In traditional Chinese medicine the Liver is the organ that governs the smooth flow of Qi throughout the whole person. To be in a good state of health – physically and emotionally – one needs to have a smooth, uninterrupted flow of Qi in both body and mind. When the Qi flows continuously and in the proper direction the body organs function properly and the overall physical and psychological states are harmonious. If the Qi ceases to flow smoothly one becomes unbalanced on both mental and physical levels. Since the Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi, when it stagnates the Liver becomes unbalanced. And vice versa – if the Liver is unbalanced – the Qi, which is controlled by the Liver, will stagnate. In both cases this diagnosis is called “Liver Qi stagnation”.

What is Stagnation?

Like streams and rivers, for the water to flow there must be adequate water and a clear pathway.  When there is too little water the flow slows down and eventually comes to a halt. This is stagnation due to deficiency, exhaustion, not enough resources or nourishment. An example for this are exhausted parents finding themselves angry and shouting against their will and better judgment at their young children, only because they are depleted of Qi and cannot contain, absorb and cope no longer . Another type of stagnation occurs when the river is blocked; quantity of water is not the problem but rather there is a barrier preventing the smooth flow. This is a case of stagnation due to some kind of excess. The water will stagnate and fester. The flow of Qi, Blood and Fluids in our body is very similar.  When we have adequate amounts and clear paths for these essences to flow through, we have vitality, growth, development, can ward off disease and heal quickly.  When it is inadequate or blocked we stagnate. Left untreated, stagnation will grow and cause complications as a sign for us to inspect what we are doing wrong or what we are not doing right, urging us to fix our life in accordance with the laws of nature and for the better of the endless flow of oneness.

What causes stagnation?

Improper diet:

Excess type Liver Qi stagnation: When too much rich and greasy food is eaten (fried, fatty and oily foods, chips of all kinds, dairy, nuts and nut butters, avocados, red meats, etc.), too much stimulants (recreational drugs, alcohol, coffee, black tea, chocolate, cocoa, colas) and/or alcohol is excessively and consistently consumed, the Liver becomes swollen and sluggish and unable to maintain the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. Thus the Qi of the Liver becomes stagnated.

Deficient type Liver Qi stagnation: When too little food is eaten, or the food is not nourishing, or food is not properly absorbed, the result is deficient Qi and Blood (Anemia) which cause Liver Qi stagnation due to dryness and deficiency.

Stress and life style habits

Whenever we are under stress we tend to clench our fingers, hunch our shoulders, curl our body, etc. Our muscles are tense and our breathing is shallow. This indicates that the smooth flow of energy throughout our body is repressed and the Qi is stagnated.Inadequate activity, sex, or exercise, regularly going to sleep late at night (after 11 PM), working at jobs one doesn’t like, any type of stress, or overwork without sufficient rest cause Liver Qi stagnation.

Emotions

The most common reason for Liver Qi stagnation is any chronic active or repressed anger, resentment or frustration. Long-term suppressed or unexpressed emotion stagnates the Qi. This means it’s important to discover the underlying cause for these feelings and find constructive and beneficial outlets. Specific emotions that stagnate Liver Qi are anger, frustration, resentment, irritability, mood swings and depression.

Types of stagnation:

Stagnation exists on a continuum. Minor stagnation may be just feeling stuck and frustrated, while a deeper pattern of stasis can cause serious depression and illness. Initial Qi stagnation can show as a bit of sighing, feeling of frustration or irritation. This condition can resolve quickly with a little movement, verbal expression or change in thought process. A lot of cases of Qi stagnation occur on behalf of congestion of thoughts and habituated emotions. Minor PMS falls into this category. If fluid or food stagnates in the stomach and/or the intestines it is a given that Qi will stagnate too. A slow digestion, eating too much or too quickly or eating when you are emotionally upset will bring forth stagnation of the digestive tract with symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and congestion of fluids.  It will take a little more awareness and effort to resolve and move this stagnation away. When Qi stagnation is long enough, blood also stagnates, actually starting to coagulate, the outcome of a deep seated, long held emotional patterns and chronic illness. There is often pain.  Patterns like congestive heart failure, cancers and other serious illnesses have congealed blood patterns. If you need to take blood thinners–there is Blood stasis.

Symptoms of liver Qi stagnation:

General:

Distension of hypochondria and chest

Hypochondriac pain

Pains that move from place to place, and change in severity or frequency

Frequent sighing

Hiccupping

Burping

Cysts, fibroids and abdominal masses that appear and disappear quickly

Lumps in the neck, breast, groin or flank

Emotional:

Depression

Moodiness and mood swings

Frustration

Inability to move forward in life

Inappropriate anger

Irritability, anxiety and angst, the feeling of being pent up and anxious

Unhappiness; a gloomy feeling

A lump or plum-pit feeling in the throat, one that you cannot swallow and neither spit out.

