Qi Stagnation and Stress: what to do to relieve stress.

Man holding an upside down broken mirror with his own reflection on it
Photo by Jhonis Martins from Pexels

Key Learning Points

  • Qi Stagnation? The effects of stress. You experience it as a stagnant qi ‘blockage’, emotional or physical. 
  • Gradually it penetrates further into your system, with more serious stress symptoms.
  • Qi Stagnation Foods – what to eat and what to avoid to help to relieve stress
  • Acupuncture points for Qi stagnation and stress

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

Qi Stagnation works rather like a roadblock, or a traffic jam. In fact that’s how I describe its action in my book, see sidebar, and below.

Frustration, tension, hindrance and STRESS – all examples! It’s an idea from which many acupuncturists have made a fortune!


A Traffic Jam is like Qi Stagnation
Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

And they deserved it!

To understand stagnant qi, you first need to understand Qi. As you’ll realise when reading the linked page there, Qi underlies the universe. It’s a fundamental building block, preceding matter. If you’re reading this, you have it. For health, you must allow it to move and change. Among the worst things you can do are waste it, or block it.

Blocking it, and the symptoms and diseases that arise from blocking it, are what this page is about.


What is Qi Stagnation?

When your Qi doesn’t flow, you feel discomfort. It could be physical, it could be emotional.
(By the way, Qi stagnation is a ‘syndrome‘ in Chinese medicine.)
In its early stages or if the reason for it is temporary, you may hardly notice your symptoms. Or you may experience them as mild, passing irritations at the waywardness of life.

At this early, temporary level, how would you notice it in someone else? That 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. Some feel depressed.

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

People used to light a cigarette. Or they chewed gum – they still do! You’ll see why in a moment.

Also, people move with a rhythmic pattern, tapping fingers or feet.

When the cause ceases, they stop doing it.

As Qi stagnation continues, what happens as Conditions Worsen?

As the symptoms become more severe, or last longer, there will be some damage. 

For example, people:
  • grind their teeth,
  • bite their fingernails,
  • chew their lips,
  • pick their noses,
  • pick at spots,
  • scratch themselves again and again.


Scratch that itch - from qi stagnation?!

Here the damage is usually temporary. The body soon repairs the fingernail, replaces skin, grows more nose! 

But suppose the trigger or cause of the Qi stagnation continues or worsens?

What happens depends on the individual’s

  • strength,
  • self-discipline and
  • constitution: the ability to endure adverse circumstances.


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

Age, experience and good health increase the ability to resist stress or at least to show less signs of it. Self-discipline helps. People with a military background often cope well.

But if you can’t tolerate it, what happens?

Signs usually intensify first in the upper parts – head and arms. You get tension headaches and sore neck muscles. Then comes swearing, shouting, gesticulating. Chewing teeth together becomes bruxism, grinding teeth down. It takes a while to grow teeth back! So this is more serious.

Click to read what happened to Linda!

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.

Some people compress it all inwards: not good for emotional health. Often not good for physical health either! You may get IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – if you stick it in your gut, or migraines if it goes to your Liver.

Liver Qi Stagnation Tongue

In the early stages of qi stagnation, the tongue doesn’t change much: it looks normal.

As qi stagnation worsens and particularly affects the Liver, the sides of the tongue may show signs of heat, and go a bit red. When and if it goes further into your system, affecting digestion and breathing, signs of these conditions begin to appear on your tongue. For example, check Stomach Qi Stagnation.

Q Stagnation Pulse

The qi stagnation pulse is wiry

Qi stagnation produces a wiry pulse. As it affects the Liver mostly, you feel this wiry pulse first on the left wrist in the middle position, over the radial bone. In the image above, you’d feel for it under the top-left angle-point of the triangle. (I’ve no idea whether the drawings mean anything other than mountains!)

Is there a Qi Stagnation Type?

Although everyone gets Qi stagnation from time to time because it’s part of life, some types are more prone to it.

For example, if you know anything about homoeopathy – and whether or not you accept it! – it does describe different kinds of people and the kinds of ill-health they typically experience. 

One particular type – described as Nux Vomica – is especially prone to qi stagnation:

  • Physically they are ‘rather thin, spare, quick, nervous and irritable’.
  • Often sedentary ‘they remain under stress and strain from prolonged office work, with business cares and worries’.
  • ‘Such persons in order to forget their worries are apt to indulge in wine, women, rich stimulant foods and sedative drugs: with ill-effects from which they are prone to suffer.’


You probably know people like this! Suitably adapted it applies to many women too! (By the way, I’ve quoted from Materia Medica by Dr S.R.Phatak, a text I consult very frequently.)

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 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. This displays another aspect of Liver qi stagnation: ‘Wind‘, which shows up as movement.


Stagnant Qi tries to burst out!

Burst of Energy:  how energy feels as it tries to burst out!
Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

Then Stagnant 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. Qi stagnation then transforms into either Heat, or movement and Ascending Qi.

