How to care for your liver and gallbladder according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
The Wood element is a vital aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine's five element theory. It represents growth, expansion, and transformation. The Wood element represents the spring season and is associated with the liver and gallbladder. When we are in tune with the Wood element, we feel a sense of purpose and direction in our lives, and are able to pursue our goals with confidence.
Think of the essence of springtime and what it feels like. Buds on trees starting to bloom, the fresh smell of flowers, and the warmth of the sun on your faces. It feels like an inner fire that drives us towards our goals, and a sense of purpose that illuminates our path. When we are in tune with this element, we feel alive, vibrant, and full of potential.
It is believed that when Wood is balanced it is associated with a range of emotions, including expression, independence, kindness, forgiveness, patience, thoughtfulness, foresight, and self-expansion. When we think of expression, we often think of the ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings effectively.
In the context of wood harmony, expression is characterized by a sense of assertiveness and the ability to stand up for oneself without being aggressive or confrontational. This emotion is associated with the liver, which is responsible for filtering toxins from the body and maintaining a healthy balance of hormones.
However, when the Wood element is out of balance, it can feel like we are stuck in a rut and that we are unable to grow or move forward. Lack of direction can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, and anger.
In TCM, anger is seen as an emotion that has the potential to cause disharmony in the body, particularly in the liver and gallbladder. When anger is suppressed or unexpressed, it can lead to stagnation in these organs.
The Wood element is characterized by a common energetic disposition known as liver qi stagnation. When the liver energy stagnates and forms a blockage, one may feel like a pressure cooker that needs to let off steam. This can result in feelings of anger and frustration, often leading to physical symptoms such as neck tension, sleep disorders, digestive problems, migraines, eye problems, and headaches, among others.
However, the effects of liver qi stagnation are not limited to the Wood element. Due to the interconnection of the elements, it can have an unfavorable effect on the next element (Fire—the son of Wood) and the next element (Earth—the grandson of Wood).
This can result in high blood pressure, restlessness, and sleep disorders affecting the heart. Additionally, dominant Wood can negatively impact the organs of the stomach and spleen, leading to digestive problems such as heartburn, bloating, nausea, or gastritis.
To address these issues, it is important to set the energy of the liver in motion again. This can be achieved through practices such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, dietary changes, and exercise.
By promoting the flow of energy through the liver, individuals can alleviate feelings of anger and frustration, as well as the physical symptoms associated with liver qi stagnation.
Each of the five elements are associated with specific tastes, temperatures, and properties that can be used to balance the body's energy. To bring ourselves back into balance with the Wood element, we need to reconnect with the natural world.
Spending time outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the sun on our skin. We need to move our bodies and challenge ourselves physically.
Foods and herbs that are sour or slightly bitter can help to regulate the liver and promote the flow of Qi (energy) in the body. We need to nourish ourselves with healthy, whole foods that support our liver and gallbladder, such as leafy bitter greens, citrus fruits, fermented vegetables like kimchi, lean proteins and herbs like dandelion, chrysanthemum flowers, and milk thistle.
Be mindful of drinking alcoholic beverages as they heat (overstimulate) the liver and cause severe wood imbalance. Avoid greasy, fatty foods that irritate the gallbladder as well.
Cultivating a sense of purpose and direction in our lives may look different for each of us. Whatever it looks like for you, just make sure you find a way to tap into the energy of the Wood element and use it to propel you forward.
The essence of the Wood element is growth and flexibility, so exercises that involve stretching and movement are great for supporting the liver and gallbladder.
Here are some exercises that can help to balance the Wood element:
Yoga is an excellent way to stretch and move the body while also promoting relaxation and stress relief. Poses that target the liver and gallbladder meridians include the seated forward bend, the triangle pose, and the extended side angle pose.
Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a traditional Chinese practice that combines physical movement, breathing techniques, and meditation to cultivate and balance the body's vital energy or Qi (pronounced chee). Practicing qigong can help to improve health, promote relaxation, reduce stress, and increase vitality. The "Dragon Stretches Its Claws" and "Cloud Hands" movements in Qigong are particularly great exercises when looking to soothe the liver and gallbladder.
Click here for a wood element qi gong practice taught by Mimi Kuo-Deemer
Komorebi Center for Healing
Written by: Natasha Gaye