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Shiatsu blog: How you feel when your energy is stuck

I thought this month I would look at some of the emotional and physical symptoms you can experience and how you feel when your energy is stuck. You have 5 main types of energy known as the 'Five Elements', these are Water, Wood, Fire, Eart and Metal (Air). Your whole personality and your healthy is an interaction of these 5 energies and keeping them in balance is well.... a balancing act.

As these energies go out of kilter they go into either excess or deficiency and the aim is to get it back into an equilibrium with all 5. I'm always asked 'What makes them go out of kilter?

My answer - life - whether it's health issues, external stressors, or with just the way you view life, your emotions and how you handle them.

Then I'm asked 'How do I get them back in balance?! That's an easy one - have a shiatsu! Also though regular practise of Qi Gong, Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are all ways of aiding your energy to find it's way back to where it should be.

It's been a crash of energies this spring, a strong liver energy came in February, the energy of growth and creativity but then so many people were down with viruses which completely bungs up your energy with damp and can leave you feeling irritated and stressed at not being as productive as you want to be.

How susceptible are you to stuck energy

Today I'm going to take you swiftly through the five elements and what the signs and symptoms of their imbalances are. Some are created in life, some come out of the blue and give you a kicking, and some you're born with! By this I mean look to your zodiac sun sign, this can give you an indication of what your weaknesses (and strengths!) can be:

Water - Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio

Fire - Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

Earth - Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo

Air (Metal) - Aquarius, Gemini, Libra

If you're born around the 21st of the month, give or take 5-7 days you can be affected by the neighbouring element, for example I was born earth (virgo) but I was late and should have been fire (leo) and this very much affects me! My mum is born on the 21st so though an earth (virgo) she is very susceptible to metal as well as earth imbalances in her health.

Many people are the same so enjoy finding yourself as we steps through the five elements today! We start with Wood as this is also the season we're in - Spring. Noone is born with a wood sign, however if you know someone who is completely stubborn or inflexible you have a woody person in your life :) Wood like a tree should not only be strong and grounded, but should also be flexible!

Wood - The season of your liver in Chinese medicine is Spring

I know when my liver energy comes to life, and with being in the menopause too this is an especially volatile time. When I'd 'lost it' without warning a couple of times I realised I needed to get my liver energy emotionally and physically back into shape, and beaware of it in the meantime.

We'll start with liver, one of the five elements in chinese medicine as this is the season of Spring, and let's look at how it maybe hindering or indeed helping you.

Anger v Creativity

With spring comes the thrust of life again, we're well into now but remember when you first see the daffodils poking out the ground? That's the beginning of it.

You come out of hibernation, you want to do things, you want to get some exercise, some fresh air and new ideas spring to life! There is a chinese proverb that says 'plan your year in the spring, and your day at dawn'. This is because this is when you have energy and creativity to plan. Not on January 1st when we're still in deep winter and exhausted from Christmas (Winter = water = hibernation).

Making plans for your year in Spring means you'll set greater goals and have larger sites because your brain is fired up and working that way. However if you're not thinking and feeling this way, or you're stuck with frustration, jealousy or boredom then your liver energy needs help

Anger is the primary emotion of the liver, and so all of its children emotions like frustration, resentment and jealousy all feed back to anger being your primary issue. Anger is a representation of stuck liver energy.

Creativity is the flip side of anger, in fact if you're angry - use it creatively, it's a great energy to clean the house, create some art work, forge ahead with DIY, but all your frustration into getting the painting done!

Signs and symptoms of wood out of balance

As it is to do with your liver it can very much affect your blood too, especially in women and with PMS or menopausal symptoms. Gallbladder is also linked so how well you can digest fats. Together they also govern the quality of your ligaments and tendon, so these are especially susceptible during the Spring for injuries. Here are some common wood in excess symptoms:

  • Moodiness/ irritability/ depression

  • High blood pressure

  • Angry outbursts

  • PMS / cramps

  • RIgid muscles / tight ligaments & tendons

  • Inflammation

  • Gas/ bloating / constipation

  • Pounding headaches

  • Red eyes

  • Allergies and Immunity issues

  • Night sweats

Some come and go with season and some like high blood pressure are indicative more of your personality. The good news is that therapies like Shiatsu or daily practise of Qi Gong is very beneficial for dealing with fluctuations in wood. This is one of my regular imbalances, if you think I'm a calm person, it's because I have a regular shiatsu to keep these energies in check!

For Qi Gong, check out forms that include sideways bends and twists, fantastic for releasing tension in the organs and detoxing. Just beware that after the first session any pent up liver energy can come our forcefully; prepare your spouse!

Food also comes into the Five element modal and each one has it's favourites, for liver it is green food. Vegetables, limes, advocadoes, you name it if it's green it's good. Packed full of antioxidants green foods help the liver function well. Also herbal supplements for liver health, and turmeric for reducing inflammation are fantastic for supporting your liver and relieving liver heat related symptoms too; especially in the menopause.

