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Supporting the Liver in Spring

This article was originally published in Sentire Magazine, Issue 7:March 2019

Writing long form articles for Sentire has been deeply enjoyable, allowing me to expand on ideas of flower essences interweaving with Chinese Medicine and the seasons. This article covers the Spring season, which is joyous, but also with challenges that our flower essence allies and acupressure can help us with. Enjoy!

Is there anything more remarkable than seeing a dandelion growing through a tiny crack in pavement?

A more inhospitable environment is hard to find, yet the dandelion seed manages to strike a root into the earth to grow lush green foliage up into the sunlight. This springtime feat illustrates the power of life force, and provides an example of the energetics of the Liver as described in Chinese Medicine.

In the Spring, the Liver qi rises strongly with all the energy and enthusiasm of the season. When the body and emotions are clear and healthy, this energy can do its job of providing impulse and direction. When the Liver energy is out of balance or blocked, the result is irritability and frustration, even a sense of depression. Without the guidance of the Liver, you cannot plan your future or organize your daily life. It behooves us to support healthy Liver qi in this season so we can ensure good physical and emotional health, and make the most of the year ahead.

The relationship between the emotions and the health of the body is a two way street. Each of the organ systems has a related emotion. Any emotion that is very strong or long lasting can negatively affect an organ, and an organ out of balance may manifest in a disrupted emotional state.

In Chinese Medicine, five of the Organ systems are considered to be homes for spirits, which can each be understood as aspects of consciousness. Each spirit provides a higher perspective on the function of the affiliated organ, and when functioning well, guides the person in the fulfillment of their purpose or life mission.

The Shen is the spirit that resides in the Heart. We can think of this spirit as our consciousness, and our link to the wisdom of Heaven. When the Shen is fully at home and awakened, you will feel inspired and vibrant. Your eyes and complexion will be clear and luminous. This spirit is supported by and gives direction to the other four spirits, and is the liaison between you and Heaven.

The Spirit of the Liver is called the Hun, and provides the Shen with inspiration, creativity, life force and a sense of direction. The Hun (pronounced hoon) helps in maintaining emotional balance by preventing the repression of emotion as well as managing emotional excess. When emotions are routinely blocked or repressed, the qi of the Liver stagnates and disrupts the Hun. When the Hun is disturbed, you’ll feel irritable and angry. This anger is often repressed, misdirected, and may build up into indignant outbursts. Over time, depression may develop.

An important function of the Hun is to support sound and peaceful sleep. My Chinese Medicine practitioner, Sean Fannin, describes it as an anchor which allows the boat of your spirit to float calmly in sleep. Your dreams can then provide insight and guidance to your soul.

Another element of Hun disturbance is a loss of direction in life.

When you are disconnected from your inner guidance and vision you’ll feel aimless and ineffective. When the Hun is in balance, you can think clearly and strategically thereby supporting your ability to make decisions and plan your future. In her book Five Spirits, Lorie Eve Dechar states “…(the Hun carries) the insights and intuitions of the Shen into the realm of matter and manifestation by creating a course of action and deciding on priorities. They give us a sense of direction and a vision for our life.”

Clearing a Lifetime of Stuck Liver Qi

I was raised in a profoundly repressive environment where children were never allowed to express themselves. My parents were members of a fundamentalist doomsday cult, and obedience to authority in the home was strictly enforced with corporal punishment. As I grew up, I was thoroughly conditioned to be pliant and agreeable. I never learned how to set a boundary or express my wishes, and knew into my bones that it was never, ever ok to show anger.

My recovery has been a lifelong process, but I am embodying more and more of who I am every year. Learning to connect to the life force of the Liver, and developing a relationship with this powerful and seemingly dangerous energy, is a significant part of my healing, and is a big part of my work as a flower essence practitioner helping women (and even a few men) to recover their vitality and sense of purpose in life.

While my experience was extreme, many women experience cultural and familial conditioning to repress the life force of the Liver. Women are encouraged to smile, be nice, and placate those in authority roles. Those who don’t obey these unwritten rules are described in extremely unflattering terms and shamed into submission.

Learning to connect to your vital Liver qi, and restoring the guidance of the Hun, has myriad benefits. You will feel relief when years of bottled emotion is allowed to flow, and when you set healthy boundaries there will be space to feel safe, recognized and valued. The miasma of depressive energy lifts, connecting you to your natural vitality and life force.

But first, you must encounter the paper tiger of anger.

Fear of Anger

The sensation of Liver qi rising can feel overwhelming if you’ve never developed a relationship with it. When it has been methodically repressed, it becomes stronger in an effort to break down the blockage. It can feel like a destructive, overpowering force when it is not permitted to flow.

Liver qi is strong and pulsing, pushing all obstacles out of its way. When Liver qi is thwarted the sensation is of profound frustration. When your Liver qi rises, you will feel a powerful force rising up in your body. This force can be channeled into taking action, setting a boundary, or speaking out.

If you have never learned to use this energy, it may feel dangerous.

