Gymnast on Beam

In Part 1 we learned about the many signs and symptoms of Qi stagnation and its far reaching affects on physical and mental health. In this segment we’ll cover how to treat and prevent Qi stagnation. Of course you’ll be immediately interested in the herbs and formulas to use, but first I’ll cover other therapies since they are integral, even essential, to preventing and treating this issue.

Therapies for Qi Stagnation:

Diet Therapy:

Foods to Eat: Foods that decongest and aid the Liver include vegetables, bitter foods and dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, dandelion, mustard, beet and mustard greens. Lemon juice also helps decongest the liver. A good morning liver cleanse is a fresh squeezed lemon in water with 1 or 2 teaspoons of olive oil and a couple of “00” sized capsules of cayenne pepper. This is followed with fennel seed tea.

Foods to Avoid: Avoid fried, fatty and oily foods, nuts and nut butters, avocados, cheese and dairy, chips of all kinds, turkey and red meats, alcohol, spicy foods, caffeinated foods and drinks, coffee, black tea, cocoa, colas and chocolate, recreational drugs and stimulants.

Emotional Therapy: Turning the “vices” of the Liver into “virtues” helps smooth Liver Qi Stagnation. The Liver’s vices are anger and frustration; its virtues are benevolence, forgiveness, esteem, respect and kindness. Ever hear of that saying, “Do acts of kindness?” Such actions actually cultivate the positive aspects of the Liver and help Qi flow smoothly and regularly. There are many ways to do this; choose ones that express and release emotions in constructive ways and cause no harm to you or others. Above all, do not repress or stuff your emotions, as this is what helped create these physical symptoms in the first place. Of course my new book, Metaphor-phosis: Transform Your Stories from Pain to Power, is a perfect tool to help you do this!

Lifestyle Therapies: To rebalance the Liver, go to sleep by 11 PM at the latest, move regularly through walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, jogging, exercise, hiking (especially in the woods), Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga or another physical activity and regular exercise, and engage in creative projects as this releases pent-up Liver energy and moves Qi. For computer work (and other electronic tools) and desk jobs, be sure to move and/or stretch for five minutes every 30 – 60 minutes. 

Other Therapies: Participate in regular life activities, sex and exercise as regularity of habits helps regulate Qi. Go to sleep by 11 pm at the latest since the Wood Element time of the Liver and Gallbladder does its major work from 11 pm – 3 am (if there’s also Deficient Kidney Yin, go to bed by 9 – 9:30 PM). Find work and jobs you enjoy and are fulfilling.Alternate work with rest and play as over-working can cause this pattern. Do cupping (especially over the back), dermal hammer where needed, breathing exercises, abdominal massage, massage therapies, singing and wear a haramaki around the waist to keep the kidneys warm, the “mother” of the Liver.

Herbal Therapy: Finally – herbal therapy for Qi stagnation! This encompasses so many herbs and formulas that we can’t cover them all here, but I’ll give you enough juicy ones to start exploring. First of all, herbs that move Qi are those that help it move smoothly, regularly and in the right direction. In Western herbalism this includes carminatives. Examples include:

  • Bupleurum(Bupleurum falcatum; chai hu)
  • Citrus peels (Pericarpium citri reticulatate; chen pi, qing pi, zhi ke, zhi shi, fo shou)
  • Cyperus (sedge root, Cyperus spp. Especially C. rotundus, xiang fu)
  • Chinese rose buds (Rosae rugosa; mei gui hua)
  • Mint (Menthae haplocalycis; bo he)
  • Fennel seed (Foeniculi fructus; xiao hui xiang)
  • Saussurea (Aucklandiae lappa; mu xiang)
  • Aquilariae (aloeswood; Aquilaria sinensis; chen xiang)
  • Persimmon calyx (Calyx Diospyros kaki; shi di)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album; tan xiang)
  • Lindera (Lindera spp.; wu yao)
  • Chinese garlic (garlic chive; Allium macrostemon; xie bai)
  • Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
  • Vitex (V. Agnus-castus)
  • Areca peel (Arecae pericarpium; da fu pi)
  • Melia (Sichuan chinaberry, Sichuan pagoda tree; Melia toosendan; chuan lian zi)

Qi-regulating herbs tend to be aromatic, warm and acrid or bitter in energy, treating symptoms of pain that comes and goes, and/or changes location and severity; distention, stifling feelings in the chest, belching, nausea, vomiting, wheezing, acid regurgitation, loss of appetite, diarrhea or alternating diarrhea or constipation, pain in the flanks or under the ribs, depression, mood swings, and hernias.