Fire - the season of summer, passion in your personality!

In the 5 element cycle throughout the year fire is the penultimate one, you're coming into full bloom with the heat of summer. This is when you're likely to feel very sociable and adventurous, be in the swing of things and taking things through to fruition... until it gets too hot, in which case most of us can become sluggish or dormant; too much fire destroys.

Fire in your personality is a person that is driven and so is an excellent thing as these people achieve.. Fire is also joy, passion, charm and excitement. However fire in excess is a person who at the least 'firey' and for some can tap into the manic, A child born under a fire sign and into an extremely hot summer can be affected in this way, as too much fire depletes their water; it's all a balancing act and sometimes the cosmos doesn't really help!

If a person is depleted in their fire they can be pretty lethargic whatever the weather.

You should feel your fire ebb and flow throughout the year; I know my socialbility goes up in July/August compared to January/ February - do you feel the same? If you're person always on the go, then you're probably born under a fire sign in which case you can put your additional fire to good use in your life and achieve a lot.

Signs and Symptoms of Fire out of balance

Fire is linked with your heart, more in terms of love and passion, plus it plays its part in your emotional protection and your small intestine. Bitterness is a sign your fire is out of balance, and one to be aware of as it's noticeable in your speech patterns. Here are some signs of fire in excess:

  • Palpitations/ pounding pulse

  • Flushing

  • Ruddy complexion

  • Infections/ inflammation

  • Insomnia

  • Overtalking/ hyperactive

  • Inappropriate laughter

  • 3rd white eye (very staring eyes!)

  • Anxiety

Fire can be depleted too; here are some common symptoms:

  • Palpitations/ weak or erractic pulse

  • Pale complexion

  • Restlessness

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Dull eyes

  • Disturbed dreams and sleep

  • Lack of joy

  • Stuttering

  • Deep fatigue

These are more personality types but can also be triggered with long term illness like post viral fatigue, where your body is bunged up with damp and it can't get moving again. Herbal medicine can start moving things, and Shiatsu can most definitely kick start your body. If you're doing Qi Gong, you maybe trying forms to give you more sparkle or to calm you down when you're in overwhelm and hyper.

Foods for fire imbalances can be cooling or tonifying. Cooling is the easiest, we reach for salads when it gets hot. We use mint to cool, it's beneficial internally and when the essential oil is added to skin products you feel a cooling sensation (and this will work it's way into your blood stream too!).

Tonifying comes in the form of gentle spices, peppers, mustards to reheat your adrenal system and some herbs too like tarragon and rosemary. Certain meats are warming like lamb, and the way you heat foods like frying and barbequing, so if you're a fire in excess avoid these.

Earth - late summer and maturation, balance and grounding

I'm an earth sign, and I'm also born in the season of earth too, so I'm a double whammy of earth and off the top of my head I'd say earth is a strong and hopefully healthy relationship with food! Anyone who knows me knows I like my food!

Earthy types are warm, generous and supportive; hey, they may even be fantastic therapists! As their name suggests they are the more grounded people, practical and less prone to drama; they get the job done. Emotionally they're the hosts, making people feel at home and putting on a good spread.

On the downside earth's imbalances are worrying emotionally and physically dampness; and damp can play havoc in the body! We like in the UK, a damp country so a lot of us are prone to damp conditions, it's why us Brits like to head to the sun when we can. Damp congeals in your body and stops it from working as well, this can be felt by feeling heavy limbed. It can also affect your digestion, making is sluggish and your energy levels lower, you don't get the nutrients out of food as you could. Damp on the brain leads to brain fog, and it's also triggered by sugary foods and dairy; both cause damp in the body. One of the most obvious symptoms is if you suffer from a lot of phlegm-like respiratory conditions.

Emotionally earth types worry, about anything and everything, and then this impacts on their health too, so keep how much you care in check is also good for your health. Worrying about things that may never be is a waste of good energy, especially for a practical earth sign who could be achieving way more instead.

Signs and Symptoms of Earth out of balance

These can be quite physical and lifelong, you don't hop in and out of earth imbalances as you can do with the elements. They can be set up as a child, your relationship with food and family both having a marked presence on this element.