(Think what happens to a balloon as you try to compress it. It pushes out in other directions, between your fingers – assuming you don’t burst it! Compression also makes it hot.)

Stagnant qi tries to escape as (what Chinese medicine calls) ‘rebellious’ qi. For example, cough or nausea (food pushed up instead of down), with appetite loss.
Heat may appear initially as the desire to loosen or remove clothing. If the Heat persists for too long, it may produce a rash.
Or, stagnant qi starts to spread into other areas.  In your digestion it may cause burning or bowel pain or the urge to urinate.
Another way ‘stagnant qi’ pushes out is not just at your lungs but at your circulation and heart. So some people with qi stagnation get cold hands, for example, as blood vessels constrict.

Whatever! Stagnant Qi tries to burst out, almost like a firework.

If it changes form into heat, you feel hot, bothered, red-eyed, irritable, and it’s 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 offensive smells too! Sorry.)

When it becomes movement, you get agitation, restlessness, anxiety and even panic. This is because it disturbs the Shen, the spirit. (Spirit here is not 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 noises in the ear – tinnitus. (This is because, in Chinese medicine, the Kidney zang rules your ears and your hearing.) For some the pressure builds into hypertension, high blood pressure.

Abdominal Effects of Qi Stagnation

As your body fails to externalise qi stagnation as Heat or Movement, it presses inwards.
By the way, why might your body fail to externalise it?
Could this be because you impose targets on yourself?
Or is your behaviour incompatible with release or transformation of qi so that you:
  • have to hold your tongue, or
  • must work late to meet a deadline, or
  • stop yourself screaming because it would set the wrong example?
  • Are you trying to achieve too many things at once?
  • You’re in an intolerable situation, hard to avoid?


Your Abdomen is your soft centre.

Your abdomen is often where you feel qi stagnation.

Qi stagnation presses onto your digestion and bowels.

So in your abdomen, you feel swelling or distension. This isn’t always from gas, but may be. When pressed the area may be sore, and the local distension may appear to move around. Almost like bubbles of stuff deep inside.

With distension comes a feeling of stretching, distension, cramping or burning. You want to loosen clothing and release tight belts. Sometimes you feel a band round your centre.

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

Qi Stagnation Periods

Women get this distending, stretching sensation as qi stagnation builds before their menses. They may already be under mental pressure (from career and family demands). Now it’s physical too. And all the tension down there puts them off sex, a tragedy if they’re trying to conceive.

It often makes them weepy with frustration. But qi stagnation periods can be painful, very painful. (Eventually, as the qi stagnation  spreads deeper, it can lead to Blood Stasis, with tangible lumps and stabbing pains.)


What’s going on here?

Until now, stagnant qi symptoms have been more transient. That means they haven’t affected you deeply, though they may have been uncomfortable.

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

Chest Damage from Qi Stagnation

Sometimes this precedes and sometimes it follows abdominal symptoms.

What would you feel as Qi stagnation pressure expands in your chest?

  • Chest feels tight – you can’t get your breath – you start worrying about asthma, which it isn’t: yet!
  • Throat feels blocked – the Chinese called this ‘plum-stone’ throat blockage
  • Heart beat does funny things – too fast, too slow, misses a beat.
  • Chest gets itchy
  • You start getting colds more often and breathing gets blocked by phlegm
  • Some get hot flushes as Qi transforms into Heat and the body responds with perspiration. Disconcerting and embarrassing!
  • … I’m sure you’ll think of more examples!

Chest problems often start with qi stagnation.

Chronic Damage

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

For example …

  • Stomach or intestines lose their elasticity or become inflamed
  • Lungs congest with phlegm. (If you’re a smoker, you now can’t stop smoking because smoking helps shift the mucus)
  • Why that cigarette? Because smoking in effect makes you sigh. This is a downward-acting movement that relaxes you. Like swallowing – see next below – it takes Qi downwards.
  • Cravings develop for sweet, spicy or salty food and/or alcohol. When you swallow something, it takes qi downwards. This counteracts the ascending tendency mentioned earlier. Unfortunately most such foods and alcohol have secondary effects that tend to be heating. So you need another sweet or – just one more – drop of the hard stuff!


The Next stage as Qi Stagnation penetrates within

As the condition develops, you forget its original causes. Tension is now permanent. Your body gets other signs of its tension, like continuing or frequent headaches. Women get premenstrual pain every month.
There is some loss of spirit, and sleep and energy suffer. Either you can’t get to sleep, or around or soon after 3am you wake and worry.
Doctors now diagnose
They prescribe mild anti-depressants. You worry about allergies to foods or drinks. You spend a fortune on tests to find out which.

So from being stagnant qi that tried to escape upward, it has now ‘attacked’ the centre, and your ‘spirit’.

That can lead to yang deficiency.

