How to Read the Body’s Signals

Most messages zip around faster than the speed of light! They are also intimately connected with beliefs, thoughts and emotions. Nothing is separate. In traditional Chinese medicine, the root cause of conditions exists at the invisible, energetic level first, then migrates to the physical, visible level. This means that if a condition exists at the visible level of the body, something deeper is happening within. When an imbalance presents itself, the body has the wisdom to send us a warning signal.

How do we decode the signals? Grand Master Nan Lu offers the following insights.

First, we take a look at the body’s vital triangle: Liver/Gallbladder, Spleen/Stomach and Kidney/Bladder. These three organ pairs must function well independently and also communicate with each other harmoniously in order for the body to enjoy healthy metabolism function.


In TCM’s Five Element framework, the Liver-Gallbladder is a critical team. This organ pair is the first to receive the brunt of stress on the body. Its main energetic function is to allow Qi, blood and emotions to flow smoothly through the body. This organ system is critical to women’s health. Virtually all menstrual issues and reproductive cancers can be traced to the Liver.

One of the jobs of the Liver-Gallbladder is to protect nail health. If the nails have ridges, are thin, brittle and break frequently, the Liver is seeking out help performing its functions. If the nails’ half moons are small or non-existent, Qi or vital energy is low. It’s like a warning sign that the body is running out of gas. Migraines, particularly on the left side, are a sign the Gallbladder meridian has energy stagnation. The Liver also takes responsibility for eye function. The eyes are the Liver’s opening to the external world. Vision problems, blurry, red or dry eyes indicate Liver dysfunction.


The Spleen and Stomach are vital to digestive health. Belching, bloating, bad breath, food allergies and worry/overthinking are all signs of a Spleen-Stomach imbalance. Studying the tongue can give clues as to the energetic health of this organ system as well. A white coating on the tongue indicates excess cold—viewed by TCM as a disease-causing agent. Excess heat—displayed by a greasy, yellow tongue—can be damaging as well.

Provide this organ pair with some TLC by avoiding foods and beverages with a cold temperature and essence, like salads and iced drinks. Those with a warm essence, including ginger, turmeric and cinnamon, support this organ system. A skilled acupuncturist can also help re-balance Stomach and Spleen function, allowing the body to do the rest of the healing work.


The Kidney and Bladder also work harmoniously as a team. What kicks these hardworking organs out of balance? Often, it’s emotions—like deep-rooted fear—or overuse of the Kidney’s inborn Qi. The Kidney uses the ear—often through a challenging condition called tinnitus, or ringing in the ear—to send a signal to the body.

TCM associates the Kidney with the knee, lower back and heel—places where people commonly experience pain. Pain in these areas, or issues with bones and teeth, are signs of a deeper imbalance in the body. Infertility and low sperm count are also associated with poor Kidney function. One unmistakable sign of sluggish Kidney Qi is cold hands and feet. The body is begging for more internal warmth to keep its flame going. How do we respond to these signals and start to rebuild our low energy reserves? Rest is a main ingredient, as is warmth. Drink a simple hot tea made with real ginger root, honey and lemon juice, and warm the Kidney with a heating pad.

Heart-Small Intestine and Lung-Large Intestine

Each of the organ pairs above must also cooperate with the Lung-Large Intestine and Heart-Small Intestine. The Lung connects to the external world through the nose. It provides Qi and nourishment to directly support your skin—the body’s largest organ. In addition, the Lung-Large Intestine play a pivotal role in the digestive process. Once the Lung receives the essence of food from the Spleen, it determines how much Qi each organ needs to function at its potential, and distributes that Qi accordingly. This organ pair works to continually let go and release what the body no longer needs. Allowing yourself to let go of held emotions and experiences that no longer serve you helps support this organ system in its process of receiving and eliminating.

When all organ systems function well independently, the Heart acts as the conductor of the orchestra, coordinating the organs’ vibrations into a harmonious symphony. When the body is in this beautiful state of balance, emotions and weight are balanced, digestion is smooth, and the person feels creative and energized, yet calm and peaceful. However, if the organ systems don’t operate in sync, the body will find a way to send a signal—in the form of fatigue, digestion issues, muscle and tendon problems, memory loss and more. Our bodies are truly born with amazing wisdom.


Keep Learning!

Click here to read about the Five Element Framework and the five major organ systems in the body.