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Liver Qi Stagnation is very common in both sexes, but probably slightly more so in women. This is such an important subject that we’ve actually got a page on just Qi stagnation, which helps to explain how it causes other more serious conditions.
A strong tendency to feel depressed with frequent sighing, self-doubt, crying and impatience, even outbreaks of temper. Also hypochondria, worrying that something is wrong with you.
Often bowel movements are uncomfortable or difficult, or there is pain in the bowels relieved by bowel movements. Pain tends to be tightening, drawing, pulling or it may move around from place to place.
The key symptoms are this feeling of distension, or what some people call a ‘stuffy’ feeling, eg in the chest, and the emotional picture.
Mostly these sensations aren’t caused by any organic change in the liver organ itself. Instead, they’re from emotional factors, the main ones being anger or frustration. (However, other emotions can cause it too.) These cause dysfunction along the Liver acupuncture channel where the sensations are experienced. (Sometimes you get these sensations along the Gallbladder channel – the Liver’s paired organ – too.)
By the way, when you have Stagnant Liver Qi, you may not realise it. You’ll just be depressed, moody, angry or upset! (Others will notice, however.)
Apart from taking some exercise to help improve your condition, don’t try to treat yourself unless you really know what you’re doing!
Penny Brohn (she who started the Bristol Cancer Help Centre) once remarked that ‘sick people’ take ‘sick’ decisions. That definitely applies to anyone with Liver Qi Stagnation.
Bringing together what needs to be done is one of your Liver energy’s functions. When your Liver Qi isn’t flowing smoothly you’ll tend to do the wrong thing. Partly that will also be because your Gallbladder energy isn’t working properly, the Gallbladder being the ‘partner’ of your Liver.
Or you’ll feel powerless to decide what’s right for you.
Get someone else to treat you!
Organic changes resembling Stagnant Liver qi can be caused by enlargement of the liver organ, hepatitis and cirrhosis…
Distension of the abdomen can also arise in many other conditions that include Stagnant Liver Qi as part of their symptom picture.
Just a few examples:
There are many more examples, but the distension related to Stagnant Liver Qi is usually dependent on emotional factors, so it comes and goes depending on how good you’re feeling about yourself.
Another pointer to it being Stagnant Liver Qi is that distension doesn’t always occur over the whole area of the abdomen. Instead it might just be over parts of it. Palpating the distended area often makes the distension move elsewhere, like gas. (And yes, Liver Qi stagnation often does cause flatulence – ‘gas’!)
In practice (ie clinically) you don’t often get all these symptoms at the same time. For example, distending pains in the costal (side) and hypochondria and lower abdomen seldom coexist.
The main cause is mental ‘irritation’.
This is a nice term covering many mental and emotional conditions, including anger, resentment, fear, frustration and melancholy. Being urged to do something when there isn’t time for it is a classic for producing this syndrome – especially if you don’t want to do it, or can’t see why it should be done at all, either now, or by you.
One of the reasons Eastern philosophies emphasise the importance of a calm mind is to minimise the likelihood of Stagnant Liver Qi.
If Qi is flowing smoothly, then Liver Qi stagnation doesn’t occur. Any action or therapy which eases the flow of Liver Qi will ease Liver Qi stagnation. For example, taking exercise is often effective as it pushes Qi round the body, so it can’t stagnate.
Problems arise where circumstances prevent free motion of Qi. For example, if someone is criticised by other people but dare not speak up despite his anger, you have a recipe for Stagnant Liver qi.
Where Stagnant Liver Qi ‘attacks’ the Stomach, the descending function of the Stomach will be disrupted and so there may be not only the usual Liver Qi stagnation symptoms such as distension and a stuffy feeling in the chest, but also nausea, sighing or belching.
If the chief pain is in your epigastrium (the area above your belly-button and below your ribs) and is better for belching, always suspect Liver Qi stagnation first.
If Liver qi stagnation ‘attacks’ your oesophagus (the tube from your throat to your stomach), it will feel like a foreign object is stuck in your throat, blocking it. This is traditionally described as being like a stuck ‘plum-stone’, but you might feel it as the inability to swallow, or a tightness there. Often it can feel like phlegm in your throat – but you can’t hawk it up or swallow it down. Sometimes this feel temporarily better when eating, especially when swallowing solid food, but it soon returns.
A characteristic of Liver Qi stagnation is that, unless it has been around for a long time, the symptoms tend to go when the problem is solved or when you are not thinking about it.
It also eases when you are laughing, because laughing – assuming it is from something joyfully funny – moves your energy out of what is called your Wood phase and on into what is called your Fire phase. Find out more about these Wood and Fire phases in our page on the Five Elements, an important theory in Chinese medicine. Also, there’s far more about it in my book on Qi Stagnation, see below.
When the Chong channel (sometimes called the Penetrating channel) is affected by this syndrome, you get irregular menses and abdominal pain. The Chong channel, one of the ‘extra-ordinary’ channels, is also called the ‘Sea of Blood’ and is intimately connected with the quantity, quality and flow of Blood.
Being intimately connected to the monthly cycle, the chong channel is also affected by Qi stagnation. Indeed, one could say that the monthly cycle can produce or exacerbate Liver Qi stagnation if there is the slightest trace of Qi stagnation around in the first place.
You can read even more about how Liver Qi Stagnation, this most vital of the Liver functions, affects your life, here.
To make Liver Qi stagnation worse, just don’t move! (So that makes anyone glued to their seat for hours more susceptible to Liver Qi stagnation. Office workers, beware!)
To make it better, move.
Is any particular movement best? No, but the more all parts of your body move, the better! So you would expect the following to be good:
Ideally do it so you feel out of breath and hot. Then you know that your blood is being pushed round your body, clearing away stagnation.
Of course, if you are weak, old, ill or exhausted, take advice first, and build up your exercise gradually.
It is usually better not to exercise on an empty stomach. But it is also better not to exercise immediately after a large meal: give your stomach time to digest it.
After exercising, if you have become hot or perspiring, as you cool down keep clear of drafts, and cover up. Otherwise you’ll become susceptible to an invasion of Wind-Cold. You most definitely don’t want that.
First, avoid what usually makes Liver Qi Stagnation worse!
If you come from a Western Christian background there’s a simple way to remember the list: just don’t eat anything you look forward to eating or drinking at Christmas. (This works, even for Brussels Sprouts, which are actually good for the Liver, but of course only peculiar uncles look forward to eating them, though turkey in the list below is the odd one out.)
Herbs have little nutrition, but can pack a big punch when they incline your metabolism to react in particular ways.
Unlike vegetables and most foods, of which you would have to eat lots before noticing ill-effects, herbs work fast.
Consequently, there are (tiresome) ifs and buts about using them. Hence, you’ll see the name of the herb followed by some do’s and don’ts.
It’s important to observe these strictures. How did we arrive at them? From bitter experience over millennia! Don’t ignore this valuable source of experience!
Liver Qi stagnation nearly always generates Heat and Yang, so herbs for it are mostly cooling and taste bitter.
Be careful to take small doses, as recommended by manufacturers: it is easy to over-dose then feel much worse than before! Then you’ll be casting about for someone to blame – well, don’t blame me!
Listed below are some cold, bitter herbs, which may be available in your country.
Of course, take them in warm water to offset their chilling properties.
And, before you rush out to buy them, please read my disclaimer!
1. Liver Qi Stagnation (this page)
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