I'm the type of practitioner that asks patients whether they'd like me to talk about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I know this is because I'm projecting my own needs; I'm that person who needs to always know what's going on. What can I say? My curiosity is probably my most dominant character trait. Some people love to hear what I am doing during their treatment, and some just want me to stop talking and stick it in ;) The problem is, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation of the language of Chinese medicine. I explain from the beginning, that the language is different. That when I am discussing your kidney, I'm not talking about your physical kidney. Well, actually, sometimes I am...the energetics of an organ and the physical function can overlap. It can be very confusing for someone not used to the language. This is why I tend to talk more about blood and qi, so we're on safer ground. People don't freak out when you tell them that they have stagnation, but I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain that even though I'm treating the kidney, no, they are not experiencing kidney failure!
So, I thought that I would spend some time clarifying just what the energetic organ systems do. Today we'll start with the liver.
I'm not going to get into all the functions of the liver that you were taught back in junior high, but in Western medicine its basic job is to filter. It stores blood, and cleans toxins from the body, and is known for its amazing powers of regeneration.
In TCM, it also has a lot to do with blood. Are you pale, fatigued, dizzy? The liver is not sending out enough blood. These symptoms, along with insomnia, floaters in the eyes, and depression, are all symptoms of blood deficiency, which means your liver needs some work, and we need to build your blood. The liver also controls the tendons, which means that if you are one of those people who are always very tight, your liver needs to loosen up!
Other physical symptoms of liver issues are neck and shoulder pain and tightness, headaches (especially severe headaches, such as migraines), high blood pressure, hernias, genital issues, PMS, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Mind you, this doesn't cover nearly all of the problems of the body that can stem from the liver; it's just a brief overview.
From an emotional standpoint, the liver has a lot to do with stress, anger, and boundaries. Just as a liver imbalance leaves the tendons too tight, it can also lead to a tightness of the spirit. Imagine this: a red-faced hypertensive man waiting impatiently in line at a store, huffing and puffing because he has to wait like everyone else. He is pointedly looking at his watch, and glaring at the cashier. Every once in a while he bumps into the woman in front of him as he checks his watch, and she moves back, submitting to him and allowing him to take over her personal space. He is becoming more and more furious by the minute, because he is late for his scheduled activities. Most people would describe this guy as a controlling jackass, but in the world of acupuncture, he simply has an imbalance of the liver!
I don't mean to imply that all people who have a liver imbalance act this way, or that the liver is responsible for creating miserable "Type A"s. This liver energy is necessary for creating useful boundaries as well, and for keeping us on track. Without it, we wouldn't have a sense of purpose, and we wouldn't be able to get anything done.
The key is balance. We could take another look at that line the angry man was in, and take into consideration the woman who was bumped into. Her imbalance of liver energy in the opposite direction creates a lack of boundaries, allowing her to have a "push-over" mentality. When someone steps into her personal space, she steps back. She lacks the assertiveness that a strong liver energy can bring forth.
So when you come in and I tell you that I'm treating your liver, don't assume that cirrhosis has set in. I'm actually treating both your neck...and the chip on your shoulder ;)