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  • Writer's pictureJackie Koenig, L.Ac.

Understanding Liver Qi Stagnation: Tips for Promoting Flow and Reducing Stress

Dealing with Irritability? Tension? PMS? Learn how moving Liver Qi Stagnation can help in reducing stress!

A waterfall in the woods among tall, green trees and rocks

What Is Liver Qi Stagnation and its Connection with Reducing Stress?

According to Chinese Medicine, the Liver is in charge of the free flow of energy/Qi in the body. When healthy, the Liver's energy loves to flow and grow outward, just like the springtime seedlings and sprouts we see growing in nature. It's associated with Springtime, the Wood element, the color green, and its partner organ is the Gallbladder.

In a way, the Liver is our body's "emotional barometer": when Liver Qi is flowing smoothly, it's happy... and we're happy! When the Liver energy is stuck somewhere, it's angry...and we're angry! In turn, WE feel stuck, indecisive, irritable, furious... much like we would imagine a house plant would feel when they've outgrown their pot and have no where else to grow! This is called "Liver Qi Stagnation".

Symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation often translate to:

  • Headaches of all types, but especially those that are felt behind the eyes or at the top of the head

  • Sleep issues and insomnia, stressful dreams, waking at night in the 1-3am window

  • Sore muscles, muscle tension, jaw clenching, stiff posture

  • Irritability, easily angry

  • Digestive issues, from constipation and bloating to reflux and diarrhea, especially when affected by stress

  • Sighing a lot (this is a hard one to notice about yourself, ask a friend if you do!)

  • PMS, menstrual cramping or moodiness in particular

  • Cold hands and feet, circulation issues

  • Eye pain, eye fatigue, dry eye, decrease in visual sharpness

  • Feeling "stuck" in life

  • Lacking boundaries, an inability to say NO, difficulty making decisions

A potted plant growing outward with twisted stalks

Sound like You? You're not alone!

Liver Qi Stagnation is one of the most common diagnoses we see in our clinic. The Liver is associated with Springtime, so while this energy can get stagnated year round, it's not uncommon to feel these symptoms more intensely during the Spring season.

Read our tips below about how you can help move Liver Qi Stagnation and reduce stress!

Tip #1 - Get Your Blood Pumping

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, blood and energy/qi travel together. When we're dealing with Liver qi stagnation, the easiest way to get it moving is to move the blood! How do we recommend doing that?


Get a little sweat going, whether it's a trip to the gym, a bike ride, yoga flow, or a brisk walk. Being outside is especially good for the Liver (it's associated with the color green, so extra bonus points if you exercise in a green forest or field!)

If you can get the blood pumping and induce a slight sweat in a less active way, like a hot bath, warm cup of tea, or a sauna session, this might help move some stagnation as well. However, exercise is often the best way to get out of that "stuck" place (we love those endorphins!).

Additionally, our favorite recommendation when you're feeling too tired or busy to get out of the house, but still could use some movement, is Mimi Kuo-Deemer's Qi Gong channel. These moves have been practiced for thousands of years and really get the qi and blood moving! See link below.

PRO TIP: It's important that you choose an activity you enjoy doing.... gritting your teeth through something you dread is going to stagnate your Liver Qi even more!

"Where the blood flows, the Qi goes."

- Traditional Chinese Medicine theory

Tip #2 - Incorporate "SOS" foods: Sour-Opening-Sweet

Sour is the taste associated with the Liver/Gallbladder and helps their Qi flow.

Sweet taste helps soothe and nourish stuck qi in general. That's why we tend to crave sweet snacks at work or in stressful times... the sweet taste is comforting and helps us soothe.

What are "opening" foods?

Think flavors and substances that open your senses, like horseradish, ginger, peppermint, seltzer water, sauerkraut and kombucha... anything with a little *POP *! These flavors give stuck qi a little jolt, helping that stagnation move and energy return to a FLOW!

Here's a longer list of foods that help Liver Qi Stagnation:

Vegetables: Spinach, kale, watercress, celery, leek, chives, tomato, kelp, dandelion greens, carrot

Fruits: Lemon, lime, grape, lychee, cherries, plum, raspberry

Spices: Cinnamon, peppermint, dandelion, chamomile, ginger, rosemary, horseradish

Seeds & Nuts: Sesame, chestnut, pine nuts

Ferments: vinegar, sauerkraut, sourdough, kombucha

Tea: jasmine, peppermint, lemon balm, chrysanthemum, chamomile

Don't forget to refer to our tips for eating well according to Chinese Medicine when experimenting with these foods!

Tip #3 - Spend time outside

The Liver and Gallbladder are a part of the Wood Element in Chinese Medicine, so naturally, being around greenery, trees, wild flowers, your garden, or in your local park is important for helping Liver Qi flow! Fresh air and wide open spaces are good medicine when we're feeling cooped up in our own bodies and life situations.

If you can, take breaks outside during your work day or during a stressful time. Fresh air and sunshine can promote natural vitamin D production which can also work wonders for a stressed system.

Tip #4 - Laugh (or cry!)

Just like the *POP* of the "opening" foods we mentioned above, laughing also helps move Liver Qi Stagnation in a similar way. Tension and heavy emotions love finding a way out of the body, and laughing not only releases endorphins, but a good belly laugh also physically moves muscles, too! Call up your hilarious friend or watch that comedy you've been meaning to check out.... laughter is free and easy medicine and a great way to get that internal flow moving again.

If instead you're feeling emotional heaviness with a pit in your throat and are often on the verge of tears, listen to your body and let that stagnation flow, too! A good cry helps things move up and out, just like a good laughing session. The eyes are associated with the Liver system in Chinese Medicine, so letting the tears flow is also a good way to move some emotional "stuck-ness".

Bottle and tablets of Free and Easy Wanderer herbal formula

Free and Easy Wanderer Formula: It's all in the name. Golden Flower Herbs makes our go-to formula when it comes to moving Liver Qi Stagnation. It can be helpful for easing stress, headaches, or PMS symptoms. We sell it at Hidden Root Acupuncture... ask about it at your appointment!

Tip #5 -Acupuncture and Herbs!

Acupuncture can be great for helping Liver Qi stagnation flow again and support the Liver in finding a more balanced state. There are many time-tested herbal formulas that can also be great partners along this journey as you seek solutions for stress management, PMS, mental and physical tension, headaches, and other forms Liver Qi stagnation might take!

Make an appointment today with us at Hidden Root Acupuncture to learn more about how we might be able to help.


Our website and related materials are provided for educational and informational use only and are not health advice. As a user of this site, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless our website and company for any direct or indirect loss or conduct incurred as a result of your use of our website. If you have a medical question, you should consult your own medical doctor.


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