It’s beginning to feel a lot like springtime – the snowdrops are out, and the birds are chirping louder.
Chinese New Year usually marks the change of seasons from quiet reflectiveness of Winter into newly found expansiveness of Spring.
In Chinese Medicine the Spring season is governed by Wood element. Healthy Wood provides us with enough flexibility to pick up new innovations yet enough rigidity to follow them through with a defined plan. The Yin organ of Wood is the Liver, also referred to as the General, forming comprehensive campaigns and then seeing them through. So, I thought it fitting to greet the Spring season with a short discussion on Liver organ in Chinese Medicine and how can we nourish it simply by moving our body daily.
The Liver is a regulating, balancing and harmonising organ.
Liver stores blood and releases it as and when necessary. Hence, both precision and strength of our movements are dependent on the ability of the Liver to release the right amount of blood needed for each movement.
The movement of the Liver is free flow and expansion to all sides, and it is also responsible for free flow of our Qi energy and circulation. This function also includes free flow of emotions. The Hun (Ethereal Soul) – spirit of Liver is the one closest to Shen (Spiritual Soul) and therefore is linked with higher aspects of mental and emotional sphere. If a person is stuck for ideas this could be a manifestation of stagnant Liver energy. Two emotions which affect Liver the most are being too exited or very depressed. When Liver Qi can no longer ensure its free circulation, it becomes obstructed or knotted which leads to the person becoming oppressed, joyless, suspicious of others and mistrustful (Lung Qi submerges the emotion of the Liver – Anger via Ke cycle, overreacting).
Here is a blog on importance of dealing with emotions if you are interested.
Liver ensures the smooth and harmonious flow of Qi for:
· Emotions, ensuring that we are neither overwhelmed by emotions nor indifferent to life. It is at the root of stopping extremes.
· Digestion - Liver channel curves around the Stomach and Spleen in the Middle Burner. Hence stagnant Liver energy can manifest as distention and pain in the Stomach region as well as problems with digestion – Middle Burner (with Stomach and Spleen), IBS symptoms – bloating, flatulence, alternating constipation and loose stools.
· Secretion of bile – this is the function linking Liver to Gall Bladder – the paired organ – as Gall Bladder’s main function is storing and excreting bile.
Liver also stores the Blood – the Liver’s Blood is responsible for repetitive cycles in human life. The Liver regulates the volume of Blood in the body. When we rest the Liver replenishes Blood. Liver-Blood also regulates menstruation.
Liver moistens the sinews (tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) - capacity for contraction and relaxation – smooth movement of the joints. Hence, stuck Liver energy can manifest as cramps, impaired extension/flexion or movement of joints, pain, and rigidity of the joints (i.e., frozen shoulder).
How can we help our Liver?
As Liver’s energy is expansive, sitting still doesn’t do it any favours. It likes movement, any movement would do – even venturing to the kitchen to make a cup of tea would be greatly appreciated by it. Better still, one can shake, stretch, and flex while waiting for the kettle to boil.
Energy work exercises such as Tai chi, Qigong, yoga, and mindfulness are perfect for moving our Liver energy as they are carefully designed for rebalancing our body and mind and bring our focus to breathing and grounding.
Here is a simple Liver release Qigong exercise to start you off.
Paying attention to the body sensations as we breathe is vital, because you want to feel how the breath moves through your body. Notice if it gets stuck anywhere or moves faster or slower through certain areas. And when breath is in certain parts of your body they will loosen up. If you breathe correctly when you move, you will have more strength and less strain and a lot more ease in your body. This is a very good description of someone learning to move their own Qi energy hence getting rid of the Stagnation of Qi.
I often recommend this circular breathing exercise to my patients. It seems easy but it is quite difficult to start off. But don’t despair – it gets easier as you keep doing it. You only need a couple of “circles” a day!
A quote from a participant of a study, conducted in 2011, on the effects of mindful movement on anxiety and depression “The physical moving has done a lot more for helping me be calm when I’m in a stressful situation. So that when the stress arises, you know, when you get to the airport and your plane is delayed nine hours and there’s no flights and no hotels and everyone else is sort of screaming, I don’t join in that. Now I can just see ‘oh I’m feeling a little agitated, time to start breathing.'”
Should you need any help on how to start energy work to help your Liver, please feel free to contact me.