If you keep working long-hours in deadening conditions, you’ll get symptoms of yin deficiency too. Along with headaches or even migraines as well?

The longer it goes on the more Qi stagnation prevents Blood from flowing smoothly. That leads to Blood Stagnation. (You get Blood Stagnation anyway as you age, but try to delay its arrival for as long as possible!)

Examples of Blood Stagnation? Lots, but check Stomach Blood Stasis.

Qi stagnation can lead to Heart Qi Stagnation. You don’t want that! That can lead on to Heart Blood stagnation. (Yes, you’re right, that can look like heart attack or stroke.)


With qi stagnation, one thing can lead to another, just as dominoes knock each other down.

What makes Qi Stagnation Worse?

Well, first of all,

  • Increased or prolonged stress makes it worse. Then …
  • Environmental conditions may worsen whatever form your Qi stagnation is turning into.
  • For example, if your Qi stagnation makes you hot, then you won’t enjoy the heat of summer. Sunstroke and heatwave would be worse still.
  • If stagnant qi makes you restless, twitchy and cross, then wind-like conditions will too. For example, windows banging from drafts, and – especially – other twitchy demanding people (like small children) will make it worse. So while fresh air is better for breathing and keeping cool at night, when Qi stagnation means your mind can’t settle into sleep, if it’s windy – well! – Close the window! 
  • Likewise, haste is bad. Make speed, not haste!


The following make qi stagnation at first better, but later worse. (Technically, the Primary action seems beneficial so we discount or ‘overlook’ the Secondary action.)

So, certain things make us worse, but to start with 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 stagnant qi to circulate more smoothly, which is exactly what you want. 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 problem of detoxification the next day. In the meantime, Heat.
  • Refined, Sweet and Junk food. Actually these stimulate the descending function of the Stomach. Eating almost anything would have this effect! Yet, alert manufacturers market refined, sweet, salty or spicy food to keep us eating their highly profitable products.


Woman holding donut - the kind of food that worsens qi stagnation!

All such foods are high in calories, salt, sugar or sweeteners.  Most are fattening and disturb healthy levels of our blood and acid/alkali levels. Long-term, clothes get tight and we become less attractive.


  • Recreational drugs. These are powerful stimulants. They wipe your mind clear and introduce new levels of disturbance as your liver detoxifies them. Temporarily they send energy down, being calming and anaesthetising, so they feel good at the time. Alternatively these drugs circulate Qi faster, temporarily making us feel confident and relaxed, even excited and powerful. But their secondary action is detrimental: often the opposite of their Primary action.
  • Tobacco smoking is also calming. It stimulates your Lungs to send energy down. But one cigarette is never enough, is it? And it’s hard to stop. And it kills you.


What REALLY helps Qi Stagnation and Stress?

In the early stages, removing the source of stress immediately relieves Qi stagnation.
Later, when symptoms become chronic, stress reduction has little effect.
holiday can be good! But it must take you away from the source of stress for long enough for your body and mind to have time to recover health. Hourly messages and the possibility you must return to work are not conducive to recovery.
At this stage, with chronic stress symptoms, what you can do changes somewhat, but there is still one way to help.
This, the other main way to help Qi stagnation often makes you feel worse at first, then better. Either that, or you may be resistant to it. It is often one of the best stress relief techniques. It is also a natural stress relief activity! What is it?


Exercise is one of the Best Stress Relievers!

So: running, competitive sports, weight-lifting, vigorous swimming, skipping (some examples).

But a brisk walk or a quick bicycle ride both work for qi stagnation!


Running in the woods: a great way to dissipate qi stagnation.
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay


If you accept 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 under-slung, handlebars.
Canoeing is good. However, it doesn’t exercise your legs and is not so good 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 make you run, jump, bend, stretch? All are excellent! Unless they lead to physical damage – but 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 for qi stagnation? Only because it involves movement, where much of Yoga is static. (However, I confess that I do Yoga, not Tai Qi. But I often cycle, 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. But gardening is good in another way: it makes you concentrate on something other than 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. Read sexual impotence.

What Else can I add?

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 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 must talk with someone who can help 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 help 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 and Qi Stagnation

People eating and having fun together: helps to release qi stagnation.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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. Don’t talk to people you don’t like: that might only make you cross. In short, to undo Qi stagnation, relax with other people.


We mean socialising, with laughter – unforced. Wine and dine, visit the cinema together, go dancing or hiking or cycling or swimming together (some examples!). (Yes I know, not so easy during Lockdown!)

Do it away from work if you can.

You can talk about what 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. 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.

Better not to start. But a little alcohol does often temporarily help the symptoms of qi stagnation. If just a little of it helps you relax and enjoy the company faster, go for it. (If you must have more, drink water regularly in between sips of alcohol).

What about trying to get to sleep?

Suppose you have the symptoms of Qi stagnation and tension stops you sleeping?