My clients who had a parent who “blew up” in anger, or who acted violently, recognize this energy in themselves as a threat and prevent it from flowing. They may repress this flow of qi so completely that their Hun cannot provide its qualities of guidance and inspiration.

In order to reconnect with this life force, it helps to develop a better relationship with anger.

I admire Karla McLaren’s description in her book The Language of Emotions. She describes anger as our honorable protector whose function is to maintain healthy boundaries.

I have had many interesting conversations with clients when I’ve introduced this idea of anger as protector, which can seem strange at first. If you’ve always thought of anger as being a negative emotion, it is very easy to judge it as a bad thing. Following this logic, you would believe “good” people would not express “bad” emotions. Many of us have been trained to repress, and deny we ever feel, these negative emotions.

If you start to explore the concept internally, and reflect back on the times you have felt angry, I think you will discover some version of a boundary violation in each circumstance. By learning to use this energy, this anger, in a skillful way, you can stand up honorably and set a clear boundary. Anger gives you the backbone to stand up for yourself and for others when a wrong is being committed.

Learning to Work with Anger Safely

A fear of anger is completely understandable. When it has been unacknowledged and repressed for a lifetime, anger can feel like an uncontrollable and destructive force that, if unleashed, would result in disaster.

Many of my clients cannot talk about their anger, and feel overwhelmed even to think about it. Going very slowly and letting my client set the pace is an essential part of the process. Offering powerfully catalytic essences to stimulate the release of anger would be unethical and inappropriate, and profoundly distressing to the client.

Building up a sense of safety and containment with gentle and supportive essences is a good start, along with gentle reminders that eventually, with support, she’ll be able to connect to this source of vitality and life force. As a component of a structured formula, we can begin to touch and release the bottled up emotions in a contained way.

One useful warning to anyone embarking on the flower essence process is to understand emotional clearings. If a client is unfamiliar with how flower essences work, she may expect that her uncomfortable emotions will dissipate, never to return. This is often the short term result for clients, and when they start to feel unwanted emotions again, they report that the essences have stopped working. I reassure them that the essences have strengthened their system and given them the resources to now allow this emotion to flow, and that this is a process with great benefit at the end.

I explain that an emotional clearing is an intense experience, and may feel overwhelming, like a sudden violent storm. But I was taught, and my experience has shown, that these emotional clearings are limited to a couple of days, and once they have passed, the sense of relief and lightness is dramatic. I recommend having Five Flower formula on hand and to take it, even as often as every few minutes, to aid and ease the process. Other crisis type formulas can be used instead – I love Soul Support from Alaskan Essences and Terra from Bloesem Remedies for this purpose.

Flower Essences for Anger

Holly (Bach) is always a good starting point to clear excess emotion. Whenever emotions become too strong or uncontained, Holly can assist in settling the Shen and supporting the Hun in maintaining emotional balance. Holly is a broadly applicable remedy, and I find it helps to connect to the heart and find compassion for yourself and for others.

Closely affiliated with the energy of the Liver is Dr Bach’s Impatiens. This essence is well known to smooth irritability and frustration, both signs of stuck Liver qi. This essence was Dr Bach’s type remedy, and the description from Julian Barnard’s book Bach Flower Remedies Form and Function states “ The positive aspects: gentle, balanced and relaxed. And the down side of the personality? — tense, irritable and impatient.” This description accurately defines the Liver qi in smoothly flowing state and in a stagnant or blocked one.

Scarlet Monkeyflower (FES) is an excellent choice for a fear of anger. This essence speaks to the balancing qualities of the Hun, that it is neither healthy to repress emotion or to express it in an extreme way. Offering Scarlet Monkeyflower flower essence can help in cases where skillfulness in expressing forceful opinions or creating boundaries has never been developed.

Easing Frustration and Learning to Set Boundaries

Trifoliate Orange flower essence for stagnant qi

Clearing stuck energies is a year round task of the Liver, but the force is particularly strong in the Spring. The flower essence of Trifoliate Orange (Flora of Asia) clears emotional and energetic congestion, along with any stagnant energies or beliefs that prevent you from living in flow. There is an interesting correlation with Chinese Medicine food recommendations in that sour flavors like citrus are considered beneficial for the Liver.

Beech (Bach) helps to smooth out prickly irritability. I find this essence to be very helpful for women who experience emotional irritation around their menstrual cycle, a classic sign of blocked Liver qi. Beech helps to smooth out the jagged edges, helping them recognize the origins of the emotions they are feeling, so they can begin to make internal changes and learn to better support themselves.

Artemesia flower essence for frustration

Willow (Bach) is indicated when the qi has been blocked and resentment, and a sense of victimhood, has set in. There is a stuckness and inflexibility to the mental state, a heaviness that resists acceptance of what is. The surface expression of irritation may have sunk into the body, flaring inflammatory or arthritic symptoms.

I find Artemesia (Flora of Asia) to be invaluable when life refuses to go according to plan. This essence eases frustration and helps you make peace with what’s actually happening. This is the essence for our inner child’s temper tantrum.

