Understanding Chinese Medicine: Liver Qi Stagnation

Understanding Chinese Medicine: Spring is the time of year that our Liver energy begins to rise and move outward. This is what helps us be more active and energetic. But, for those of us with imbalances in our Liver energy, this can be the time of year where Liver symptoms flare! Symptoms such as migraine headaches, hay fever, vertigo, and PMS can all get worse. You may also notice yourself feeling a little more short tempered than usual or having sudden bursts of anger.

If any of this is sounding familiar, now’s the time to get in for an acupuncture tune up. You would be amazed at how much difference one or two acupuncture treatments can make in balancing Liver energy. In the meantime, here are some tips you can do yourself to help balance your Liver qi.

1. Eat your greens. Leafy, upward growing greens nourish the Blood and gently move your Liver qi. Winter is the time for foods with a more warming and sinking energy, to match the energy of Winter. Now is the time to start to eat foods that are cooked more lightly and for less time, to eat less heavy food (oils, meats), and to cook veggies and greens in a lighter, more healthful manner. See the recipe below for some good ideas about how to get your whole family eating healthy greens and loving them! Oh! And if you are local and looking for a great way to get plenty of organic, affordable produce this summer, check out the CSA through Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre.

2. Exercise. What better way to help your qi move than to move! Listen to your body and follow recommendations based on your own health, constitution, etc. Honestly — walking is one of the very best things you can do for your both your body and your mind. Even 10 minutes/day makes a big difference.

3. Rest. Metaphorically in Chinese Medicine, our “Blood” collects in our Liver at night when we sleep. What this means is that the Liver is part of what helps rejuvenate us while we are sleeping. Not enough rest leads to weakened blood, which prevents our qi from moving well (and vice versa). Weakened Liver blood can lead to more anxiety, tighter muscles, and a host of other symptoms. Resting properly at night allows our Liver to do its job better — to keep our energy circulating smoothly.

4. Massage Liver 3. Those of you who are regular patients may recognize this point once I describe it. It’s a very commonly used point on the Liver channel to help keep energy flowing smoothly and to pull it down from the head (which makes it a great point for headaches that are due to a Liver imbalance). To find it, place your foot flat in front of you. Palpate in the space between your 1st and 2nd metatarsal bones (the bones that come down from your toes over the top of your foot). Find a sore spot close to the junction where the 2 bones meet and massage this point daily.

5. Create your vision. Wood energy (Liver and Gallbladder) is about vision, both literally and figuratively. The ability to see your path ahead, not get bogged down in the day-to-day stresses, and to have a vision for your future are all Liver strengths. A Liver that is too stuck and rigid may have trouble bending in the breeze so to speak, or being flexible enough to creatively work around life’s roadblocks. Find things that help you clarify your vision — both day-to-day and your long-term goals. Things such as journaling, talking to a good friend, meditating, and/or checking out the workshop described below are all ways to keep your Liver energy flowing and your vision strong and flexible.

6. Manage stress. Emotional stress affects all organ systems. The Liver, however, is where it starts. In fact, stress and blocked emotions are the most common causes of “stuck Liver qi” in our society. Anger, frustration, sadness, and depression can all result from stuck Liver qi, and when not expressed or dealt with appropriately, can also cause our Liver qi to stagnate further and lead to other symptoms. All of those emotions are part of life. When we feel them in excess or we don’t feel them at appropriate times, then that indicates an imbalance. If we push these feelings aside because we “don’t have time to deal with them,” we are adding another layer to the blockages in the free flow of our Liver qi.

Talking to a friend, journaling, and meditating are all ways to manage daily stresses so that they don’t build up and create bigger problems. In order to keep our Liver energy healthy, we must confront chronic feelings of stress/anxiety and imbalances in our emotional wellbeing.

In the meantime, here’s another point you can massage at home to help relax the body and mind and relieve stress:

  • Spleen 6: This is a crossing point of 3 major meridians in the body: Spleen, Liver, and Kidney. This point is great for relieving stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. It can also really help menstrual cramps. Start at the inner ankle bone and move up along your inner leg, just on the inner edge of the bone (tibia). This point is about the width of your four fingers together above the ankle bone. Find a sensitive spot and massage. If there are multiple sensitive spots up the leg along the inside of that tibia, massage those too for menstrual cramps or other abdominal bloating or cramping.

7. Beware of “false” Liver movers. Alcohol, for example, will temporarily free up your Liver energy. And a drink here and there, for most of us, feels good and is not a problem. But overuse of alcohol and other drugs is a common way for some people to feel relief from emotional symptoms of Liver stagnation. The relief, however, is temporary. Instead of strengthening the body’s weaknesses so that the body learns to rebalance the energy on its own, these extreme substances cause further damage and leave the body feeling dependent on more of them to get the same feeling of relief. And remember, any extreme substance will set up further imbalance in the body, often covering up the original problem and leading eventually to more complicated physical and emotional health issues.