What might help, besides the above (… did we mention exercise? I think we did …)

So what about …

  • mental relaxation exercises for both mental stress and chronic stress?
  • meditation?
  • massage?


Man sitting on cliff - try Meditation to Manage Qi Stagnation!


Of course! They all help. But with meditation, practise before you get 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. Here’s the link – again – to a meditation system that many use and which is thousands of years old,  so ..it’s been tried and tested. Worth a try!

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

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What else can you do to help yourself for stagnant Qi?

  • The Five Elements acupuncture system explains how to live with qi stagnation in one area of life by keeping things – qi – flowing in other areas. Read that linked page for an explanation.
  • 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.


Qi Stagnation Book Cover

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!

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.

Easy to read!

So the book grew. People tell me that it is easy to read. Some say that my various enthusiasms help make it 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 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. Well, here’s the book!

  • If these options fail then your condition is chronic and your Qi Stagnation needs treatment. (When your condition is chronic, your body has given up trying to get better, and has entered a steady-state. Here, with luck, it prevents your symptoms from getting worse.)


To get better from a chronic condition needs treatment from outside oneself. For example, I recommend acupuncture. (Remember, Qi Stagnation is the Jewel in the Crown!)

However, by the time a condition has become chronic, other syndromes will also have appeared and will need treatment.

Qi Stagnation Diet

Which Qi Stagnation foods are good and which are not? 

In other words, if you have Qi Stagnation, how should you change your diet and what should  you avoid? And why?

First problem – Qi Stagnation and Our individual makeup!

Each of us develops not just some of the main symptoms of Qi stagnation, but our own particular variety of them.

For example, if you’re a woman, you may notice symptoms before your menses, when stagnant qi causes swelling and distension, and besides, it worsens your back pain. Around 4pm you also feel very tired. For you, the qi stagnation is putting an extra strain on your Kidney qi which is why you get the back pain and 4pm droop.

For me? Well, first I’m male, so no menses. But along with some bowel pattern changes I get itchy skin on the sides of my chest and keep needing to yawn. In my case, qi stagnation is picking up on my history of chest and respiratory complaints – weak Lung qi.

Someone with Stomach Qi deficiency might lose his appetite or even feel nauseous.

Everyone has a weak area, something that lets them down under stress. You might not know what it is but sooner or later, it will keep happening – more often as you grow older.

The more you ‘behave’, the less of a problem it will be. But still, it’s always in the background. Unless of course, you’ve taken action to minimise it, such as with appropriate treatment.

Second Problem and your idiosyncratic reaction to Qi stagnation foods

You might not like some of the Qi stagnation foods listed, or your reaction might be unusual!

You might just be the one in 10 million people who, after eating a given food, goes green, sprouts leaves and ends up looking like a tree.

bonzai plant
There’s always one! Photo by Alex Holyoake

Statistically, they tell me there’s always one. (!)


It’s an individual matter!

So  … the point is, the foods listed below may or may not suit you. If some don’t, try others!

Before choosing your foods for Qi stagnation, think for a moment!

Qi is a manifestation of Yang energy. If you know anything about balancing yin and yang, you’ll realise that yang takes form as movement and heat: together these form pressure. They overcome yin forms, such as coolness, resilience and resources – and Blood

So if you think about what happens to you as Qi stagnates, you get one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Because you can’t move, Heat and Excess yang build up. This is just like in a traffic jam, when cars overheat and owners get hot with impatience.
  • Blood energy reduces, tending towards various forms of Blood deficiency, such as Liver Blood Deficiency
  • Via Five Element theory, Wood invades and weakens Earth (Stomach and Spleen) – your digestion – and
  • Wood stultifies Metal (Lung and Large intestine) – your respiration and calmness
Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

So – because we’re all different – you need to choose from the foods that

  • Reduce Heat
  • Dissipate Excess yang
  • Support and invigorate Blood
  • Steady Stomach and Spleen
  • Energise Lungs and Large intestine


There are also some foods that seem to benefit the Liver and Gallbladder, easing their excesses and regulating how they work.

And there are some foods that almost certainly make Qi stagnation worse. I list them below the main table.

In the table below listing foods for Qi stagnation, do bear in mind that …

  1. Some foods do more than one thing, and their actions in Chinese medicine depend on how you cook and eat them. For more on this read our page on Nutrition. In some cases, a very little of the food will fulfil its function – for example: wine! To ease Qi stagnation, no more than half a glass of it, at most! The rest of the glass you drink for other reasons which may worsen your Qi stagnation.
  2. In other cases, too much of the food will bring other actions. For example, chicken. Chicken soup is good for convalescents. But too much chicken is heating so will worsen you if your main symptoms from Qi stagnation include Heat.
  3. As mentioned above (under 1.) some foods are in more than one column, and almost all listed could be in more than one column. The trouble is, if I do that, it gets to be very confusing for people new to all this.
  4. Also, please assume I’ve made at least one mistake in the table, so don’t go overboard on this. If you think you have Qi stagnation, try a bit of the food that seems right for you and take note of how it makes you feel. It’s your individual reaction that matters, not what I tell you  should happen!
  5. Oh! And please read my disclaimer.


