Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Thursday 26 April 2012

The organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Spleen

This is the third post on the series on TCM organs. I have covered the Liver – the enabler of all flow in the body, and the Kidneys – the root of life. This week I am focusing on the Spleen, the chief organ of digestion and energy making. As in the rest of the series, I will be covering the organ’s functions, possible symptoms arising from its lack of balance, and how to look after it.

The Spleen (Pi)

Earth - the element of the Spleen
 The TCM Spleen is perhaps the organ that most differs from its Western counterpart. While the Western spleen is a gland that plays an important role in immunity, the TCM Spleen encompasses the whole functioning of the digestive system and the formation of Qi and Blood. Although proper functioning of the Spleen does have an impact on our immunity, this is not its main purpose in TCM.

The Spleen and the Stomach (Wei) – its paired organ - are the organs of the Earth element, and the main organs of digestion. The Stomach – also called the sea of grain and water- is the container where the food and fluids that we consume are transformed by the energy of the Spleen into substances that can be used by the body. This is the fuel for our everyday activity or Post-natal Essence, which equates to the regular income that we need in order to survive from day to day. For more on Essence read my post about the Kidneys.

According to TCM, the Spleen performs the following functions: 

 1. Governs transformation and transportation: Through a complex mechanism that involves all the organs in the body particularly those associated with the digestive system, the Spleen Qi enables the extraction of nutrients from the food and fluids that we consume and their transformation into usable substances (Qi and Blood) that are then transported to be further refined and finally used as fuel by different organs.

2. Controls the Blood: Apart from actively contributing to the making of the Blood from our food, the Spleen also keeps the blood within the Blood vessels thus preventing it from seeping out and producing bleeding. This is done through the natural tendency of Spleen Qi to rise and keep everything in the body from falling due to gravity.

3. Rules the muscles and four limbs: The Spleen does this first by providing us with energy which in turn gives us strength and stamina so we are able to walk further and work harder; secondly  by transporting nourishment directly to the limbs and muscles so that there is healthy muscle bulk.

 4. Opens into the mouth and manifests in the lips: The Spleen is the organ that enables the mouth to taste all flavours and its health is shown in the moisture and colouring of the lips.

5. Houses the Intellect (Yi): The Intellect (Yi) is the spirit of the Spleen. The Intellect here relates to the analysis of possibilities that lies behind every decision to do or to create something and it directly manifests in our creative power. Just as the Spleen oversees the digestion of food, through the Intellect it also powers our ability to digest and assimilate information and ideas, and our enjoyment of this process. 

Symptoms of Spleen imbalance:

As the main organ of digestion, the Spleen is directly affected by our diet. Both poor nutrition and excessive eating can have an impact on the functioning of the Spleen and therefore in the subsequent production of Qi and Blood which will have a knock-on effect on the health of every organ and function of the body. 

Because of its close relationship with the limbs and muscles, the health of the Spleen can also impact the strength and tone of the whole body. On a mental level, Spleen imbalances can affect our ability to process and retain information.  

Common symptoms resulting from Spleen imbalance are listed below:

Spleen Function
Possible symptoms of imbalance
Governs transportation and transformation
 Poor appetite, indigestion, bloating, loose stools
Food cravings
Poor absorption, malnutrition
Low energy, lethargy
Controls the Blood
Bruising easily
Bleeding disorders
Varicose veins
Rules the muscles and four limbs
Muscle wasting and/or atrophy
Weakness and/or tiredness of the limbs
Opens into the mouth and manifests in the lips
Inability to taste food
Irregular taste in the mouth
Pale, dry or cracked lips
Houses the Intellect (Yi)
Lack of motivation
Difficulty concentrating
Muddled thinking and inability to process information

