Spring, the Liver and anger

Clients often ask me about the association between our emotions and the body’s organs, i.e. Lung and grief, Liver and anger, Kidneys and Fear etc.

They’ll ask questions such as ‘I feel angry, are you going to work on my Liver?”, or ‘What is sadness related to?”. In Oriental Medicine the emotions are perceived as movements of qi and have resonance with the seasons, climactic conditions, tastes, sounds, senses etc.

The Liver is a manifestation of strength and the great and visible impulse of life, and in the natural world and in the universe, this is the power of spring and of vegetation in the spring when flowers and herbs just spread out on the earth. (Larry and Rocha de la Vallé, 1999.)

Spring follows the cold of Winter. The warming Yang qi of spring stimulates plants to grow and develop and the sap of the tree flows upwards and buds appear. This is the beginning of a new cycle of life and carries within it a great deal of force. This surge of qi can easily be felt in early spring when we feel the need to get outside and do something. Crocus and daffodils have pushed through the hard earth and there is a tension in the air. In the course of the day, this upwards surge of qi can sometimes be felt when our own plans are thwarted by others or by life, resulting in feelings of irritation, frustration or even rage.

• The Su Wen Chapter 5 (one of the Classics of Chinese Medicine) states “The Liver and anger are related, and anger damages the Liver”.

• Chapter 39 states “When there is anger, the qi rises up!”

According to the theory of Oriental Medicine, it is true that each of the emotional factors of grief, anger, fear, joy and worrying/overthinking can trigger specific conditions in the body. Some of these are very briefly experienced as they move freely into an outward expression such as tears, or we utilise the energy of the emotion (such as anger) by channelling it into a healthy creative task… Deeper pathologies appear when the emotion is experienced for a prolonged period, or experienced in such intensity that it overwhelms the person’s resources preventing them from processing or ‘digesting’ their experiences. The degree to which a person is affected also depends upon their own nature or constitution and their current state of health.

When qi rises quickly, people often struggle to contain this upward force of energy. People consumed with rage are no longer able to think or plan effectively – the mind and spirit are no longer focused. It is said that a person who understands the way of nourishing the liver, never throws fits of anger. Another pathological expression of anger can take the form of depression and apathy. In this situation the qi does not ascend and the person is resigned to their current situation. They are no longer fulfilling their potential. Regular physical activity is a must for these people.

Desires and passions are considered by Chinese philosophers to be one of the main causes of illness and disease. Therefore, we must be able to express our needs and emotions in a healthy way at the right time. If the Heart is quiet and empty and there is clear awareness, appropriate behaviour will follow. This produces regular movements of qi and good health.