Certified organic shitake pack - may ease Qi Stagnation.

Stress Relief – Some of the best Stress relieving foods – Foods for Qi Stagnation symptoms

FoodReduces Heat


Excess Yang

Steadies Earth & Supports BloodEnergises MetalHarmonise Liver
Asparagus Asparagus   
Barley  Barley  
Basil   Basil 
Basil  Basil  
Bayleaf   Bayleaf 
Bean curd  Bean curd  
Beef  Beef  
Beets  Beets  
Bitter gourd  Bitter gourd  
Black Pepper   Black pepper
Black sesame seed   Black sesame seed
Broccoli  Broccoli  
Brussels sprouts  Brussels sprouts 
Cabbage  Cabbage  
Caraway seed  Caraway seed  
Cardamom   Cardamom
Cauliflower  Cauliflower  
Celery  Celery  
Chamomile flowerChamomile flower  
Cherries  Cherries  
Chestnut  Chestnut  
Chicken  Chicken  
Chicory    Chicory
Chinese dates  Chinese dates  
Chives    Chives
Cider vinegar Cider vinegar  Cider vinegar
Cinnamon bark  Cinnamon bark  
Clove  Clove  
Corn silk    Corn silk
Cucumber  Cucumber  
Cumin   Cumin 
Dandelion root Dandelion root   
Dill   Dill 
Eggplant  Eggplant  
Fennel   Fennel 
Fennel  Fennel  
Fig  Fig  
Ginger  Ginger  
Ginseng (American) Ginseng (American) 
Grapefruit Grapefruit   
Hawthorn fruit    Hawthorn fruit
Honey  Honey  

Job’s tears

  Job’s tears  


Kohlrabi  Kohlrabi  
Leek    Leek
Lemon Balm  Lemon Balm Lemon Balm
Lettuce  Lettuce  
Lime Lime   
Longan  Longan  
Loquat    Loquat
Lychee    Lychee
Malt  Malt  
Maltose  Maltose  
Marjoram   Marjoram
Milk (cow)  Milk (cow)  
Milk thistle seeds Milk thistle seeds   
Mint   Mint 
Mung BeansMung Beans   
Mung Beans  Mung Beans  
Muskmelon  Muskmelon  
Mustard Greens   Mustard GreensCelery
Olive  Olive  
Onion   Onion 
Peach  Peach  
Peanuts  Peanuts  
Pear  Pear  
Peppermint    Peppermint
Pinenuts  Pinenuts  
Pork  Pork  
Quinoa Quinoa   
Radish leaves Radish leaves   
Rhubarb rootRhubarb root   
Romaine lettuce Romaine lettuce   
Rosemary   Rosemary
Rye Rye   
Shiitake mushroom Shiitake mushroom 
Sour plum    Sour plum
Squash  Squash  
Star anise  Star anise  
Strawberry  Strawberry  
String beans  String beans  
Sweet rice  Sweet rice  
Tangerine  Tangerine  
Taro root  Taro root  
Turmeric   Turmeric 
Turnips  Turnips  
Water chestnut  Water chestnut  
Watercress   WatercressWatercress
Watermelon  Watermelon  
Wine    Wine

Foods that may WORSEN Qi Stagnation!

To recap! As mentioned above, the foods you do want to eat will:

  • Reduce Heat
  • Dissipate Excess yang
  • Support and invigorate Blood
  • Steady Stomach and Spleen
  • Energise Lungs and Large intestine


So the foods that do the opposite will tend to worsen Qi stagnation:

  • Increase Heat
  • increase Yang
  • Weaken Blood
  • Undermine digestion
  • Weaken Lung qi


Nobody will agree with all my following suggestions, of course, but to worsen your Qi stagnation, here’s a list.


If you have Qi stagnation DO NOT EAT :

Highly spiced food initially stimulates Lung qi but later causes Heat.
Curry may cause Heat. Photo by Yevgen Tarasov

1/ Foods that increase Heat and Yang

You increase Heat and Yang with strong spices, chilli, pepper, horseradish etc. Initially these stimulate Lung qi, being pungent, but later they produce Heat, usually exacerbating Qi stagnation symptoms.

2/  Alcohol increases Heat and Yang

Strong alcohol, spirits, schnapps, brandy, whisky etc or lots of red wine, sherry, port etc. In small quantities, alcohol eases qi stagnation, but in larger or stronger quantities, it overworks your Liver, leading to more Heat. That worsens Qi stagnation.

3/ Fat, grease, oil.