How to look after your Spleen energy

Being the organ of the Earth element, the Spleen is closely related to Mother Earth as a giving, nourishing and sustaining force. A healthy Spleen therefore depends on more than the act of putting food into our mouths. It needs to be fed with the same caring and loving intention with which a mother nourishes her child. This applies not only to the physical nutrition obtained from food but to mental and emotional nourishment. Below are some ideas as to how to nourish the Spleen:
-  Food and diet: I have covered the main ideas of what constitutes a healthy diet in Chinese Medicine in my posts on diet and nutrition where you can find a detailed explanation of the digestive process and the TCM views on how to nourish ourselves, and on my post exploring our concept of food. These are some ways in which we can feed our Spleen:
  • In general, we need to focus our dietary efforts primarily on our ability to extract goodness from our food. If you think that you have a fantastic diet because it only contains foods that are considered healthy, but feel exhausted and demotivated, then you need to re-consider your views about nutrition. The Spleen needs to be nourished in a way in which it can gain more energy than it uses during the digestive process. This may mean avoiding large amounts of cold and raw foods which despite their vitamin content will make the Spleen work harder, and favouring a varied diet consisting of well-cooked warming foods.
  • The Spleen also needs regularity and can be badly affected by eating at different times every day. In order to enjoy sustained energy we need not only regular meals but also to eat food in quantities that we are able to process and which will provide enough fuel to our body. The intake of too much or too little food on a regular basis will result in an imbalance of the Spleen.
  • Enjoying our food is also an important factor that will contribute to how physically and emotionally nourished we feel. However, we may tend to enjoy foods for which we have an unhealthy craving such as sugar, chocolate, and bread; or foods containing additives and preservatives that can be addictive in nature. True enjoyment of food is rooted in the deep pleasure of nourishing ourselves and protecting our life and health rather than the ephemeral pleasure produced by something that can be harmful to us.

- Exercise: In TCM, it is said that sitting for long periods can be detrimental to the energy of the Spleen. Conversely, stretching is considered the best way to encourage the muscular tone that the Spleen provides, and to facilitate the digestive process. Gentle Yoga and Pilates can be of great benefit to the Spleen and to the Qi of the whole body.

- Ground yourself: After we are born, the contact with our mother through feeding and touch is the main source of our sense of security. From this point onwards, it is the role of the Spleen to foster our sense of belonging and of being home.

Touch gives us a sense of grounding and security
 Feeling uprooted and that we do not belong, or feeling an inner discomfort that makes us move from one place to another can be manifestations of Spleen imbalance. We may need to develop a sense of “being home” within us so that our creative power can develop and flourish. Any form of contact with the Earth that helps us feel part of nature such as regularly walking through parks and woods, or performing gardening tasks will help us feel more grounded and allow us to “settle” into ourselves.

The health of the Spleen is also supported by physical contact with others. Just as being cuddled by our parents during childhood gives us happiness and comfort, as adults touch provides us with a sense of physical and emotional well-being, as well as a sense of being grounded. This is particularly relevant in the context of the British culture where touch is often considered invasive and physical demonstrations of affection are kept to a minimum. In the absence of affectionate touch, massage and other types of body work may provide similar benefits.

- Stop worrying: Excessive worrying may result in Spleen imbalance, and vice-versa. The Spleen feeds our caring side, and provides us with the strength to be empathetic and helpful to others. When out of balance, this empathy may turn into fruitless worrying about ourselves or others. 

Allowing the mind to take over and bombard us with thoughts of disaster and possible problems that the future may bring both consumes our energy and it may make us sick. Meditation is the best way to learn to control our mind, and regular practice will help us not only preserve our energy but it will give us a powerful tool to prevent stress-related problems. Often writing down our fleeting worrying thoughts can help us look at them more objectively and perhaps realise their pointlessness.  

Chinese Medicine treatment for Spleen imbalances

Spleen imbalances are extremely common as a result of inadequate diet and life-style, and are often exacerbated by sustained stress. 

Acupuncture treatment can be very effective at increasing energy levels and improving the general functioning of the Spleen and of the whole digestive system. This is often done by treating points on the Stomach channel with Acupuncture and moxibustion (the burning of the herb mugwort to produce warming effects).  Specific points may be used in order to deal with symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, loose stools, and oedema.

As the Spleen is in charge of providing every organ and tissue of the body with sufficient energy for proper functioning, long-term Spleen imbalance may affect us at a systemic level. When this is the case, Chinese Herbal remedies may be combined with Acupuncture to deal with blockages and symptoms resulting from malfunctioning of other organs, while boosting the Spleen energy in order to prevent symptoms from worsening and provide support for the body to regain health.

When dealing with Spleen imbalance, your Chinese Medicine practitioner should offer you dietary and life-style advice that will support your treatment. If this is not done, treatment may still provide relief to your symptoms but this may not be enough to enable you to maintain balance after treatment has been discontinued.  

