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Despite cotton swabs being what most people reach for to clean their ears, they actually aren’t recommended for that. And have you ever heard that shoving a Q-Tip® into the ear helps reduce tension in the neck and jaw, relieves headaches, and diminishes the symptoms of TMJ? No. No, you have not! But these are all things the practice of Karna Purna—the Ayurvedic practice of ear oiling—is known for, and so much more.
The Seat of Vata Dosha—The Ear
Orifices are openings where the body interacts with the external world of microorganisms. They are also where foreign pathogens and microbes enter. The ears are one of our most important orifices and are also the seat of vata dosha, one of the three bio-energies made up of air and ether.
Cold climate, exposure to the breeze, loud noises, dryness in the atmosphere, and irregular sleeping habits can lead to a vata imbalance in our system. An imbalance of vata can show up in (or around) the ear as dryness, neck and shoulder pain, hearing loss, TMJ, tinnitus, and more. So taking good care of your ears and keeping them well-oiled, clean, and warm is a good way to keep vata in check.
When we oil our ears regularly, we support tissues in the body that correspond specifically to our bones and nervous tissue and support our mental well-being by calming the mind.
Cognition and Ear Health
Recent research indicates that it is important to take care of our ear health for our long-term well-being and cognitive health. According to a study by Italian researchers who observed 2000 elder citizens for 11 years, “Available evidence confirms that hearing impairment is…risk factor for cognitive decline. Our group already showed that hearing rehabilitation could positively impact the elderly brain function; in fact, the amelioration of hearing positively improves both attention and memory functions.”
Balancing the Air Element and Tissues
Our hearing and overall ear health are also influenced by Prana Vayu, a type of vata dosha. When Prana Vayu flows in balance, we experience peace and calmness. Asthi dhatu, the bone tissues, and majja dhatu, or nerves, are also linked to the ears. The auditory ossicles are linked to auditory receptors or nerve endings that convert sound waves into electric signals for the brain. Oiling the ear helps manage the Prana Vayu and keeps the associated tissues healthy.
Karna Purna: The Art of Ear Oiling
Ayurveda deeply loves using oils for healing, cleansing, balancing, rejuvenating, repairing, moisturizing, and detoxifying. It is a powerful antidote for treating vata imbalance. A key Ayurveda principle is treating the imbalance by applying opposites. For example, the dryness of vata can be countered with the moisturizing and hydrating quality of oils, and the cold quality can be managed by using warm medicated oils made from specific herbs that reduce vata and have strong antimicrobial and detoxifying properties.
Karna (ear) Purna (fill up)—part of panchakarma (treatment using five purifying actions)—is the art of oiling the ears by gently pouring drops of warm medicated oils into each ear canal. Oleation also helps cleanse and moisturize the inner ear, which often dries up and causes pain and discomfort, especially during the winter.
Use an herbalized oil as they are more moisturizing than vegetable oils. You can also find specific karna purana ear oils (be sure to purchase from a reputable Ayurvedic site, you’re putting this oil in your ears!).
How to Practice Karna Purana
Here’s a step-by-step guide to ear oiling; we recommend once a week to promote health and longevity.
- Lay down on your side, and using a dropper, fill the ear canal with warm herbalized oil (recipes below).
- Gently massage the ear canal by applying medium pressing on the ear flap in a circular. (Stop immediately and visit your doctor if you experience any pain while doing this.)
- Gently massage the cartilage of the ear (the whole ear) using the thumb and index finger, rubbing out any tender areas.
- Gently massage around the entire ear where the ear meets the skull.
- Leave oil in for 5-10 minutes. Use tissues or paper towel over the ear and roll onto the other side so the oil runs out of the ear.
- Repeat steps 1–5 on opposite ear.
What are the benefits of Karna Purna?
As mentioned earlier, ear oiling is believed to be effective in treating infections of the ear, ringing in the ears, and some forms of hearing impairments. It helps cleanse the ear canal and middle ear by pulling out any impurities in that area. It also
- Supports healthy production of earwax
- Prevents the small ear bones (ossicles) from drying out
- Relaxes and grounds
- Calms the mind and soothes the nervous system
- Helps deal with sleep disorders and anxiety
- Relieves headaches originating in vata imbalance
- Reduces pain in the neck and jaws.
Balanced vata means clarity, calmness, balanced energy and intelligence.
Avoid this practice if you have an ear infection or swelling, a damaged eardrum, or excess ear wax. Consult with your Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor if questions.
RECIPE: Karna Purana Mustard Seed Ear Oil
Make fresh each time; do not store.
2 tbsp Mustard seed oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ tsp turmeric
2 cloves (optional, no need to crush)
- Heat mustard oil over medium.
- Add garlic and saute until it browns.
- Add turmeric and clove.
- Remove from the heat, sieve, and cool down until comfortable to touch the bottom of the pot. (Remember—the ear is very sensitive!)
RECIPE: Karna Purana Garlic & Sesame Ear Oil
1 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly bruised.
- Put the oil and garlic glove in a small pan.
- Warm gently for fiveminutes on low heat.
- Remove from the heat, cover, and let the tonic sit for approximately five minutes. You can let the tonic sit for longer until the oil has cooled to an optimum temperature to be put in the ear. The comfort temperature will vary amongst body types, so be sure to check before putting the oil into your ear.
- Remove the garlic clove and pour the warm tonic into a small bowl.