We need the right oils in the right quantities. Too much of even the right oils and too much of the wrong oils cause heating. Avoid hydrogenated oils: they are poisonous. Don’t eat oils that are rancid or smell fishy. Avoid man-made oils like margarine and those used in large quantities in baking. Beware oil used many times in deep-frying. Avoid too many nuts, especially fatty nuts like macadamia, good though these are in small quantities. Read a wonderful book on fats, explaining lots you never knew (well, speaking for myself!): Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus.

4/ Medications

 Many prescribed medications upset your Liver. So also do many self-prescribed medications, like paracetamol. Many medications that suppress symptoms often have the opposite effect. Read two pages on this: the first is our page on Suppression. The second is Primary and Secondary actions of foods, herbs and drugs

5/ Social drugs, illegal drugs?

Think what they do! If they make you fidgety, hyper, ‘wired’, they increase Yang. Not good for Qi stagnation, at least not the next day!

If social drugs make you feel all powerful, flowing, magnificent, they are temporarily sweeping aside the resistance your body’s qi stagnation has created – their primary effect (you DID read that link above didn’t you?!). When the secondary effect kicks in, you’ll be dying for more of the drug! And not feeling well, most likely: the secondary effect!

6/ Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals

Science has enormously enhanced modern life. In so doing, it has introduced chemicals of all sorts, from plastic bags to air fresheners, hair lotions to preservatives. Yes, it’s great: life is easier with them. BUT … when they get into your body something has to break them down, and it’s called your liver. Your liver works hard at this, and in doing so creates HEAT. That heat emerges as rashes, irritability, headaches, eye irritations, upset digestions and so on. Look at the list produced by the Huff post!

7/ Poor food choices

  • You weaken your digestion and get phlegm from eating SWEET, SUGARY food.
  • You also get this from DAIRY foods, like cream, cheese, yogurt, milk, and ice-cream.
  • Along with many of the products mentioned in this page’s DO NOT EAT list, they produce Stomach Qi stagnation as well. That’s something else you could do without!
Stomach Qi stagnation makes you more susceptible to Qi Stagnation in general.


A Simple DIY solution to Qi Stagnation

What simple action can most people take to ease their qi stagnation? If you’ve read this far (well done!), you should already be taking more exercise.

Cider vinegar for Qi stagnation
Photo by acupuncture-points.org
Buy organic apple cider vinegar. Every morning, immediately after rising, even before going to the loo, put a tablespoonful into a mug of warm water and sip it. Yes, it’s sour. (You could add a little organic honey, if you insist.) But after a few days you’ll look forward to it.

What does Chinese medicine offer Qi stagnation and Stress?

Well, as Chinese medicine has been around for around 3000 years, it has had time to reflect on the matter. It has a range of possible therapies. It has great herbal prescriptions, but someone must tailor them for you, the individual.


Qi stagnation Acupuncture Treatment!

Yes, there is a basic formula for qi stagnation!
And there are lots of other point combinations!
How you use them depends on the particular patient and his or her idiosyncratic reactions to life.

The ‘Four Gates’ formula

Here’s the basic formula called the ‘four gates’. Why these points work is explained further down.

  • Large Intestine 4 – Hegu
  • Liver 3 – Taichong


Point combinations better than this depend on how Qi stagnation is affecting the patient.

Qi stagnation –

  • Qi stagnation increases yang at the expense of yin so …
  • It increases Heat and Wind and decreases Blood, Nutrition, relaxation
  • Heat and Wind create pressure
  • That pressure compresses, constricts, tightens other areas and functions of the body
  • Heat rises. That causes problems in the shoulders, upper back and head, and mental dis-equilibrium
  • Wind creates movement, restlessness, twitchiness, in both body and speech


Over thousands of years acupuncturists learned what acupuncture points do. Many wrote books about it.

They found that acupuncture points have many properties. Among these are the abilities to: 

  • Move qi
  • Release qi
  • Descend qi
  • Tonify Blood
  • Move Blood
  • Dissipate Heat
  • And, in effect, to change or benefit metabolic processes


Combining Points and Channels for Qi Stagnation and as Stress Relievers

Of course they also affect the area around the point itself and the acupuncture channel on which they lie. Some points lie on more than one channel.

By combining points you may be able to do more than any one point could do on its own.

By diagnosing the patient’s condition you decide what action to take to help. If there is Heat, you use a point to clear Heat. If you diagnose which acupuncture channel is generating the Heat, choose points on that channel to clear it.
You could do something else: instead of using points to clear the Heat you could use  yin-cooling or Blood-strengthening points.

yellow and blue steel sea saw

To explain, think of a seesaw. On one side you have 6 excitable children – producing yang and heat.

On the other side is Mum, trying to control them (yin).

If Mum is stuck up in the air it is because there are too many children the other end, producing yang. How do you reduce yang? Easy, just let one child fall off (yes, yes, I know, more noise and tears, but let’s keep our mind on the seesaw not the fallen angel) and you get balance. That’s like using an acupuncture point to decrease yang.