Friday 20 April 2012

The organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Kidneys

This post is part of a series dedicated to TCM concepts of the organs. I am covering each organ’s functions, possible symptoms arising from its lack of balance, and how to look after it. I have already written about the  Liver in the first post of this series, this week I am talking about the Kidney which in TCM is the deepest and most essential organ.

The Kidneys (Shen) according to TCM

TCM shares some of the conventional concepts associated with the Kidneys such as their role in the metabolism of water and close link with the Bladder, and their role in the homeostatic balance of several substances, and in the formation of red blood cells. However, TCM regards the Kidneys as much more than their physical functions, they are actually regarded the “root of life” with functions closely related to every aspect of our development from birth to death.

Water- source of life and the element of the Kidneys
1. Store the Essence (Jing): The Essence stored in the Kidneys contains two types of Essence: Pre-natal and Post-natal. 

Post-natal Essence is the deep nourishment that we get from what we eat and drink, and from a supportive life-style. It is our daily supply of Qi for optimum functioning of the body. 

Pre-natal Essence is what we get from our parents - our constitution and genetic make-up. This type of Essence is what enabled us to be born in the first place and the catalyst of all physical and mental development throughout our lives. Pre-natal Essence is limited an irreplaceable and is naturally used by the simple act of living. We could think of it as our life-savings which need to be spent carefully and wisely so that they last us long enough to live a comfortable old age. When we behave recklessly and use much more energy than we have on a daily basis – post-natal Essence- for long periods of time, we end up resorting to our Pre-natal Essence which may result in damage to our health.

Through the Kidneys, Essence is put into action to perform its functions, which are by extension regarded as Kidney functions:
  • Governing growth, development, and reproduction: All our mental and physical development   from birth to puberty, the proper functioning of our reproductive system as adults, and all natural processes occurring as a result of growing up and aging are all dependent of the Kidney Essence.  
  • Producing the Marrow:  Marrow is understood as the collection of substances and tissues that fill the bones, spinal cord, and the brain and it is closely related to the health and development the skeletal and nervous systems.
  • Providing the foundation of Yin and Yang: Yin and Yang are the Water and Fire of the body, the contrasting qualities that both create and oppose each other. They permeate every organ and tissue in the body and represent the substance and activity without either of which our life ceases to be. 

2. Govern Water: The Kidneys – paired with the Bladder- are the organs of the Water element and provide the basis to the entire process of assimilation, transformation, absorption, and excretion of fluids throughout the body. All other Yin organs (Zang) participate in this but without the Kidneys’ support the whole system would either dry out or flood completely. This function is closely linked with the balance of Yin and Yang also provided by the Kidneys. 

3. Control the reception of Qi: Oxygen is another form of nourishment for our post-natal Essence. The Kidneys possess an ability to hold down the energy (Qi) of the Lung so that nourishment can be extracted from the air that we breathe, thus ensuring that post-natal Essence does not suffer.  

4. Open into the ears and manifest in the hair: The Kidneys have a close relationship with the ears which can be directly affected by any Kidney imbalance. In addition, the ears receive nourishment from the Essence, which also influences the abundance and strength of the hair. 

5. House the Will (Zhi):  The Will is the spiritual manifestation of the Kidneys, and one of the five aspects of the larger Spirit (Shen) which represent the variety of our human tendencies. The Will manifests both as the personal strength and confidence that are reflected in our assertiveness, survival instinct and desire to live; as well as in the deep security and conviction that make us feel safe within.

Symptoms of Kidney imbalance 

Because of their function of storing the Essence, the Kidneys are closely related to our constitution, our physical and mental strength, our immunity, and our reproductive health.

The Kidneys also rule the lower part of the body so their lack of balance can affect the lower back, lower abdomen, legs and feet.

