. Press gently into the cartilage of the antitragus until you find a tender spot and hold it for 3 seconds. Close your eyes and try to imagine the eye muscles relaxing, let the muscles of your forehead and face loosen, think about allowing the scalp itself to relax, and let the base of the skull feel more open. You can also gently roll your neck while pressing this point to loosen those muscles that attach the skull to the neck.
Now there are two more key points for relaxing the central nervous system and stimulating parasympathetic nervous system activity (the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system as opposed to the ‘fight or flight’ part). The first point is named Point Zero, located right in the center of the ear (one of the stars on the image), on a bit of the tougher cartilage of the ear. The second point is Shen Men, or Spirit Gate, and it’s located higher on the ear, in the little depression at the upper portion of the ear (another star on the image above). Press and hold each for 5 seconds, taking a deep breath through your nose, letting your abdomen expand while relaxing your ribcage. Breathe out through your mouth slowly. Both of the points are used in an ear acupuncture protocol for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, so they can be helpful if you have severe anxiety around flying as well.
2) EAR MASSAGE
Now after poking and prodding your ear thoroughly, give it some love by doing a brief ear massage, continuing to breathe in deeply through the nose, expanding the lower abdomen, and breathing out through the mouth gently, relaxing the back and neck. Gently pull the ear, maintaining a trajectory parallel to your scalp, in all directions. Pull the earlobe gently downward, pull the top of the ear gently upward and toward the back of your head, and then follow the curve of the ear downward, pulling toward the back of the head. Then press gently against all the surfaces of the ear, pressing toward the skull and following the contours of the ear. This helps relax the whole body. At the end, use the tragus to cover the auditory meatus, blocking out sound for 10 seconds and making small circles with the tips of your fingers pressing toward the skull the entire time. Hold for one more second and then release, imagining that you just wiped the internal whiteboard clean.
3) FACE MASSAGE
One can get fancy with face massages, but for the purpose of this routine we are keeping it very simple. Start at the inner end of the eyebrows and press with your thumbs into the eyebrow, pinching gently with the index finger toward the thumb so you are lightly grabbing the eyebrow between index finger and thumb while maintaining pressure against the face. Continue this pinching and pressure along to the outer end of the eyebrows, ending by pressing your index fingers just above the outer edge of the eyebrows, finding the most tender point going back toward your ears, in the depression of the temple. Make 3 circles here and hold pressure for 5 seconds.
Now return to the inner eyebrow and press toward the bridge of your nose with your index fingers; follow the bridge of the nose down until you can feel the border of the bone and the cartilage of the nose. At this point angle your pressure off the nose and onto the cheek, pressing the face just under the inner border of the eye but underneath the cheekbone. Follow the lower border of the cheekbone outward toward the outer corner of the eye, pressing directly into the face and slightly upward onto the bone. As you pass the lateral border of the eyes you will continue feeling a ridge at the upper part of the jaw, and you may feel some tension in the muscle at this point which is directly below the temple, in front of the ear, but above the jawline. Press into the most tense part of this muscle, circle with your index fingers 3 times, and hold for 5 seconds. Now press the point in your hairline directly in the center of the forehead, with both index fingers, and follow your hairline out to the edge of the forehead. Hold this point and circle 3 times. Then lightly brush your fingers through your hair from the forehead to the back of the skull, 3 – 9 times.
4) HAND ACUPRESSURE
Moving on to the hand. A simple exercise here can produce great effects on headaches and ear and sinus pressure. Make a light fist and look at your knuckles (where your fingers meet your hand). Each knuckle is attached to bones of the back of your hand called metacarpals- which are generally a little shorter than the fingers. Starting at the knuckle of your index finger, press toward the knuckle on the side closer to the thumb. Now follow the bone (metacarpal) towards the wrist, pressing into the area between the muscle and the bone and holding tender points for 3 seconds. This area is a classic spot for treating headaches, migraines, sinus pain, and any pain of the face. As you press closer toward the wrist, you reach a little “V” between the thumb and the bone you’ve been following. At this junction, pressure toward the index finger metacarpal will help relieve lower back pain.
Repeat this pressure process but start from the knuckle of the pinky finger. Immediately next to the knuckle, pressing towards the pinky finger, but following the metacarpal towards the wrist, you can help treat ear and neck pain. As you get closer to the wrist, the tender spots help with low back pain. For good measure, you can repeat this process along each metacarpal (each finger has their own metacarpal going from the knuckle toward the wrist). Then pinch the webbing between each finger gently and pull toward the fingertips slightly.
You’re done! Happy travels! Feel free to email me with any questions related to this routine at firstname.lastname@example.org.