As we approach spring we're coming into an energy of the year called Wood; one of the 5 main elements. I remember saying to a colleague back when I was just about to start studying shiatsu: What's wood got to do with it? How can you describe someone or something as wood? Well, when I learnt it blew my mind! To quote someone or a condition as wood-based is the tip of an iceberg that I've now peaked under the water line of, but elements and their relationships run deep. What is wood really? How does it link with your Liver, what does it do to your emotions and why is it resolved with Love? This month in my shiatsu blog: Liver, love and emotions!
Is there a reason why St Valentines Day is set at the start of this season? Is there a deeper reason that we don't know about? I can't answer that question but it does make me think about dealing with the emotional energetics of Liver before hopping into the physical energetics with liver cleansing which comes in with March and April. I'm always quick to go to the physical, but this year I thought I'd take a step back and ponder on the emotional energetics of this season and how it can manifest in your health. How thinking about your emotions and letting go of negative ones can also resolve health issues too.
What is wood really?
Wood in chinese medicine terms is an element and it is based on a tree. When a tree is healthy it is strong, grounded and flexible. When not then to be ungrounded and inflexible will start to cause health issues.
Wood is the colour green, linked to all things green in nature from limes to broccoli and this is no coincidence that these foods are the best foods for your liver.
Wood is linked to the season of spring, of driving growth, taking action, feeling that energy swelling up in you (which can be good or not so).
Wood in shiatsu terms is the meridians of liver, and gallbladder, governs your ligaments and tendons, is expressed through your eyes. It is the sound of shouting, the taste is sour (think nausea), and is made worse by the wind. Wood is internal wind (not what you think!), it appears as twitching, ticks and random shooting pains.
And one of my favourites - wood is crunching! I'm pretty sure this is why crisps and biscuits are so popular. It's one of the questions I ask my clients when they mention crisps - Do you crunch through them furiously or pick at them, is it the flavour or the crunch? Depending on the answer I either have a water or wood imbalance to deal with. (For the curious - if its the flavour its most likely salt and this is an indication of a water imbalance.)
Wood is linked to the emotion of anger (this includes resentment, bitterness, jealousy, irritability) and on the flip side is creativity. Think of artists, their best work doesn't come from happiness, it comes out of a rush to resolve unhappy emotions, it's good though, they're letting it go, by expressing it (more on this later).
How does wood link with your liver?
Wood is the element and it governs your liver, this is really important to stress because when I start to talk about emotions you'll begin to understand why they have an effect on how your liver functions and the not on health effects around your body. Many people think of their heart as governing everything to do with your blood. Your heart is a pump, the quality of your blood and everything that happens to it resides with your liver.
Your liver is an incredibly forgiving organ, it puts up with so much that is thrown at it in todays western lifestyle. Your liver is a filter, it cleans your blood and removes toxins from your body, but your liver is THE MOST COMPLEX filter on the planet, it needs to be so you can live!
Toxins from food, pollutants, chemicals you apply and digest, dirty hormones, alcohol, caffeine, sugar all put pressure on your liver. If your liver isn't coping so well you have a lot of symptoms, feeling queasy, lack of energy, night sweats, high blood pressure, putting on weight, problems with your sight, the quality of your blood (and the knock on effect to your joints) are a few of the major symptoms your body will tell you about when your liver isn't working at its best.
There are 2 main ways to clean your liver, one is physically with a detox; this is clean eating and using supportive herbs to help cleanse it. The other? Cleaning up and resolving lingering emotional baggage.
How does the liver effect your emotions?
We have this term in chinese medicine, when your liver is stuttery you'll be quick to anger. To explain, if your liver is clogged up and not working at it's best you'll fly off the hand easily and feel irritable a lot of the time. This can be a personality type or it can come on in middle age, and you're noticing you're not as chilled as you once were.
In chinese medicine, which is truly holistic we can't separate the physical from the emotional, it just can't happen. In health terms we have 2 routes from which ill health occurs, external and internal. External is toxins and internal is emotions; and they both collide in your liver.
How do you recognise and resolve liver emotions?
The negative emotions that I've mentioned so far all come under the banner of anger and when you hold onto it it affects the smooth running of your liver and when repressed solidifies in your gallbladder. If this doesn't sound good, it shouldn't, because it isn't! A major issue for many women is that they don't recognise anger, or when then should be angry, mainly from childhood experience. As Yin and Yang are all about balance they will tend to up with a partner who loses their temper quickly; and neither can see the others point of view.
To be angry is natural, it needs to be felt and expressed. When you can do this well, then you'll have a good relationship with your liver and health.
The issue is though that not many people can express it in a way that is healthy for them to move forwards. This is where therapy or guidance really does help you become a happier and healthier person.
If you can't feel angry or you hold onto it and won't let it go, this is when it is very unhealthy. I feel lucky that I've always been able to express my anger, it was not repressed in me in my childhood, but I do realise that for many years the was I let it out was unhealthy and during those decades I had a lot of health issues.
Once I studied chinese medicine I got healthier, plus I was receiving shiatsu at least once a month (physically working on the liver energy).. When I really began to understand the link between anger and health nad then when I learnt to let go of anger and replace it with gratitude; that's when things really started to get better.
To love, forgive, or be at peace within yourself is to let go of anger. I find too much of the time people are holding on to anger towards themself. I know I used to be the same; this is what guilt stems from. It's completely self induced, when I learnt this it was a revelation - WHAT? I don't NEED to FEEL guilty? I've barely felt guilt since, I analyse my guilt thoughts and decide whether they are genuine or not, do I need to take an action? If not; let it go...
It is healthy to get angry when the situation calls for it, but you need to ask yourself these questions to decide whether anger is correct, if so what action to take and if not, how to let go:
Was this the right type of situation to get angry about?