The table below shows the possible symptoms that can occur from Kidney imbalance:

Kidney Function
Possible symptoms of imbalance
Store the Essence
Under-development in children
Late or little development of sexual traits at puberty
Premature aging
Infertility/Impotence (there are other factors that may influence this)
Structural defects of bones, joints, or spine Certain disturbances in mental activity/acuity
Excessive heat and dryness and over-activity of any function/organ of the body
Excessive cold and under-functioning of any organ
Govern Water
Urinary problems including incontinence and urinary retention
Water retention (oedema) especially in the lower abdomen, legs and feet
Control the reception of Qi
Breathlessness, chronic asthma
Open into the ears and manifest in the hair
Hearing loss and tinnitus
Premature greying of the hair and hair loss
Houses the Will power (Zhi)
Deep existential anxiety
Chronic feeling of fear and dread

How to look after your Kidney energy

Healthy Kidneys allow aging with grace and wisdom
Both the Essence and Kidney energy naturally diminish as we grow older, so it is a normal part of the process of living to experience a decline in our physical abilities. This does not necessarily mean that we have to expect chronic and severe illness to develop. That we have grown used to seeing the ageing process as a source of severe illness is a reflection of the fact that our life-style does not account for our physical decline. This is rooted in a societal lack of regard for all things “old” and our own deep fear of growing old and dying. Accepting the facts of life and working towards aging gracefully while allowing our inner wisdom to flourish in our later years could be more realistic and satisfying than spending precious time fearing or denying the loss of our youth. Deep conviction is needed to look after our Kidney health as this implies not only accepting our reality but also living within our energetic means –a difficult task for spree-loving Westerners.

Here are some recommendations to support our Kidneys which in turn could point us towards a healthier, longer life:  

·         Balance your rest and activity: Too much or too little activity can deeply affect the Kidneys as the root of Yin and Yang. Too much activity uses up the Yin leaving us wired, restless and unable to relax, potentially contributing to a host of problems from insomnia and anxiety to infertility and severe menopausal symptoms. On the other hand, doing too little may weaken the Yang making us sluggish and potentially resulting in depression, digestive problems, weight gain, impotence, infertility, and under-functioning of mind and body.

-          Exercise: Although regular exercise can help strengthen our Yang energy and is necessary for health, doing excessive amounts of it or choosing a type that is too demanding on our individual energy will be detrimental to our health. Learning to live in a way that suits our constitution rather than trying to push ourselves to keep up with the rest can help us maintain optimum health and fulfil our potential.  

Moderate exercise – such as walking, swimming, and gentle cycling- is best as it promotes movement within the body and contributes to proper functioning of all organs and circulation. Gentle Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi can also contribute to move the energy and can potentially provide tools to help us relax and control our restless energy. These practices are more suitable to those who feel less energetic or who want to complement their active exercise.

-          Relaxation: Proper rest and relaxation are needed to nourish the Yin. This can be achieved through meditation, contemplation, or any of the practices mentioned above. Sitting in front of the TV may seem like a relaxing activity but in reality does not allow proper relaxation as we are getting bombarded by information and quickly changing images to which we are constantly responding through our senses, emotions and physical reactions.

·         Keep warm: The Kidneys are greatly affected by exposure to cold because they are the seat of the Yang, our inner fire which fuels all the activities of the body. The lower part of our body is very closely related to Kidney energy and often symptoms develop in the lower back and abdomen as well as the lower limbs as a result of Kidney imbalance. Exposing the legs, lower abdomen and lower back to cold and wind may affect the Kidney energy and result in weakening of the Yang which can affect the efficacy of all bodily functions.

Avoiding the intake of icy cold foods and drinks as well as excessive amounts of cold/raw food also contributes to maintaining a healthy amount of warmth – and therefore Yang - within the body. You can read more about this in my previous post about diet and nutrition.

·         Nourish your post-natal Essence: There is not much we can do to change the constitution we have been born with – our Pre-natal Essence. However, we can have a diet and life-style that support our individual constitution so that we have enough energy on a day to day basis – which is to say we can nourish our Post-natal Essence.

-          Feeding ourselves properly can have a profound effect in our energy, our health, and our ability to enjoy life to the full. I have already covered the TCM views on diet and nutrition on a previous post. Go to Part 1 for an explanation of what a healthy diet is, and to Part 2 to find tips for a healthy diet.

-          Post-natal Essence also benefits from fresh air as nourishment extracted from it in the form of oxygen is used to make energy for the whole body. Spending enough time in green spaces is therefore necessary for good health.

