Qi Stagnation
Stagnant Qi

Qi Stagnation is The Jewel in the Crown of Chinese medicine.

It works rather like a roadblock, or a traffic jam - in fact that's how I describe its action in my book, see below. And, of course, in the picture of bisons' bottoms!

It's an idea from which many acupuncturists have made a fortune!.

And they deserved it!

If acupuncturists can treat this successfully, a huge proportion of our ills in the West would be sorted out - and more than a few in the East, too.

If more people understood what it was, and what they could do about it before it turned into a major problem for them, acupuncturists would lose a lot of money. (Would that be such a bad thing?)

Bison Roadblock Traffic Jam

Copyright Tony Campbell


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To understand stagnant qi, you first need to understand Qi.

What is Qi Stagnation?

When your Qi doesn't flow smoothly, you feel discomfort.

In the early stages, or if the reason for the qi stagnation is temporary, you may hardly notice your symptoms, or experience them just as mild, passing irritations at the waywardness of life.

How do you notice this in someone else? This depends on the individual.

How do people show mild, passing irritation? Some people don't show it all, others purse their lips, or frown, or tense their jaw, or hunch their shoulders, or stare hard.

Others mutter to themselves, swear or twitch. Some people scratch themselves (eg their nose), rub their fingers or chins, or pull their earlobes.

Often there is a tendency to move around in some kind of rhythmic pattern. People tap their fingers or their feet.

As the symptoms become more severe, or last longer, there will be some damage. People grind their teeth, bite their fingernails, chew their lips, pick their noses, scratch themselves repeatedly.

Suppose the trigger for this condition continues or worsens. What then happens depends again on the strength, self-discipline and constitution of the individual: the ability to endure adverse circumstances.

In general, the younger and/or the less healthy you are, the less well you'll tolerate it.

Age, experience and good health usually increase the ability to resist stress or at least to show less signs of it.

However, if you can't tolerate it, signs of stress first usually intensify in the upper parts (head, arms) with tension headaches and sore neck muscles. Now comes swearing, shouting, gesticulating.

Next symptoms begin to move towards the centre. People need to smoke a cigarette or swallow, eat or drink something. Sighing counteracts an unconscious tendency to hold the breath.

What's going on here?

So far the symptoms are at the top of the body or upper end of the arms.

Imagine standing with your arms stretched up above you: Qi stagnation symptoms tend to ascend to hands or head - the upper parts: this is also where Liver qi ascends to when you first get stressed.

There is an exception to this 'ascending' energy - some people tap their toes, which displays another aspect of Liver qi stagnation: 'Wind', which shows up as movement.

Stagnant Qi tries to burst out

Stagnant qi tries to escape as rebellious qi: coughing or nausea, with loss of appetite.

Alternatively, stagnant qi starts to spread into other areas, causing digestive disturbances such as burning, or bowel pain with constipation or diarrhoea, or the urge to urinate.

Whatever! It tries to burst out, almost like the firework on the right.

Copyright Tony Campbell


Then Liver qi attacks Lung qi, so now not only are you sighing but it's hard to catch your breath: your chest feels stuffy, blocked, congested. Sometimes it feels itchy, too.

Stagnant qi then transforms into either Heat or Ascending Qi.

In the former the individual feels hot, bothered, red-eyed, irritable, and may find it hard to sleep. If there is also phlegm (see below) then you get sinus, ear and gland problems, with Heat too! (That means pain and probably offensive smells too! Sorry.)

In the latter, there is agitation, restlessness, anxiety and even panic as stagnant qi escapes into disturbance of the Shen, the spirit. (Spirit here shouldn't be interpreted as akin to the Christian concept of Spirit. Here 'spirit' means the 'spirits' of the individual, as in 'high-spirited', or 'in low spirits'.)

If stagnant qi attacks Kidney qi, not only is there desire to urinate, but perhaps noises in the ear - tinnitus. (This is because, in Chinese medicine, the Kidney zang is said to rule the hearing and ears.)

In the abdomen, there may be swelling or distension. This isn't necessarily from gas, but may be. When pressed the area may be sore, and the local distension may appear to move around.

With distension comes a feeling of stretching, cramping or burning. Clothes are loosened. Sometimes you feel a band round your centre.

Circulation: feeling too hot, too cold, sweating even though you aren't exercising.

What's going on here?

Until now, symptoms have been more transient, and haven't really affected you deeply, though they may have been uncomfortable.

But now, as the situation develops and you can't either change or avoid what's making it worse, your symptoms move increasingly to the interior of the body and the mind.