Or Mum could shout for Dad (sulking behind a newspaper on the bench over there) to reinforce her weight and achieve balance again.

That way everyone’s pleased; you have all the delighted screaming children one end and a Mum content to have Dad beside her the other end.

And Dad?

(We don’t need to know if Dad’s happy. In fact, we know he’s not, as Mum’s just stopped him reading the Sporting pages. Thinking about this a bit more, probably Mum could have played her cards better by yelling at Dad to look after the fallen angel. That way, everyone is utilised, all the children are getting attention, and Mum’s back in control. And who cares if Dad’s still not happy?)

So if the patient is yin or blood deficient, (so making himself more susceptible to heat and tension from qi stagnation), it might be more important first to boost these yin energies, to stabilise them.
That might be all you need to do. Then the patient would feel steadier and calmer and more able to cope with the stress.

5 Elements theory

Suppose qi stagnation came from pressure to perform to imposed targets. With a knowledge of 5 Element theory, one would nearly always treat Wood.
If it was a question of self-control to avoid hysteria, or getting ‘high’, probably you’d treat Fire.
With a background of worries, say from caring for others, then you’d treat Earth.
If it came from a new order in the world, hard to accept? Problems letting go of what’s gone? An inner insistence to stand up for principles and standards? Metal.
If the problem was inability to relax? Many possibilities! Wood, Water or Earth perhaps.
If qi stagnation comes from a broken relationship, one might consider Fire and Metal. Fire, because the personal integrity has been breached: Metal because of the changed relationship.
On the other hand, if someone you cared for had died, the more pressing need might be to support Earth and Metal.


Qi Stagnation, when developed, comes with other problems

These include insomnia, headaches, tension, bowel disorders, back-pain, breathing problems and circulatory disturbances – and more!
Aching shoulders and insomnia from qi stagnation.


The patient doesn’t realise the cause is Qi stagnation. Her problem is the insomniathat’s what she wants you to fix! She’s not interested in something you call Qi stagnation.

But to ‘fix’ the insomnia, you need to deal with the Qi Stagnation. Besides acupuncture for qi stagnation and insomnia that means you need to give some advice, counselling or ‘re-education’.

Another frequent problem that accompanies Qi Stagnation is deficiency of Stomach and Spleen. In fact, this deficiency makes qi stagnation – particularly Liver qi stagnation – more likely.

As already explained on this page of Qi Stagnation, there are various ways of doing this.


Every one of these is a big subject!

Four Gate alternatives

Overuse of the same acupuncture points can make them less effective. If the patient always wants more of the same, look deeper and explore a more diverse strategy.

That will make the acupuncturist work harder, but he’ll enjoy his work more. Otherwise it becomes repetitive and he gets bored and resentful.

Taking the Four Gates, let’s examine the points used to see what other points might work. These could be either instead of or better than Liver 3 and Large Intestine 4, depending on the diagnosis.

The more your acupuncturist knows about the points and the theory the more creative he or she can be.

Liver 3

Liver 3 strengthens Blood and Yin, so calms and steadies Heat and tension. Other points that do this include – each in a different way or with a different emphasis:


Liver channel
Liver Meridian

Large Intestine 4

Large Intestine 4 disperses Wind and Heat. It helps to balance fluids and restore balance between inside and outside. (That is why we use it for attack by external pathogenic factors, like a cold.) Also, it sends energy downwards.
Moxa on Hegu
Moxibustion over Large Intestine 4, though for qi stagnation, needling it is usually better.

Here are other points that do something similar.

  • Large intestine 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11
  • Stomach 30, 41, 42, 44
  • Small intestine 3, 7, 8
  • Bladder 11, 12, 41, 43, 58, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65
  • Three Heater 2, 3, 5, 6


In addition, there are many points on the scalp that affect the Mind and send energy downwards. Other points on the feet ground it or pull it down.

Then there are the names of the points. For Liver 3 (Taichong) choose points with the word ‘chong’ (passageway) in their name to strengthen Blood.
For Large intestine 4, if the main aim is to clear Wind, choose points with ‘feng’ (Wind) in the name.

Using one of the Command points

Some points affect particular parts of the body. Using the appropriate point may increase the effect of a treatment.


These Command points come down to us from antiquity.Naturally, they do work! But sometimes I have found an even more effective point, lying along the same channel as the Command point for that area, but not where expected.

Ear and other points

There are groups of points in the ears with similar qualities, also on the forehead and hands.

As you see, there are many ways of treating qi stagnation with acupuncture.

How I do it

Pulse Taking on Left Wrist
Pulse Taking on Left Wrist
During an acupuncture treatment, I take the patient’s pulse before and usually during treatment. I keep an eye on their colour, demeanour and breathing, adjusting what I do as I go.

I also palpate the abdomen before and during treatment as this also gives me great feedback.