-          Enough rest and deep relaxation create the inner environment to restore the energy we spend and to replenish our resources at a deeper level. This is comparatively speaking a way of saving for future difficulties rather than just living to make ends meet.

·         Trust: Excessive fear can create an imbalance in the Kidney energy, and vice-versa. Fear can occur as a sudden shock or fright which leaves us shaken long after its cause has gone. Treatment is always necessary to address the energetic and emotional consequences of fright, shock or trauma, and supporting the energy of the Kidneys is essential.

Fear can also manifest as an emotion that lies deep within us preventing us from ever feeling safe. However much we try, we will never be able to control every aspect of our lives so we need to build and harbour an inner sense of security. Trust and faith are two qualities that go well beyond our rational mind to help us accept the unknown and the unexplainable - such as death- as natural parts of life rather than constant threats to our safety. This is the deepest level of the Will, the sense of acceptance and strength that gives us a desire to live and fulfil our purpose despite the odds.

Chinese Medicine treatment of Kidney imbalances

Kidney imbalances are commonly seen in the Acupuncture clinic and are often related to fertility, thyroid and other hormone-related problems, as well as the more obvious urinary symptoms. The most common imbalances are Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang deficiency. These patterns of disease imply a depletion of the energy of the Kidneys often resulting from long-term inadequate life-style.

Kidney Yang deficiency may manifest with symptoms such as feeling cold and exhausted all the time, aching and coldness of lower back and knees, frequent and copious urination, low libido, water retention (oedema), infertility, and impotence. Here the deepest fire within our body has been exhausted and treatment consists of energising this fire by the use of Moxibustion - the burning of the herb mugwort on specific points to warm the organs and channels of the body- combined with Acupuncture. Chinese Herbal remedies are needed if symptoms are more severe of long-standing. A warming diet, plus appropriate clothing and life-style are recommended to enhance the effects of treatment.

Kidney Yin deficiency may also manifest with tiredness and lower back ache but other symptoms will evidence the presence of heat rather than cold. The most typical symptoms of Kidney Yin deficiency are restlessness and inability to relax, sensations of heat particularly in the afternoon and evening, hot flushes, night sweating, insomnia, increased thirst and dryness throughout the body. This is called Deficient Heat as it is a result of an inefficient cooling mechanism rather than of a build-up of heat per se. Treatment of Kidney Yin deficiency usually involves Chinese herbal remedies to clear Heat, to moisten the whole body and to specifically nourish Kidney Yin. Acupuncture is also used to induce relaxation (a state in which Yin can replenish itself), calm the mind, and clear Heat. There are also some very effective Acupuncture point combinations for night sweating and insomnia with dream-disturbed sleep that can be used.

Kidney Yin deficiency is a common cause of infertility in the West particularly when trying to conceive between the ages of 36 and 45, and is often the cause of uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. To ensure the success of treatment, excessive activity and the use of stimulants need to be avoided. Adequate rest and relaxation, and a cooling and nourishing diet rich in proteins, grains and vegetables are also necessary to harbour Yin and create a cooling and more balanced environment within the body. You can read more about this in my previous posts on nourishing Yin energy and on TCM views of the menopause.

Friday 13 April 2012

The organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Liver

This post is part of a series dedicated to TCM concepts of the organs. Although this is the first official post of the series, I have already covered the Heart in a previous post which you can read here. I will cover each organ’s functions, possible symptoms arising from its lack of balance, and how to look after it.

TCM Yin organs and their corresponding elements
In TCM, organs are not necessarily defined by their anatomical positioning or their quantifiable workings. Instead, the concepts associated with an organ are determined by a series of functional activities and relationships with other organs, tissues, fluids, sense organs, and environmental influences. This is part of a sophisticated theory of the human body as an integrated whole which comprises not only physical functions but also emotional, mental, sensorial, and even spiritual aspects. Understanding the relationship and inter-dependence between organs is just as important as understanding the role that each organ is playing in the development of symptoms and in the maintenance of our health at every level.

The two main types of organs are Yin (Zang) and Yang (Fu) organs. Yin organs are considered to be deeper both in terms of location and function, and more fundamental to life. The Yin organs are: Liver, Spleen, Heart, Kidney, and Lung.