The longer the stress continues the more likely becomes chronic damage.

For example, stomach or bowels lose their elasticity, or become permanently inflamed, lungs become congested with phlegm (if you're a smoker, you now can't stop smoking because smoking temporarily helps shift the mucus), cravings develop for sweet food or alcohol.

As the condition develops, its original sources are forgotten: tension has now become permanent, and your body displays continuing or frequent headaches; women now get premenstrual pain every month; there is some loss of spirit; sleep and energy suffer (either you can't get to sleep or you wake around or after 3am and worry). 

Doctors diagnose clinical depression and irritable bowel syndrome and/or cystitis, and prescribe mild anti-depressants etc. Patients worry that they are allergic to certain foods or drinks and spend fortunes getting tests to find out which.

So from being merely stagnant qi that tried to escape upward, it has now 'attacked' the centre, and your 'spirit'. The longer it goes on the more it will prevent Blood from flowing smoothly, leading to symptoms of Blood Stagnation.

What makes Qi Stagnation Worse?

Well, first of all, increased or prolonged stress makes it worse.

The following have the dubious advantages of making qi stagnation at first feel better, but later feel worse. (Technically, the Primary action seems beneficial so we discount or 'overlook' the Secondary action.)

So, certain things do make us worse, but temporarily they make us feel better.

Briefly, they are either drugs or stimulants:

  • Coffee and other stimulants containing, for example, caffeine.
  • Alcohol: in small quantities alcohol allows Liver qi to circulate more smoothly, which is exactly what you want if you have Stagnant qi. Unfortunately the short term benefit is usually soon followed by its opposite. Why? Because it relaxes us and weakens our resolve! So we have a drop more, which has the same initial effect, but with the additional problem of detoxification the next day.
  • Refined, Sweet and Junk food. Actually these just stimulate the descending function of the Stomach. Eating almost anything would have this effect, but alert manufacturers market refined, sweet, salty or spicy food to keep us eating their highly profitable products.

All such foods are high in calories, salt, sugar or sweeteners, none of which are much good for us, fattening and disturbing the healthy levels of our blood and our acid/alkali levels.

The long-term effects aren't noticed until clothes become tight round the waist or we realise we have become less attractive.

  • Recreational drugs: these are powerful stimulants which wipe the mental board clear and introduce new levels of disturbance as they detoxify. Temporarily they send energy downwards being calming and anaesthetising, so they feel good at the time. Alternatively they circulate Qi faster, temporarily making us feel more confident and relaxed, even excited and powerful, but their secondary action is usually detrimental: often the opposite of their Primary action.
  • Tobacco smoking is also calming. But one cigarette is never enough, is it? And it's hard to stop. And it kills you.

What REALLY helps Qi Stagnation?

In the early stages, the reduction or removal of the source of stress has an immediate ameliorating effect on Qi stagnation.

In the later stages of Qi stagnation, when symptoms have moved from the temporary to the chronic, reduction of stress may have little effect.

A holiday is good if it completely takes you away from the source of stress for long enough for your body and mind to have time to recover health. Going on holiday with your mobile switched on, texts arriving hourly and the possibility that you may be required to return to work at any time is not conducive to recovery.

The other main way to ameliorate Qi stagnation often makes you feel slightly worse at first, then better. Either that, or you may be resistant to it. What is it?


So: running, competitive sports, weight-lifting, vigorous swimming, skipping (just some examples). But a brisk walk or a quick bicycle ride both work. 

However, if you've accepted that qi stagnation eventually attacks the centre - and the mental sphere - the less you compress the centre, the better. So if you cycle, use upright, not underslung, handlebars.

Canoeing is good, but it doesn't exercise the legs and is arguably not so beneficial for the abdomen: indeed any seated sport, including cycling is less beneficial. (But better some exercise than none).

Basketball, football, rugby and racket sports that require you to run, jump, bend, stretch are excellent. (Unless they lead to physical damage - but many would argue that this possibility increases the enjoyment.)

Also excellent are Tai Qi and Yoga, the former being preferable: Qigong is splendid. Why do I prefer Tai Qi to Yoga? Only because it involves movement, where much of Yoga is static. (However, I confess that I do Yoga, not Tai Qi. But I also run to a gym several times a week, and walk a lot.)

By exercise we mean something that moves your body.

The more you move your whole body and get out of breath, preferably from using your whole body, the better you'll feel.

For those less flexible, gardening is good, except it doesn't always get you out of breath, and it can impose heavy lifting or one-sided strains. Gardening is good in another way because it makes you concentrate on something other than the source of your stress.

