True story: About a month ago, on a Saturday, my partner and I woke on the wrong side of the bed. We were feeling fed up with the brutal sub-zero temperatures, the freezing rain, and the 4 feet of packed snow that needed to be shoveled from the back deck. I figured that a good sweat was the answer to our bad attitude. When our daughter went down for her afternoon nap, we threw on some ratty t-shirts and white Reeboks and headed downstairs with our exercise mats and 80s-style purple hand weights for an intense 60 minutes of Jillian Michael’s No More Trouble Zones.


We turned on the space heater and rolled out our yoga mats and got ready to make a little sweat. Then…a terrible thing happened.

The workout dvd was missing from its case. And like a calm, grounded acupuncturist who practices meditation and deep breathing, I FLIPPED OUT.  I got on my knees, and in a veritably crazy manner, slammed my fist into the carpeted floor while bellowing “WHERE’S MY  DVD??!!”

The pre-tantrum look.
The pre-tantrum look.

Chris was caught off guard by my sudden lunge from sanity and tried his best to calm me by making sweet promises in dulcet tones. “Sheesh, baby, it’s really okay,” he crooned.  “We can do a different video – how about Biggest Loser’s Weight Loss Yoga?

But no, I wouldn’t be soothed. I continued to pound my clenched fist into the carpet, like an angry ladygorilla. It was just too much. With a new(ish) baby, it was so hard to find time for myself. I felt like I was constantly running around like a crazyperson, oatmeal cemented to my hair, un-serviced brows like furry caterpillars resting above my lunatic eyes. This was supposed to be my time! MY TIME! MY TIME! MINE! MINE! MINE!

A flash of sanity saved me from rolling around on the carpet and throwing feces at the wall (kidding). Something deep inside me slammed on the brakes, and my face turned the shade of a boiled beet as I began bottling my anger instead of emoting it.

It all worked out in the end. My head did not explode and cover the basement with brain. My sane-side got my tantrum-side off the floor and we did the other video, and within ten minutes of moving my body to the annoying charm of Bob Harper’s voice, I felt my anger discharge from my body like steam from a kettle. Later, I urged Chris to forever delete this incident from his brain. I know he can’t do this since the man has memory like a Clark’s nutcracker, but like the sweet guy he is – he promised me he would never remember that I had beat the living crap out of the floor one cold afternoon during the Winter of ’14.

Not this liver.
Not this liver.

So why I am telling this awful story about myself? Well, because it’s a great introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s concept of the liver. And…to be honest, most people like you more if you embrace a moderate amount of self-deprecation.

The Liver According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 

No, we are not talking about the biomedical version of the liver; in fact, I’m going to ask you to forget what you “know” about the liver and consider this organ from a completely different perspective. In TCM, the liver is the organ in charge of maintaining the smooth, unrestrained movement of qi. The liver helps us stay adaptable, so that we can roll with Life’s unpredictable punches. The more constrained the liver qi becomes , the more inflexible (literally and figuratively) we become in our bodies and spirit. The more stagnant the liver qi – the more frustrated we feel.

Also, the more stagnant the liver qi, the more it will generate heat. Liver heat often manifests as piercing headaches, red eyes/face, and bursts of anger (see opening anecdote).

HDR de saule pleureurThe willow tree is a common metaphor used in Traditional Chinese Medicine when talking about the liver. Willows have watery bark sap, which means that the the tree has soft, pliant wood. The roots of a willow are also remarkable for their size and strength. Bruce Lee pretty much explained this connection when he said:  “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”

People. We know that if Bruce Lee said it, it’s true.

You want the liver and the liver qi to stay flexible – not constrained and backed up and hot. We want to be able to bend so that we don’t…crack.

So what to do if we feel like we’re about to crack? See 5 Ways to Help the Liver Be The Best Liver It Can Be.