So it becomes an active participation, making me react as treatment progresses. When I’m sure there has been as much change as I can expect, I leave the patient to rest.

My preference, if I’ve made a good diagnosis, is to utilise 5 Element practice as much as possible. It’s economical and elegant and gives good results. But, it does need accurate diagnosis.


Other pages you may like, if you haven’t already clicked on them above:

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5 Responses

  1. Hello, nice article, especially thank you for the list of recommended foods, I would just like to know why there are foods in the list that support yang, such as qinoa or cinnamon, thank you for the explanation.

    1. Hi Lubomir

      Thanks for your question and I’m glad you like the article on Qi Stagnation.

      Quinoa does indeed tonify qi and yang, but if you look at the channels it enters, Kidney and Pericardium, these are often under strain when Liver qi stagnates. Kidney is the Mother of Liver and Pericardium the Child. Think of a tense twenty-year-old mother who lives at home with her Mum and has already had a child. If either Mum or child – or worse, both of them! – are undernourished or having problems it will tend to make the 20-year-old mother worse.

      But if you can keep the Mum and child well it will, one hopes, help to stabilise the mother. Were Mum and child also going off the rails, it would be harder to steady the mother.

      Also, the nature of quinoa is sweet and sour. The sweet taste helps to stabilise Earth and the sour taste benefits the Liver.

      Cinnamon is different.

      It’s a herb, not a food, like quinoa. So you need much less of it and Chinese herbalists classify it among herbs that warm and release the Exterior.

      This means that it disperses symptoms like wind-cold-damp which often bind the gallbladder channel, easing out tense shoulders, for example. The same function helps dysmenorrhoea, especially from cold or tension.

      More important is that it adjusts the balance between the protective (wei) and nutritive (ying) energy functions. Read more about this on our page https://www.acupuncture-points.org/nutritive-and-defensive-qi-disharmony.html

      It also eases the flow of yang qi in the chest, helping one to breathe more freely, often a problem if you’re tense from qi stagnation.

      Usually one takes cinnamon as part of formula of herbs, each of which helps the others. The cinnamon one buys as a cooking herb is less powerful, but even so, one would usually combine it with other flavours in a dish.

      One would not use the herb cinnamon in a strong excess yang condition such as when there was Heat in the Blood, or for a warm febrile condition. It is a herb for cold, tense conditions.

      Your question exposes the problem of making lists! Really every item listed should have a longer description to explain its presence. Like acupuncture points, every food or herb has its own qualities and the two thousand-plus years of experience is there for our potential benefit.

      Best wishes

  2. thanks a lot for this information. i have suffered from phlegm since my 20s as a result of second hand smoke from a stove which destroyed my sinuses, throat and lungs. i cannot sleep todate as phlegm is still a problem. i am off all fats and fried foods; i use olive oil and little. phlegm cannot go away and worse when finished eating! i have halitosis as phlegm is stuck in my head, tonsils, throat that i REMOVE it using fingures!!!!!!!!! ENT doctors have failed and made it worse by removing my nose turbinates!!!!!!!!! i only use honey. Please, do you have anything that can cure or help me? I am now 52yrs old female. Please reply. i also need to buy your books on managing stress.

    1. Sorry to hear about your phlegm. It seems the smoke and Heat damaged not just your sinuses but also your Stomach’s ‘descending’ energy and your Lungs’ dispersing/diffusing facility.

      So stuff that should descend and pass out through your digestion fails to descend – a kind of nausea or reflux of phlegm. This Stomach function of ‘descending’ and your Lungs function of dispersing is easily worsened by stress, anxiety and other emotions which upset your Liver energy. (Your Liver energy then overwhelms your Lungs’ and Stomach’s normal functions, so all this probably affects your appetite too. Read my page on the Five Elements, in particular the paragraph on the ‘ke’ cycle.)

      There may also be an accumulation of ‘Damp‘.

      Probably, all this phlegm is an attempt by your body to apply a kind of salve over the burnt tissues.

      Of course I’d be very happy if you bought my book on Qi stagnation and Stress (!) but on this occasion I would instead suggest that you bought Andrew Sterman’s book “Welcoming Food’ volume 1 and look up the pages on phlegm (check its index). He lists the kind of foods and herbs that might hinder or help you. My book “Yuck Phlegm” may help too.

      However, you’ve had this problem a long time and I think you may need some individual treatment, probably with Chinese herbal formulae, though acupuncture may also help.

      If the underlying cause was indeed ‘Fire’ this may also be an occasion to see a homoeopath who may be able to find a homoeopathic remedy that matches the damage originally done to you.

      However, I doubt you’ll get sudden cure, whatever you try. Phlegm of your sort can be difficult to treat, even with a solid theory behind it, because your body tissues were so badly damaged originally and then possibly also by the surgery: it makes it difficult for your body to navigate its way back to health over so many damaged bridges.

      Sorry not to be more positive.

      Best wishes Jonathan

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