The Liver (Gan):

The Liver is the organ of the Wood element and is regarded both energetically and physically as a large, expansive and, when out of balance, invasive organ. In ancient texts, it is compared to an army general due to its roles as regulator and coordinator of the flow of Qi and Blood throughout the whole system. In addition, the Liver is paired with the Gall Bladder and has a reciprocated influence over this organ and its functioning.

The Liver is in charge of regulating and harmonising the whole system, through its main functions:

1.  Rules the free flow of Qi: Much depends on the smooth movement of Qi throughout the body. Without it, obstruction, blockage, and irregular functioning of other substances and organs can ensue.
    This function of the Liver particularly influences the following aspects:
  • Our emotional state: Our emotions are as much an expression of our energy as the physical functions of our body so a harmonious flow of Qi results in equally harmonious emotions reflected in a relaxed disposition and an ability to cope and let things go when appropriate.
  •  The efficiency of our digestion: The Liver plays an important part in the digestive process both physically and energetically. Appropriate flow of Liver Qi is needed to ensure the smooth passage of food through the digestive system from ingestion through to evacuation.
  • The adequate secretion of bile: As part of the digestive process, bile needs to be released in adequate amounts. This is a Gall Bladder function that depends on the adequate flow of Liver Qi.
  •  The smooth flow of menstruation: The Liver organ and its channel have an intimate relationship with the reproductive system. As Qi flows, so does the Blood so an obstruction in the flow of Qi may result in stagnant Blood and in symptoms both before and during menstruation. On the other hand, the Liver channel runs through the reproductive system, which makes the flow of Qi in the Liver even more important for reproductive health.

2.  Stores the Blood (Xue): When we are active, the Liver ensures that enough Blood is circulating through the body so that the sinews and muscles are nourished and moistened.  When at rest, the Blood is collected and stored in the Liver so that our energy is restored during our sleep.

3. Rules the tendons and sinews: The Liver, mostly through the Liver Blood, is the organ that enables the muscles, tendons and ligaments to contract and relax and to move in a co-ordinated, responsive manner.

4. Opens into the eyes and manifests in the nails: In TCM, each Yin organ is in charge of nourishing a specific sense organ. The health of each Yin organ is also said to be reflected in the quality of a particular tissue of the body. The eyes are the sense organs that are influenced by the Liver in terms of their moisture and freshness as well as the quality of vision. The health of the Liver is also reflected in the quality and strength of the nails.

5. Houses the Ethereal soul (Hun): In the Taoist roots of TCM, our Soul or Spirit is thought to be comprised by smaller parts which represent specific human behaviours and tendencies. Each of these smaller spirits is in turn closely associated to a specific Yin organ.

The Hun or Ethereal soul is the spirit of the Liver and it is understood to be the part of us that “lives on” after our bodies have passed. The Hun is the part of us that both holds and enables our life purpose to be fulfilled. In order to achieve this, the Hun gives us confidence and drive as well as the ability to establish boundaries and to feel the compassion that inspires us to perform acts of kindness.

Symptoms of Liver imbalance

The Western life-style tends to badly affect the energy of the Liver. Stress, lack of down-time, over-consumption of stimulants, being on the run all the time, and a diet consisting of heavy foods that make the body work harder are common causes of Liver imbalance. In terms of emotions, issues such as unresolved anger and resentment, frustration with work or relationships, and feeling that there are too many demands on our time and energy also take a toll on Liver energy. Indeed, the most common cause of Liver imbalance seen in Acupuncture practices is stress due to work demands, family/relationship difficulties, and feeling that one has no choice and is trapped in a situation.

The most common symptoms associated with a Liver imbalance are shown in the table below:

Liver Function
Signs of Liver imbalance
Rules the free-flow of Qi
Physical and emotional tension
Pain around the rib cage
Tightness in the chest
A sensation of a lump in the throat
Abdominal distension
Affecting the emotions:
Emotional frustration, depression, anger, irritability, moodiness, feeling “on edge”.
Affecting digestion:
Belching, abdominal pain, acid reflux, nausea, vomiting, intermittent constipation and loose stools.
Affecting the flow of bile:
Bitter taste in the mouth, belching, jaundice, indigestion, nausea.
Affecting menstruation:
Pre-menstrual tension, depression, distension in the breasts, irritability and menstrual pain.
Stores the Blood
Stiffness and difficult mobility
Non-restorative sleep
Very heavy, very light, or clotty periods
Stabbing period pains
Rules the Tendons and Sinews
Cramps, spasms, tremors, stiffness and excessive contraction or flaccidity of the muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Opens into the eyes and manifests in the nails
Tired, dry, gritty, red, or burning eyes
Blurred vision and/or floaters in the visual field
Dry, pale, brittle nails
Houses the Hun
A tendency to being unkind to oneself or others
Overwhelming anger, envy, jealousy and hatred
Lack of self-worth
Numbness towards the suffering of others
A sense of “absence”, depression


