The body is a wondrous thing. The more we learn about it, the more it becomes clear that we do not know much at all. We in the West have a comfortable collection of medical theories about how we think it works, which seem perfectly plausible; but if we then apply these beliefs to Oriental theories and treatments, such as acupuncture, things become problematic and they no longer make sense. The theory of micro-systems in Oriental medicine is a prime example: It is based upon the idea that individual parts of the body contain the same basic information as the body as a whole and that you can treat the body only by making changes to that one part.
A familiar example for most people was championed by an American doctor, William Fitzgerald. He developed a system known as zone therapy in the early 20th century, which later became known as reflexology. This system holds that the shape of the foot resembles the shape of the body and that treatment on the foot will have an effect on the corresponding part of the body.
The ear is another ancient Oriental micro-system. There is a long and distinguished history of treatment on the ear dating from over two millennia ago when a medical text called "The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine" recommended bleeding points on the ear in order to treat headaches and period pain. It was revived in the 1950s by a French neurologist named Paul Nogier, who mapped the ear in terms of treatment. In his and in subsequent Chinese maps, the ear can be seen quite literally as an upside-down curled-up fetus. Points on the body correspond with the represented “fetal position” of the body part on the ear.
There are other micro-systems, most notably on the hand, and many theories about how they work—usually connected with changes affected in the central nervous system or in the release of hormones—but these beliefs often do not fit in well with modern medical theory. This is partly because they predate it by a few thousand years and stem from a very different way of viewing the body and how it becomes ill.
Within Oriental medicine, these micro-systems are hugely valuable as sources of self-treatment for common ailments. They are so accessible to treat, and they also enable you to have a degree of control over the ailment and your body without any external intervention. In this day and age, in which medication is so freely prescribed in place of changes in diet, lifestyle, and exercise regimes, the more you can do for your own body, the better.
A very simple example of how a micro-system can affect your body may be understood by trying to touch your toes. Stand straight, arms at your sides, and bend at the waist, trying not to bend your knees. If you did not get close to your toes, do not be dismayed—half the US population can’t, either. Now try a little massage. Massage your ears, thumb at the back, index finger at the front. Go up and down each ear. Stretch it upwards, outwards, and downwards. After a few minutes, stop and try touching your toes again. You should notice a distinct difference in flexibility. This is because you indirectly relaxed the muscles involved in bending your body by massaging the ear.