Here are some signs of earth in deficiency and you'll see some of them also in earth in excess:

  • fatigue

  • loose stools

  • pale lips

  • dry skin

  • haemorrhoids

  • poor appetite

  • obesity

  • easily bruised/ varicose veins

  • puffy ankles/legs

  • spaced out/ ungrounded

Earth in excess:

  • brain fog

  • heavy limbs

  • dull headaches

  • congested sinuses

  • phlegm on the lungs

  • lumps under the skin

  • obesity

  • nausea/belching

  • constipation

Earth signs love food and their relationship with food affects their body this is due to it's governing your stomach and spleen. I recently looked up what I should be eating in Ayurvedic terms and it was a little depressing. If you really like something, you probably shouldn't be eating it, as it'll cause damp. The foods for a body in earth imbalance are spices, astringents and vegetables. A vegetarian indian diet would really suit, and this may very well explain why Brits love a curry too, to try and expel dampness. Spices should be gentle though, too hot and you step in metal imbalances (next section!).

Earth in the Five element theory is placed in the centre, and all other imbalances try to come back to centre , to be grounded and this is why our relationship with food is so important. Most of us have an interesting relationship with types of food which really comes to the fore in midlife as more gut health issues arise. My one tip today is to start taking a daily probiotic, I use Microbz Biolive, it really helps your gut and in turn your brain clarity and your overall health.

Shiatsu is a fantastic therapy for an earth sign, as this touch therapy is grounding and supportive. Quality of your flesh is another earth sign trait and so to feel this therapy all over really puts you back in your body. It also aids shifting lymph fluid. When this is sluggish you feel it most in your legs, that heavy limbed feeling, Qi Gong is fantastic for waking you up on a day you're feeling like this too.

Metal - Autumn, the season of Letting Go and managing grief

Metal is sometimes known as Air as well. In China they have a square cut hole in the centre of some of their coins to represent this. Coming into Autumn, as the weather changes you can't help but feel different. There are those that come alive and those that shut down as they know winter is on the way. Which ever you are Autumn is a real season of transition, like Spring (liver energy) was. Liver and Fire are both considered Yang - they are expansive and times of growth, Earth is a time of consolidation of this and then Metal begins the Yin cycle, inwards and this can cause introversion and melancholy when out of balance.

At this time of year you can become nostalgic and reflective, it is also deeply associated with grief and the ability to let go of situations and /or loved ones.

Physically Metal/ Air is about dryness, which we need as the body moves through the season, when out of kilter it can manifest in the lungs either as too damp (deficiency) or too dry (excess). This in turns effects your skin, if its dry and flaky your metal is in excess. Vital fluids in the body may also be reduced and this really steps you into the chinese medicine realms to rebalance these.

Signs and Symptoms of Metal out of balance

All the elements have associated colours and for Metal it is white, and one of the most obvious imbalances you can pick up in a person. If they have an all white minimalist house you know you're in excess here!

White is also the colour of fluids in the body, so a white phlegm from the lungs and most of your health symptoms are due to lungs being impacted and the outward affect on your skin. Plus your large intestine is also associated.

Metal in deficiency:

  • shortness of breath on excertion

  • dry skin/ brittle body hair (not head)

  • regular colds and viruses

  • lack of sweating

  • continusous cough/ asthma

  • overbright complexion

  • weak voice

  • constipation

  • no ability to grieve

  • stuck in destructive cycles

  • in ability to 'let go'

Metal in Excess:

  • A phlegmy cough

  • continuous tonsil issues

  • dry skin, nose/lungs

  • feeling stuffy in chest/ head

  • psoriasis, eczema, hives

  • affected stools

  • unconsolable grief

  • neurotic behaviour/ overly judgemental

Where as with earth it's almost a life imbalance, metal imbalances can happen all the time in your life. Very much triggered by loss, and how you grieve. I had a client call me in December last year, she was crying all the time and wondered why her menopause had suddenly gotten so bad. Her symptoms added up to an acute Metal imbalance so I asked her what had happened in the last couple of weeks.

They were packing to move home, leaving behind the house and area that she lived in all her life, where her children grew up and more. She was grieving, not menopause at all. I told her to embrace it, she was letting go of 50 plus years of her life, no wonder she was having a good cry. When I caught up with her a few months later she was great. This is a perfect example of a short term Metal imbalance, sometimes you have to embrace what it means.

Grief is a biggie, as it can go on for years, and you can switch from Excess into Deficiency over time. Understanding of grief, which very few of us have is very beneficial in helping you through a metal imabalance. Of course shiatsu can help, and I see a lot of people at around the 18 month mark after losing a parent or partner when they come out of that daze and want to rectify the health patterns that are now setting in.

There are those that have a metal imbalance through life, and this can happen to Air signs in the zodiac. Sometimes they need to feel as though they have strong boundaries to help them feel grounded, and this can sometimes appear to others like they've constrained their lives but it's what makes them feel less fearful at living; constraint is their comfort. You then have the complete opposites that never lay down routes and just float through life, never really connecting.

One final metal imbalance to mention is feeling claustraphobic or constricted; feeling like you can't breathe. This can be brought on by a situation or circumstance that is mainly out of your control. If an imbalance is going to come out of the blue and knock you for 6 it is most likely a metal one.