 How to look after your Liver energy

The Liver is an organ that possesses great power and, like with anything powerful, it needs to be both nourished and softened so that this power does not get out of hand. As stress is the factor with the most negative influence on the Liver, much of what I mentioned in my post about coping with stress is highly relevant for Liver health. In addition, the following tips may help:

  • Keep calm and let go Many of us feel stuck in the wrong job, relationship, and even in the wrong family. In most cases it is difficult to walk out of these commitments because of the complexity of our circumstances so this may not be an option. However hard we try not to think about it, our frustration and resentment always ends up resurfacing at the wrong time and often at the wrong person. This is because we are forcibly not allowing our emotions to “flow”, we’re in effect blocking the normal flow of Liver Qi which results in a “pressure cooker” effect where Qi will end up finding an escape route and often releasing itself with an “explosion”.  Meditation, Yoga (but the gentle types not Ashtanga or Bikram!), Qi Gong and Tai Chi are all good ways to acquire tools that will help us handle our stress and frustrations. Learning to let go of those things that offend us or annoy us rather than holding on to them is really important. Feeling anger is not in itself harmful- all our emotions are an expression of our humanity- what is harmful is to carry on being angry long after the events have passed. We need to learn not to take everything personally and realise that other people do what they do because they too are confused and stressed.
  • Exercise Exercise is very important to encourage the Liver to move the Qi. Gentle to moderate exercise -such as walking, swimming, or cycling- is best to keep everything flowing, provided we are not using more energy than we have got. However, excessive exercise can and does result in Liver Qi stagnation. This is especially true in people who are already under stress and use heavy exercise as a way of venting this stress. This of course works straight after a work-out when endorphins are flooding the blood stream but, as many an exercise addict secretly knows, the sensation of wiriness and inability to relax returns with a vengeance when these effects have worn off.
    • Diet All recommendations made for stress are relevant here as well, so you can refer to my previous post on stress. We also need to keep the Liver soft by avoiding overwhelming it with rich foods, excessive amounts of food, and toxicity from chemical additives, alcohol, or drugs. Sour foods help detoxify the Liver: a cup of hot water with the juice of half a lime, lemon or cider vinegar first thing in the morning helps stimulate the release of toxins.
    • Nourishing the Blood also helps keep a smooth Liver flow. To do this we need to consume adequate amounts of protein, as well as plenty of dark leafy green vegetables, and sweet, dark, unrefined foods such as dates and unsulfured apricots.


    Chinese Medicine Treatment 

    Liver imbalances are the most common syndromes seen at the Acupuncture clinic. Treating Acupuncture points on the Liver channel helps restore the flow of Liver Qi and resolve symptoms associated stagnation of Liver Qi. In addition, there are specific combinations of points that can induce a relaxed state and encourage the body and mind to rest and restore, thus helping relieve symptoms associated with stress. 

    Several Chinese Herbal Medicine classical formulae have been designed to treat specific types of Liver dysharmony. The most common formula amongst these is Xiao Yao Wan, or "free and easy wanderer", with restores the flow of Liver Qi and helps resolve many of the symptoms listed under that category in the table above.

    Chinese Medicine treatment will also include appropriate dietary and life-style advice that will help improve symptoms and promote Liver balance so that further symptoms will be prevented.

     Key thoughts for the Liver 
    •  Forgive and you will be forgiven: Every time something makes you angry, chances are it is something you have yourself done at some point in your life.
    • Feel for others: Put yourself in other people's shoes so that you can be compassionate and tolerant.
    • Accept what life brings you:  Most of the time there is no point fighting against your circumstances. You will end up frustrated and exhausted and will most likely remain stuck in one spot until you decide to let go.