Liver and the Wood Element

Our internal organs are much more than physical structures in the TCM view. They are complex systems involving aspects of the mind, emotions, and Spirit. Not only does each organ have a physiological function, it also has responsibilities at the invisible level of vital energy, or Qi. Each organ is uniquely related to a body tissue, a sense organ, emotion, taste, sound, climate, and a direction. These qualities are organized in the Theory of Five Elements. This ancient system provides TCM practitioners with a framework to understand, diagnose, and treat health problems.

The Wood element is related to Spring. The Liver organ system, which includes the Liver’s partner organ, the Gallbladder, is predominant during this season. This means that their energy is at its peak during this time of year. The Liver’s nature is to move its energy upward and outward freely. This movement is much like the branches of a tree or stalks of bamboo—hence the association with Wood.

In the TCM view, everything is interdependent. Difficulty with one organ can, over time, impact the function of the other four organ systems. Building the health of your Liver in Spring helps to maintain the balance of your whole body, and creates a healthy foundation for Summer.

The Liver performs many important energy functions that are vital to your health.

Smoothing the Flow of Qi, Blood and Emotions

The Liver/Gallbladder organ system is all about smooth flow. The ancient TCM classic, the Nei Jing, describes the Liver as “The root of stopping all extremes.” So wherever or whenever there is an excess or deficiency—of Qi, blood or emotion—it’s the Liver’s job to smooth things out. When this energy function is impaired, it can lead to stagnation. The body’s circulation of Qi and blood can grow sluggish, which can set the stage for masses or tumors to form. Maintaining your emotional barometer is also dependent on the Liver. It’s natural to experience a range of emotions in daily life. Yet continually holding onto emotions can create health difficulties. Just let go.

Storing Blood and Regulating Its Volume

Balanced Liver function ensures the flow of blood back to the physical organ during rest and to the muscles and tissues during activity. “When the Liver has enough blood . . . the feet can walk, the hands can hold and the fingers can grasp,” says the Nei Jing. The Liver’s task of storing blood helps you to recover your energy when at rest, nourish your muscles, and have adequate blood supply in the right places when you are active. The Liver is the number one organ in terms of women’s health. Why? A regular and pain-free menstrual cycle is dependent on the Liver’s blood-storing and blood-regulating function. When this function is impaired, irregular or painful periods, PMS, cramps, headaches, and painful breasts can result.

Assisting the Digestive Process

The Liver’s smoothing and regulating function also extends to your digestive process. Smoothly flowing Liver Qi allows the Stomach to process all the food you eat. Balanced Liver function enables the Spleen to transform food into Qi and make blood to nourish and sustain your entire body. Poor appetite, belching, and diarrhea are indicators of an imbalance in Liver function.

Eyes, Nails and Tendons

Healthy eyes; strong, ridge-free nails; and flexible tendons are dependent on the quality of your Liver Qi. Any health issue with them can be a signal that your Liver is not functioning optimally.

Learn more about the Five Element Framework.

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