Water - hibernation and rest, fear and courage, lifestyle and menopause!

Water is the start of the 5 element cycle, it is being in the womb, it is where life started on earth and we're made up of 75% of it so it's going to really have an impact on us through life, and our imbalances, our health patterns how we live ultimately.

Weakness in water can leave you living your life fearfully, but a strength of water can make you courageous!

Water has no shape and requires all the other elements to keep it in balance, like earth to dam it in, It is cold and life seizes to grow but lies dormant and recouperating waiting for the next element phase. It is still alive though, just hibernating. We would do well to learn from nature in this aspect and take it easier during the winter to allow ourselves to replenish for the new year ahead. It is very much a western model to promote the 'get up and go on' on January 1st every year, and this will be spear headed by those winter baby's who come alive and have an abundance of energy in these months. As a late summer baby I literally have no energy on January 1st, however in July I'm full of it when a Winter water sign can't lift a finger!

Water signs are some of the most difficult to read, as they don't give anything away. Not like a Fire sign who is all drama and tells you about it. Water signs a deeply thoughtful and sensitive but quietly courageous.

Physically water governs kidneys and bladder and depending on the imbalances, you're going to have symptoms with these organs. Your kidney energy is also your constitutional energy, your life force, and from this stems your health throughout your life. It can also play its part with your lungs, weak kidney energy causes continual chronic lung issues.

Signs and Symptoms of Water out of balance

Your bladder and kidneys have all the waste fluids of the body pass through them, excreting all the toxins you've expelled, this means they are prone to infections if not kept in good shape. Water energy also governs your bones, and marrow of (also brain marrow). Strength in your water element, is strength in your body, and longevity. Baldness is linked to weakened water, I even studied this at one point, male water signs are the most likely to lose their hair, followed by fire signs. Check with the men in your life - cancer, pisces, scorpio are the water zodiac sings; I did my study with celebs!

Head hair is governed by water, where as body hair is Metal (lungs) so they are treated differently in chinese medicine. Kidney Yin and Yang are 2 of the main talked about imbalances in the body - Yang equating to fire/heat and Yin to cooling and nourishing. We tend to only talk about Water in deficiency but then we break it into Yin and Yang.

Here are the symptoms of Kidney Yin deficiency (you're likely to feel hotter/dryer):

  • pain in your lower back/knees

  • dark, scant urine

  • red tongue, flushed cheeks

  • afternoon fevers

  • insomnia

  • hot flushes

Kidney Yang deficiency symptoms (similar to fire deficiency) :

  • fatigue

  • weakness

  • cold

  • frequent urination

  • oedema/water retention

  • pain in lower back/knees

  • feel worse in the mornings

  • 3pm slump

Then, you can have a combined Kidney Yin and Yang deficiency, and this would culminate as premature aging. A long term issue of one imbalance will lead to the other also becoming deficient. It is the Kidney Yin/ Yang relationship that causes most menopausal symptoms and what I work with to resolve.

KIdney / water imbalances are long term, they are chronic conditions that have either set in with life or you were born with (e.g. a congenital defect). Longterm stress is a perfect example of a root cause and this can really become noticeable in midlife, and is the root cause of perimenopause/ menopause symptoms.

To resolve this imbalance is to live your life more mindfully. Eating better,, working to get good sleep, the right exercise and slowing bringing you back to life. Long term energy issues will fall into this category, most noticeable with female fitness instructors. As it's taken a long time to emerge, it takes time to recouperate.

Keeping your 5 elemental energies in balance

Once you start down this path of enlightenment about your energies it becomes either a way of living your life or you back out quickly as it seems overwhelming! I get it, I studied it for years and it still took over 10 years for it all to make sense.

This is what I suggest - you eat well, you sleep well, you manage your worklife balance, you explore the stresses in your life and which ones you do and don't have control over. Of those, you let go some and manage others emotionally.

Really feel and acknowledge your emotions (t's not bad to be angry, just choose what you do with it!), and get in tune with your body, don't live in your head, and certainly don't punish your body. If you feel you 'work out your issues' through exhausting yourself with exercise - is that really working it out, or tiring it out?

Practise self care, when to say no, you choose to have down time, rest is your body given a chance to recouperate:

"When you are resting because you are worn out, you need to remember that you are not wasting your time doing nothing. You are doing exactly what your body needs you to do. You are recovering"

Anon but wise quote!

AND, if you haven't twigged yet, get a shiatsu, it's really good for putting those imbalances back in check! Remember at the start I said I was asked 'what causes these imabalances?'

My answer was 'life'!

Manage your life, your emotions, your stress and ultimately your health by having a regular shiatsu. It's not just about fixing the physical kinks that arise, it's about preventing anything bad going really really wrong in your body.

Shiatsu is lifestyle medicine at it's very best.


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