Feeling of difficulty in swallowing

Gynecology:

PMS tension and irritability

Swollen breasts before the menses

Irregular periods

Painful periods

Digestion:

Nausea

Vomiting

Sour belching

Abdominal pain

Poor appetite

Epigastric pain

Diarrhea or alternating diarrhea and constipation

Churning feeling in the stomach

Feeling of pulsation in epigastrium

Abdominal distension

Borborygmi – intestinal gurgling sounds

How to release stagnation:

Movement

The main strategy for “unblocking” stagnated Qi is movement. Movement is one of the great keys to circulating Qi. It can be exercise, but if you do what you love at the same time, it also soothes emotions and nourishes you, preventing further stagnation. Move regularly through walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, jogging, exercise, hiking (especially in the woods), Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga or another physical activity and regular exercise, and engage in creative projects as this releases pent-up Liver energy and moves Qi. Go for a walk or run, but keep your movement moderate and appropriate for your health. Liver Qi stagnation is easily broken through with movement – that is why you feel so wonderful after the right type of exercise or movement. For computer work and desk jobs, be sure to move and/or stretch for five minutes every 30 – 60 minutes. Find work and jobs you enjoy and are fulfilling. Alternate work with rest and play as over-working can cause this pattern. Movement outdoors amidst nature is much more effective for resolving stagnation, since the flow of energy in nature is naturally harmonious. Get out and shake it off.

Heat induces movement. Warm compress applied on the painful area and hot baths will also bring relief in cases of blood stagnation.

Breathe and meditate

An essential practice for stagnated Qi is breathing & meditation. Stagnated Qi comes from a “stagnated mind”. When the mind is present, content, spontaneously joyful, and compassionate, there are no blockages or stagnation on any level of human manifestation.

Oxygen has a great moving and anti-stagnant quality therefore breathing exercises can be of major assistance to start the energy flowing. A basic and simple breathing exercise from yoga can be used: meditate–breathe–deep, slow your energy down. A deep breath is slowly inhaled for four seconds then exhaled slowly for another four seconds. The seconds can be tapped with the hand while inhaling and exhaling in order to keep better count. One can start with one minute of deep breathing every morning after waking up and do it again in the evening before going to bed (and also whenever desired!). By doing this exercise twice a day the body energy will start flowing smoothly again and one will feel lighter, calmer, and happier.

Create your vision and practice flexibility getting there

The Liver 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 reading, journaling, talking to a good friend or mentor, meditating or exercising my help you clarify and refurbish your goals and the path towards them. When Liver energy is flowing in harmony we are flexible in mind and body, we are open to seeing many paths and have a clear forward vision.  When it’s not…we start to sigh, snarl, yell or growl at the perceived obstacles that cross our paths. Keep in mind that the path towards accomplishing your goals is more significant than the goals themselves, and that the gap between present circumstances and future goals needs time, patience and perseverance to close.

Talk and laugh

Stagnated emotions need to be verbalized in order to release. Don’t put off talking about how you feel. Share your emotions with whom they are concerned, or otherwise with anyone else, and experience the instant relief! Talking isn’t always that simple. Saying what’s on your mind without being judgmental towards yourself or your surroundings, expressing yourself calmly and in a constructive, positive manner, is an ability to master. When you are too tight to talk, frustrated and irritated, your diaphragm tightens. You can easily drown in these emotions out of habit. Laughter strongly loosens the diaphragm, so try to laugh of your stagnant emotions. If this seems unnatural for you, first fake it, until you make it. Just connect with whatever makes you smile and laugh; your favorite comedy, stand up comedy, funny video etc. Singing in the shower or with full volume of your favorite tunes on the open highway is also a releasing option.

Manage stress

Stress, which is a subjective inner experience, can cause a buildup and blockage of our emotions. Anger, frustration, sadness, and depression, when not expressed or dealt with appropriately, can cause our Liver Qi to stagnate 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. Although stress is a motivating power for thriving, excess stress is detrimental. First step for balancing excess stress is acknowledging its existence and making a decision to deal with it. From this point on, there are many possibilities and techniques for relieving stress to choose from.

Touch therapy

All types of touch therapy will help relieve Liver Qi stagnation. Oil massage, shiatsu, Tai massage, reflexology and many others could be very helpful. If you are a parent to young children, they can feet massage you by “walking” carefully along your back side. 

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