If yes, then what positive action should I take to deal with it so that I can let it go?
If no, do I need to work on myself physically or emotionally so that I don't anger so easily?
For those that don't feel they get angry, ask yourself this question:
In a this situation others got angry on my behalf, should I have felt anger myself?
If yes, then question whether you have an issue even expressing anger and could this be linked to your current health situation?
If no, still question yourself as you may not be realising that this is a situation to be angry about, especially if 2 or 3 people are expressing this emotion on your behalf.
Letting go of Anger, replacing with Love
Firstly you need to recognise anger; that you have too much , or too easily triggered out of nowhere, or that you can't express it. There are talking therapies that may help you and my clients notice that with regular shiatsu they learn to tune into their physical and emotional body more so and can start making positive changes.
There are 2 main actions for alleviating anger emotions so that it doesn't remain in your liver energetics making you feel more and more irate and ill.
Letting go - this is a powerful message, it was repeated every year whilst I was studying and I think I finally got it after around 5 years! As Buddha stated to hold onto anger is to poison only you. Why would you do this, why let any situation make you this ill? Or course there are legitimate situations that need to be worked through and resolved, and can take considerable time. However the point of this exercise would be to put into action what needs to be done, but then forgive yourself, release yourself from that burden that can so easily make you ill.
It takes a brave person to let go of ill feelings, but if you can let go feelings towards others for your own sake then you're on a path to enlightenment and better health.
Replacing anger with gratitude - don't wake up thinking of all the ills that have been done to you. Wake up thinking of all the good things in your life. Living in the UK or western society we are in the very small percentage of the luckiest people on the planet, we have so much. To think this way is to release tension in your body, stop that squirmy sour feeling you can have, to stop that black cloud that looms overhead.
Happiness keeps anger in check
This is the interplay of 2 elements here fire and wood, being happy is more to do with the fire element and as you most likely have heard of Yin and Yang it's about keeping everything in balance including the elements.
There are 5 elements in the world and our emotions and they all have a cause and effect on one another: water, wood, fire, earth, metal. Your water needs to be strong to control wood, this means feeling physically robust and not fearful. Your fire needs to be strong so that it is not overcome by wood creating bitterness; keep this in check with gratitude. Your metal needs to be set, this is boundaries (this will really help with guilt!), and Earth can't let wood override it so being compassionate but without excess worry.
When wood is overriding in your energetics it seeps into the other energies and this can be picked up in the meridian imbalances in your shiatsu (or acupuncture treatments). It will be there in your symptoms and emotions too. It's why after a shiatsu people feel so much calmer and clear-headed and situations that were rattling them now feel like they are resolved. Anger has been diffused, the poison nulled, the liver softened and relaxed and emotions start flowing in a more balanced way.
I said earlier on that you can't separate the physical from the emotional, but the great thing is you can resolve the physical to calm the emotional.
For a deeper resolution to health issues that keep resurfacing , understanding and resolving regular emotional imbalances is the key to be happier and healthier.
Is it happiness that leads to healthiness or being healthy that makes you happy?
It's totally chicken and egg, the two are so intertwined that you can't separate them, they can bring you down together, or they can lift you up together.
Why Shiatsu helps your liver and emotions
The one message to take away from this blog is that you require intervention, either physical or emotional to turn your health around when issues are liver/anger based.
A lot of people turn to talking therapies and the ones who are helped by these turn to energetic physical therapies like shiatsu, acupuncture or reiki. When you link together that mind and body are one and to resolve issues it's way more effective to work on both at the same time it makes sense why you should have a sympathetic physical therapy.
Therapies based on oriental medicine , or Ayurveda understand how emotions have a physical effect in your body. Some emotions get so deeply embedded that they become very real physical issues and no amount of talking will help undo these blockages. Once emotional rot has set in then illnesses are extremely serious, but it is never to late to work on yourself.
A lot of today's modern illness doesn't show up on western diagnostic tests, and this is a good thing as it means the ailment is still in the energetic realm, you're feeling it, it is very real but nothing a western doctor can find.
When anger and negative emotions are trapped in your body they cause blockages in the emotions, some are very temporary (and become more so with regular shiatsu) and some have been there a while and take time to change. As your mind and body becomes more tuned to shiatsu, physical issues may pop up regularly but can also be resolved easily. This is your body learning to show you there is something wrong and as you're listening you can get it resolved.
Those who choose to work through deeply held emotions that are there for many years will fully submerse themselves in their own healing and will find many modalities to do this. Diet, therapies, spiritual connection, mindset work, regresssion, bach flowers, essential oils, laughing, retreats, yoga , you name it there are many many qualified people out there to help you when you set off on your journey.
I realised back in my mid 20s that my regular cranial osteopathy was doing something for me emotionally even though I originally went for a back issue. I stayed with my therapist John for 10 years as he moved more into energetic therapies and explained that I was always being treated on my emotional rather than physical energy. The treatments that I've always received have been light touch, I never wanted to be beaten up. The lightest touch works on your emotional energetics, the more physical the treatment the more physical the result, but less emotional connection. This is why zen shiatsu specifically appealed to me, it's very much about emotional physical balance.
Prevention is the best cure
Don't take your health for granted, Switch from complaining to gratitude. Express your anger, and let go of your anger. These are major ways in which you can love yourself.
Let this February 14th be different for you, don't think about the commercial aspect, think about what you can really give yourself that will make you feel so much better physically and emotionally.
Hint: Shiatsu is a very good start.... and especially if you don't know where to start!
About Andrea at Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham
Andrea is a qualified Zen shiatsu and chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations as she is a menopause specialist too.