Getting out of breath is good. Anything that flexes your spine in all directions and makes you stretch, bend and reach is great.

Sex is good, unless your energy is low: the more movement the better so solitary masturbation may be not so good. If your energy is low or you find it exhausting, sex is not recommended.

What Else?
Well, of course, you need to change the situation that's causing your problem, but that's often easier said than done.

Sometimes you can just walk away from it, take the loss - the 'hit', but begin to 'live' again.

Sometimes that's impossible because of people who depend on you. In that case you need to talk to someone who can help you understand your situation, your reaction to it, and how to disentangle yourself from it. That can take time and money, though don't overlook your acupuncturist. He or she may understand more than you think and be able to talk you through it.

In the end, you'll still have to deal with the problem either by asserting your rights or walking away from it.

Social Activities

Social activity? We don't mean activity using electronics (computer, cell-phone, telephone ...Skype, Facebook, email ...)!

We do mean meeting people you like, in person, walking and talking, eating and drinking (- but enjoyably, of course. Don't talk to people you don't like because we told you to: that might only make you cross.) In short, to undo Qi stagnation, relax with other people.

We mean socialising, preferably with laughter - unforced. Wine and dine, visit the cinema together, go dancing or hiking or cycling or swimming together (just some examples!).

Do it away from work if you can.

You can talk about whatever bothers you or just enjoy the company.

Did we really say 'wine' up there?

Yes, we did say 'wine' (and dine) up there, although it doesn't have to be wine. But if you can relax without alcohol, or other drugs, even better.

As most of us know, the second glass of alcohol always seems a good idea after the first, and then the third, well it seems to come right after the second.

Maybe better not to start. But a little alcohol does often temporarily help the symptoms of qi stagnation.

What about trying to get to sleep?

What if you have the symptoms of Qi stagnation and the tension stops you sleeping? What might help, in addition to the above (... did we mention exercise? I think we did ...)

So what about ...

Of course! They all help. But you do need to practise them before you start getting Qi Stagnation. No point sitting down to meditate only after you feel tense. Learn to meditate first, then you can use it when you need to.

What if your problem is different: that whether you are tense or not you cannot sleep? Click on difficulty falling asleep.

What else can you do to help yourself?

1. If you would like to learn more (much more!) about Qi Stagnation and how to use it to your benefit, I invite you to read my book on the subject, see below.

When I started it, I expected to write no more than about 80 pages - even so, rather more than just this page that you're looking at!

But then I realised that the many forms of Qi Stagnation, (for example affecting the Lungs, the Heart, the Bladder, the Stomach, the Spleen etc) each needed a chapter to do them justice.

And the unifying concept behind the whole idea, obvious to me but apparently not to others, even to other acupuncturists, also needed explanation. So that went into the Introduction and first seven chapters.

So the book grew. People tell me, however, that it is very easy to read. Some say that my various enthusiasms, which found their way into it, help to make it a lot more interesting than you'd expect from the title.

And that title? Why call it such an obscure name, which most people don't even know how to pronounce?!

That's because I am pretty sure that as Chinese medicine becomes more well known in the West, some of its terms - like Yin and Yang, for instance - will come to be part of our language.

If I'm right, 'Qi Stagnation' will become one of those terms and people will want to know what it is. If so, here's the book!

2. If these options fail, or don't work fully, then your condition is chronic and your Qi Stagnation will benefit from treatment. However, be aware that when a condition has become chronic, other syndromes will also have appeared and will need to be treated.


Booking Consultations with Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott

Click here to see when Jonathan is available, or to BOOK your appointment online. 

Alternatively, ring him on 07950 012501 or freephone (only free to telephone within the UK) 0800 298 7015.

3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!

By the author of this website, it explains in simple English how to use stress to improve and enhance your life.

For the Latest Reviews of 'Qi Stagnation', click here!

NB You can also order 'Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress' from your bookseller.

Why Wait until your symptoms go chronic?!

Acupuncture usually stops chronic symptoms developing in the first place! By receiving acupuncture treatment early, you'll find yourself much more able to face and deal with the underlying cause of your problems in an objective, equable and relaxed manner. Just as important, you won't develop the long-term chronic symptoms described above.

Return from Qi Stagnation to Acupuncture Theory

Return from Qi Stagnation to Qi.

Have You experienced Qi Stagnation?

If you've ever experienced Qi stagnation, what was it like? Did you have symptoms we didn't mention? Would you be willing to share your symptoms with others, so everyone gets better at realising when they have it? Do also include what the cause of your symptoms was if you want to.

(By the way, we don't publish your contact details without your permission.)

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