It’s Time to Move Your Liver Qi

April 19, 2011

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) relates each season to an organ system.  The summer is associated with the heart system, autumn is associated with the lung system, in the winter it’s the kidneys, and in spring it’s the liver.  (There’s also a “late summer” season that relates to the spleen system.) The climates typical of each season can greatly impact the organ system related to that season.  That is to say, the liver system is most vulnerable during the spring.

What happens in spring?  It’s a season of birth, sprouting, and growth.  The days are longer, and the temperatures are warmer.  According to TCM, green is the color associated with spring and the liver system.  The roots of Chinese medical theory are based on patterns in nature.

Think of a tree.  When it grows, it reaches upwards and outwards.  It will grow in this way until something stops or constrains its reach.  Healthy trees are those that get ample sunshine, water, and are free to grow without obstruction.

The liver system is in charge of the free coursing of qi throughout the body.  It’s the role of the liver system to promote qi to all limbs and body tissues.  When qi flows unobstructed, blood also flows, emotions are in balance, and there is no pain.  Several factors can hinder the liver system’s job of promoting qi flow.  Emotional constraint, hard to digest foods, cold or damp evils, a blood or yin deficiency, and individual constitutional tendencies can impact and impede qi flow.

Signs and symptoms of constrained liver qi include:  irritability, anger, rib side pain, sighing, gas/belching, fatigue, pain or symptoms that are worse with stress and strong emotions, a wiry pulse, and premenstrual symptoms and irregular menstrual cycles in women.

During spring, the liver system is most vulnerable, so care must be taken to keep the liver soft and supple, allowing qi to flow freely and unobstructed.  Therefore, living in accordance with the seasons includes utilizing the extra daylight and warmer air to be more active.  Exercise greatly promotes the flow of liver qi, releases emotional constraint, helps to regulate menses, and can alleviate many symptoms including pain.

Look at the budding nature around you and recognize your own need to grow and move unimpeded.  If you don’t currently exercise, try starting with simple walking and stretching.  One should exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week.  In my opinion, this is a bare minimum.  Depending on your daily lifestyle, more physical activity is likely recommended.  Don’t forget to take the stairs, walk the metro escalator, and stretch/do yoga or strength training while watching tv.  It all adds up.

Once we start to feel our bodies, there’s inspiration to keep moving and condition them.  After time, your body will recognize that pent up qi and crave exercise to help release the constraint and promote qi flow.  It’s a process, and building on small baby steps is the best way to incorporate exercise into a lifelong practice.

TCM incorporates diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations into treatment regimens.  For more information on TCM and my practice please visit

In good health,


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