Qi-moving herbs are rarely used alone; rather they are combined with others based upon the nature of the condition being treated. Typically, they are combined with Blood-moving herbs as Qi and Blood are intricately intertwined. For this reason, when one tonifies Qi, it’s important to tonify Blood and when one moves Qi, it’s also important to move Blood.

Kitchen medicine: For quick use around the home, I find citrus peel tea to be very effective to move Qi. While the Chinese use mandarin orange peels, in Italy I was surprised with lemon peel tea after one dinner. As well, rose buds make a wonderful jam, delighting the senses and spirit as well as moving Qi. Fennel seeds, normally found mixed with sugar and taken after dinner in Indian restaurants, are great as a tea, eaten raw or toasted and cooked with vegetables and meats.

Caution: Because Qi-moving herbs tend to be warming and drying, use with caution in those with Deficient Blood or Yin, or Excess Heat; because they are dispersing, use with caution if there’s Deficient Qi.

Qi-Moving Formulas:

There are lots of formulas that move the Qi and many are available in Chinese patent teapill form, which are easy to find and take. Because bupleurum is one of the major Qi-moving herbs, there are literally dozens of formulas based on this herb alone. Perhaps one of the best known is Bupleurum and Dang Gui Formula (Xiao Yao San) and its variation, Bupleurum and Peony Combination (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San). These two formulas treat most symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation. The first is more warming while the second also clears Heat.

Bupleurum and Dang Gui Formula (Rambling Powder, Xiao Yao San,or in Planetary Formulas: Bupleurum Calmative):

  • Bupleurum (chai hu), 6-9g
  • Dang gui (dang gui), 6-9g
  • White peony (bai shao), 9-12g
  • White atractylodes (bai zhu), 6-9g
  • Poria (fu ling), 9-15g
  • Mint (bo he), 1-3g
  • Fresh ginger (shen jiang), 1-3g
  • Baked licorice (zhi gan cao), 3-6g

Bupleurum and Peony Formula (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San):

Add to the above formula:

  • Gardenia fruit (zhi zi), 1-3g
  • Moutan peony (mu dan pi, tree peony), 3-6g

Uses: Both formulas regulate the function of the Liver and Spleen, move Liver Qi stagnation and replenish Blood. They are used for anemia, costal pain, headache, mouth and throat dryness, dizziness, lassitude, loss of appetite, irregular menses, leukorrhea, uterine bleeding, PMS, mood swings, depression, breast distention, chronic hepatitis, and alternating chills and fevers as in shao yang stage diseases.

Other Bupleurum Formulas to Consider:

  • Minor Bupleurum (Xiao Chai Hu Tang)
  • Major Bupleurum Formla (Da Chai Hu Tang)
  • Bupleurum and Chih Shih Formula (Frigid Extremities Powderor Si Ni San)
  • Bupleurum and Cinnamon Combination (Chai Hu Gui Zhi Tang)
  • Bupleurum and Dragon Bone Combination (Chai Hu Jial Long Gu Mu Li Tang)
  • Bupleurum and Schizonepeta Formula (Shih Wei Pai Tu Tang)
  • Bupleurum Formula (Yi Gan San)


More Useful Qi-Moving Formulas:

  • Pinellia and Magnolia Combination (Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang)
  • Powder to Disperse Vital Energy in the Liver (Chai Hu Shu Gan San)
  • Pills of Tangerine Seed (Ju He Wan)

Happy Spring to you! May your Qi flow smoothly and your energy rise with the sap in trees!

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