Shiatsu | Chinese medicine

Healthy Liver function, happy emotional life

(Only English version available)

In this post I would like to give you a little insight in the way the Liver is being looked at in Chinese medicine. The focus will be on the Liver function related to our personal and emotional life; the Liver function has a deep influence on our emotional state.

The organs are written with a capital letter; this is to indicate their meaning used as in Chinese medicine. In Western medicine the organ is solely seen as an anatomical entity. According to Chinese medicine the organ is much more than that; it is a complex energetic system encompassing not only the material-anatomical aspect, but also the mental, emotional and spiritual aspect.

When reading this post, try to let go of the Western concept of the liver.

Spring is in the air
In the five elements theory1 spring is related to the Wood element. In spring trees and plants grow and become green. There is new life. This is reflected in the Wood element; the urge to live, act and grow.

As the Liver belongs to the Wood element, the above-mentioned characteristics are also typical for the Liver function.

1The five elements theory is one of the theories applied in Chinese medicine, interpreting natural phenomena

Like an army general
In Chinese medicine the Liver is compared to an army general. For an army general it is essential being able to plan and make decisions to ensure that the people are safe. Also, it is important that the plans and decisions adapt to changing circumstances.

The Liver, like an army general, also decides strategy: what is good for the body? How to protect it? To make these decisions the Liver receives a lot of information through the Blood. From this he will be able to give orders and check whether everything is safe (detoxification).

The Liver decides over how the vital energy supplies of the body is to be used; when do we need to relax and when do we need to get into action. It is said that after at least 20 minutes of rest the Blood goes back to the Liver and will be purified. That’s a plus for everybody who takes an afternoon nap;-).

In our society many of us are active all day long (mainly in the head). We always need to do a lot of things, we tell ourselves and want more and more. Often there is no balance between relaxation (not only physically) and action.

Some of you might recognize the following example: finally you are having holiday, but still you find it hard to relax. In this case the Liver function often is impaired.

The question is; how do we act properly with nature, with the outside world?

Free flow of energy
The most important of all Liver functions is taking care of a free flow of Ki (energy2) throughout the body. On a physical level this free flow of Ki helps the physiological activities of all organs. On a mental-emotional level, the free flow of Ki ensures a balanced emotional life; the person will be happy and free-going.

If our Liver function is healthy we have the capacity to plan our lives. We are flexible to adapt our plans when circumstances change. We are able to express ourselves and have a sense of direction in life.

When we are truly recognized and encouraged to be ourselves, there is space for creativity and peaceful coexistence.

2Energy’ is loosely translated – read my post about Ki for a more precise interpretation

Feeling angry
The emotion belonging to the Wood element (and therefore the Liver) is anger. This includes a whole range of emotions: frustration, resentment, discontentment, feelings of guilt, negative self-image, aggression, rage, impatience, irritability, pushiness, rebellion, intolerance, shame, temper… any kind of heightened emotional reactivity.

Anger (and above-mentioned emotions) is harmful for the Liver, but also the other way around; Liver pathology can cause us to make irritable.

As anger can injure the Liver, sadness can relieve anger. As the Ki (energy) of anger is upwards and the Ki of sadness is downwards.

When we suppress our emotions, this causes problems. Anger and resentment are common emotions that are often suppressed. When they are suppressed they can bottle up and turn against the self, resulting in depression.

Too active or too weak
When the Liver function is out of balance and becoming too active, anger and aggression will be the result. We can become overbearing, taking up too much space and be insensitive to others.

Another option is that the Liver function becomes too weak. In this case we lack self-esteem, have no good self-image, are timid, waiting, not daring, insecure and over-sensitive.  Also, we find it difficult to set our boundaries.

Follow up in the next post!
In the following post I will first comment on the Liver function related to menstruation (including premenstrual syndrome).

Finally I will give you some lifestyle tips for a healthy Liver function and therefore a more balanced emotional life:-).

If you have any questions or are interested in additional information about the Liver function, please email me at


– The foundations of Chinese Medicine – Giovanni Maciocia

– Shiatsu, Theory and Practice – Carola Beresford-Cooke

– Teachers Eloise Sewell and Sasaki Sensei

– Meridian exercises, The Oriental Way to Health and Vitality – Shizuto Masunaga, translated by Stephen Brown

– De lachende Boeddha – Ton van Gelder en Fiona de Vos

Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion chief editor: Cheng Xinnong