Caring for your liver
My topic for this post is embracing Spring energy and caring for your liver in times of stress. I hope you find it interesting!
In Chinese medicine, Spring and the liver have a number of key associations:
Organs: Liver and gall bladder
Spring is here in all its glory, with longer lighter and sunny days and a green vision all around us. Nature is in full bloom and plants are thrusting upwards, showing us rebirth and the potential for new growth and beginnings.
After the quietude and reduced activity of winter, Spring represents a time for increased movement and activity, new challenges and experiences, and a time to shake off old habits and spring clean our lives, our homes, our bodies and even our emotions. The ‘wood’ element exemplifies this energy of growth, change, and flexibility and is associated with the liver and gall bladder.
The liver is the largest organ in the body with an incredible capacity for regeneration. One of our most essential organs, it performs many functions including neutralising environmental toxins and cleaning the blood, making and storing fuel for energy, helping with blood clotting, and making bile for digestion. Everything we eat and drink, including medications and drugs, are filtered by the liver which works very hard to keep us healthy. The gall bladder helps digest fats and eliminates some toxins. It is not surprising then that these two organs are usually the primary targets for springtime cleansing and health routines!
In Chinese Medicine, the liver is compared to ‘a general of the armed forces’ and represents within us qualities such as planning, having a strong sense of purpose and a vision of the future. It provides us with strength and forcefulness when necessary, like a seedling pushing through or finding a way around an obstruction that might be impeding its growth. On a mental level, focus and strategising with insight and wisdom resonates with the liver, whilst the gall bladder helps us with discernment and decision making – so the liver plans, and the gall bladder decides.
A healthy liver establishes a smooth flow of Qi (energy) and blood through the whole person in both body and mind. When the liver energy flows freely there is no stress or tension and we have the strength and flexibility, mentally and physically, to meet and adapt to the challenges of life. When the liver is imbalanced the qi and blood become deficient or stuck, then the body becomes stressed and produces a host of symptoms which relate to the areas of influence the liver has on the body. Symptoms such as:
Anger (resentment, irritability, emotional volatility)
Headaches, migraines, dizziness, and vertigo
Muscle tension, stiffness or numbness
Digestive problems (such as bloating, pain under ribs) and constipation
Red sore eyes, dry eyes, blurred vision, and styes
Brittle nails, or ridged nails
Tiredness and lethargy
Poor sleep especially waking between 1-3am
High blood pressure
Sighing, hiccups or a sensation of a lump in the throat
And a general feeling of being stuck
With the country in lockdown, our lives and emotions are restricted just at a time when our energies should naturally be flowing outward towards growth and renewal as we are seeing in nature. Ongoing stress weakens our immune resistance by lowering our white blood cells which defend the body against viruses.
Tips to champion your liver and find balance and calmness to survive and thrive:
Connect with emotions – to allow your liver energy to flow smoothly and reduce and tension! If you can, try to think positively and let go of any frustrations that are holding you back. Reach out to friends and family for support. Have a Facetime or WhatsApp call with them, or me if you would like!
Spring exercise - take a brisk walk in nature - outside air helps liver qi flow and you can enjoy the beauty, growth and green of spring. Jogging and dancing are also good. Exercise builds strength and stamina and can create a cleansing sweat (and tennis, golf, swimming when allowed!). Both you and your liver need movement to avoid ‘stuckness’ or pent up emotions.
Stretch - the liver controls the tendons. According to Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons and muscles in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Incorporate a morning stretch into your routine.
Combine with more internal gentle practices such as yoga and tai qi or qigong to nourish and connect to your deep inner energy, whilst stretching the muscles and calming the mind.
Spring clear your diet – this is a big one!
In general, eat a liver-friendly diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg, drink filtered water and cut down on bad fats, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol and avoid processed foods as much as possible. All these ‘bad’ foods make more work for the liver! But you can include good fats - olive oil, coconut oil and avocado.
Reduce toxins, go organic to make it easier for your liver; and eat plenty of soluble fibre to aid the liver flush toxins out. Good sources of soluble fibre are chia seeds, flax, vegetables, beans, oats.
Eat green – green is the colour associated with the liver in Chinese Medicine and the liver loves greens! Eating fresh leafy greens, sprouts, and young plants can improve the liver’s overall function and have purifying qualities. Add bitter greens like mustard, watercress, chard, endive, dandelion greens, radicchio and lettuce to your diet and your liver will be happy. Onion and garlic are also good.
Get a zesty start to the day - the liver likes lemon! Start your day with a cup of hot water and squeeze of lemon. Rich in vitamin C, this beverage can improve your diet and boost immune function. Lemon and apple cider vinegar are also beneficial to move bile, especially taken in warm water first thing in the morning.
Choose sour – sour is the taste associated with the liver. Food and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate the liver's qi. As well as lemon slices in your drinking water, use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. Garnish your sandwich with a slice of dill pickle.
Avoid late night snacks – the liver time in Chinese Medicine is 1-3am when the liver is doing its work and regenerates itself so avoid eating late.
Dry skin brushing that I mentioned previously for the lung, also supports the liver by removing toxins.
Layer up in windy weather (wind unsettles the liver) to protect yourself from spring colds, allergies, and other immune-related challenges. A light scarf can go a long way in protecting your lungs and liver from the effects of excessive wind.
Practice meditative exercises to help create a healthy awareness of the body and mind connection, freeing your mind of stressful thoughts. Gentle meditation and relaxed deep breathing exercises can help with any anger or excess emotion that may arise from an unbalanced wood or liver in Spring.
Eye exercises - The liver opens into the eyes. Although all the organs have some connection to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to proper eye function. Remember to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and do eye exercises.
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body and I hope you find some of the concepts interesting and some of the tips useful! Any suggestion needs to resonate with you so even if you can only adopt one or two tips above, they are a simple way to start loving your liver.
I would love to hear from you so don’t hesitate to get in touch for any advice or just to touch base. I am happy to suggest acupuncture points you can massage!