Liver Qi – ‘The Energy of Spring’
‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven’ – Ecclesiastes
Each season is imbued with the patterns of life, with Spring inspiring regeneration, restoration of spirit and new beginnings.
Springtime rituals occur in many cultures, in our own Christian tradition we have Lent, a six week observance before Easter, with the Springs Full Moon symbolising the principle of resurrection. These rituals give special attention to Liver health, detoxification and resurgence.
Spring carries a special resonance with Liver Qi in Classical Chinese thinking. To understand this traditional philosophy we need only to perceive our body-mind functions as an extension of the same informational processes we see throughout Nature.
The Chinese liken the cyclic, rhythmic movement of Qi to the procession of the seasons and use a system of correlation and correspondences to map out this Natural Order. So in the smaller diurnal cycle we observe the ‘energy’ of dawn, and the rousing of life in the larger round of Spring, in Humankind this particular process is named after the Liver. They are fractals sharing and expressing the same underlying potential.
Liver Qi / Spring finds its natural culmination as a vision and blossoming of the Heart / Summer.
Dylan Thomas encapsulates this movement of life in poetic form:
“The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower”
This Force in our bodies is the evenly measured circulation of Qi & Blood; its lymph and nutrient flow and the cleansing of toxins, Liver Qi ‘spreading and draining’ serving the upkeep of life.
And by extension the processing of mental and emotional toxins that pass through the heart and mind.
Happy Liver Qi is when we experience ourselves flowing through life with a sense of ease and clarity. With a balance of calming, nourishing Yin and progressive, lively Yang expressions helping us maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced outlook.
But it’s easy to see how the Liver can become quickly depleted.
Modern lifestyles with an ever faster-pace and complexity, increasing pressures and competitive edges means Liver disharmony has become commonplace. We call it stress.
Liver Qi constraint and stagnation includes tension, fatigue, depression, mood swings, feeling overwhelmed, PMS and other hormonal imbalances, sluggish digestion-elimination, inflammation & pain in muscles and joints, headaches, and perhaps most notably impatience, frustration, irritability and anger.
The remedy is to understand the movement of life and honour its place and purpose. So what to do! How can we treasure and express it skilfully? The short answer is to retain an affinity for the YinYang themes of Liver/Spring.
The Liver is generally seen as a Yang Organ by temperament.
So for a start get moving! – it governs the ‘Muscular Forces’, a reference to our willowy suppleness, the woody forces of Spring.
Going on more hikes is ideal -there is a well known herbal mixture designed to treat Liver stagnation named ‘Rambling Powder’!
The action of walking, of swinging arms and legs, shoulders and hips opens the Liver/Gall Bladder Channels quite naturally and moves the Blood and Qi. Whilst the deep diaphragmatic breathing that accompanies walking massages the Liver.
Striding out on a path carries the psychological Liver themes of journeying with open eyes, being in the moment of life, dealing immediately with whatever presents itself as we go along.
It is the energy of ‘Zen mind, beginners mind’, open, keen, fresh. Our eyes are on the front of the head so we look forward.
There are other types of rhythmic exercises with similar movement patterns that also open Liver/GB Channels… cycling, swimming.
And of course Qi Gong or Yoga release constrained Liver Qi, as does Massage since they open joints, lengthen tissues and promote circulation with a dynamic but calming tone, all Liver themes.
Traditionally the Liver was delegated ‘General of the Armed Forces’, a role of strategising with courage and decisiveness in action.
My favourite cricket player, Jos Buttler exemplifies this, he realised through many conversations with coaches and mentors that his optimal mental state for batting was to be bold and daring, so he has inscribed ‘F*ck It’ on the top of all his bat handles as a reminder not to play with the handbrake on! The Liver in its most Yang guise.
Nothing is so transformational as changing our underlying attitudes, the active force that sponsors our actions.
I was once given a herbal formula for Liver Qi stagnation called ‘Happy Free Wanderer’ and that captures the carefree spirit perfectly.
Can we put a stop to feeling fenced in; by time constraints, rules, regulations, social conventions, expectations and our own neurotic restrictions, can we put them down, throw caution to the wind.
The Chinese Classics talk about the Liver in these tones:
‘…at dawn one gets up,
One paces the courtyard with great strides,
Hair loose, body relaxed,
Exerting the will for life…’
We are seeking conscious companionship with Life in all its forms, so a great antidote to constrained Qi is to look out with wonder.
As Shunryu Suzuki reminds us ‘Wherever you are, you are One with the Clouds and one with the Sun and the Stars you see.’
We can choose happiness by cultivating a spirit of gratitude, and forgiving others as well as ourselves.
Nothing makes the Qi flow more than a helpful, co-operative effort, nothing treasures the Qi more than a warm hearted good-will.
Intention is ultimately what moves the Qi and our life forward.
Article by Jeff Docherty. Jeff teaches Qi Gong at Cheltenham Holistic Health Centre every Tuesday 12-1pm