China Rose flower essence for boundaries

Rock Water (Bach) is often indicated for cases when the Liver qi is not flowing smoothly. The rigidity of the Rock Water type manifests in tension both mental and physical, preventing the easy movement of qi and emotion. The essence is made from naturally flowing spring water, making it a obvious good fit for modeling flow through obstacles.

Setting boundaries is a valuable life skill.

So often, “nice” people are secretly angry that others walk all over them, harboring resentment under a smiling exterior. China Rose (Flora of Asia) can help you learn to lovingly set a boundary. After all, no one can respect a boundary that you never set.

Poison Oak (FES) is an essence for those who tend to set boundaries in a reactive, even hostile manner. This essence can be very helpful in moderating this tendency and helping them feel safer in interactions with others.

Flower Essences to Support Vision and Drive

Golden Larch flower essence for ego
Japanese Alder flower essence for inner guidance

The Liver gives creative drive, the ability to plan and strategize, and the resolve to execute and achieve success. We can support these aspects of the Liver with essences to guide our intentions for the Spring, and the coming year.

If you are unsure of asserting yourself, and concerned that you could overwhelm the will of others, Golden Larch (Flora of Asia) provides a moderating influence. This essence helps you tap into your will forces, while staying connected to the wisdom of your heart.

To lead wisely, you must be willing to take considered risks. The Japanese Alder (Flora of Asia) helps you connect to inner guidance and take concrete action to achieve your goals.

Developing Courage and Resoluteness

Without the energy of the Liver running smoothly, we become indecisive and easily discouraged. Borage (FES) provides a gentle encouragement to help you meet the challenges of life.

If you have ever lived near wild-growing blackberry, you won’t have any trouble imagining it’s qualities as a flower essence. Blackberry (FES) offers the qualities of resolve and overcoming obstacles. In the garden it grows through, over, and around everything in it’s path, resisting all efforts to manage it.

Acupressure Points for Spring

Giving yourself the gift of regular acupressure will greatly assist your physical and emotional wellness year round.

I find it especially important in the Spring, as any blocks to healthy flowing Liver qi will be exacerbated, resulting in the unpleasant emotional symptoms of frustration and irritability as well as flaring of any physical issues. In Chinese Medicine physical pain is considered to be caused by stuck qi in the body, so helping your Liver qi flow will ease symptoms of soreness or stiffness. Apply your chosen flower essences or formula to your fingertips, or directly on the point, for added focus and intention to your acupressure routine.

Regular acupressure on Liver 3 (LIV 3) can do much to support the smooth healthy flow of your Liver qi. LIV 3 is a calming point that relieves frustration and repressed anger. General irritability and tension will also be eased, and this is an important point to relieve physical pain.

The Gall Bladder channel is paired with the Liver, and it is useful to move the qi in these “downstream” points to help clear the way so Liver qi can flow well. Two points that are easy to find and use are Gall Bladder 21 and 20.

Gall Bladder 21 (GB 21) is found on the upper slope of the shoulder, about 2/3 of the distance from the base of the neck to the shoulder. If you feel the muscles in this area, you will feel a seam between the muscles that run on the front side and the back side between the shoulder and neck. You will likely find a sore spot if you palpate between these muscles, indicating you have found GB 21. Gently hold this area with your fingertips, and allow the qi to flow. Acupressure on this point eases neck and shoulder stiffness and pain and relaxes tension.

Gall Bladder 20 (GB 20) is found at the base of the skull. Reach your fingertips behind your ears, and find the soft hollow right below the bone at the base of the skull. Nodding your head gently will help you find the right spot. Apply acupressure by pressing slightly up and inward to the center of the head. This point is excellent to relieve tension headaches and a stiff neck.

In Harmony with the Seasons

Our modern world and the technology all around us are both a blessing and a source of disconnection and stress. Learning to cultivate your inner landscape in harmony with seasonal rhythms will bring you more ease and smooth challenging passages. Each time I ground my consultations in the reality of the greater cycles of the natural world, my clients find meaning and a deeper connection with Nature.

Drawing correlations with the energy of each season and learning how seasonal cycles affect your inner world help you reconnect to your relationship to Nature.

If you would like help navigating the flower essence process, I welcome you to get in touch. I offer private consultations and custom flower essence formulas tailored precisely to your needs.

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Learning to Say “No” | Flower Essences for boundaries

Centaury flower essence for boundaries

Do you have a hard time saying “no”?
Do you say “yes” even when you really don’t want to?

This may be great for everyone around you, until you reach your limit and are exhausted. Many women suffer from the toll of giving beyond their abilities. It is hard to be in mental and emotional balance if you are constantly being drained dry. Your mood and outlook will definitely suffer, and eventually your body will too.

You may need to build up to saying “no” by starting with little things. Whenever you are asked for a favor, check in with yourself and see how you feel about it. Try giving yourself a little time and space to think before automatically saying yes.

The trick to learning to say “no” is to use it as a complete sentence.

Certainly, being polite is wonderful, and expressing apologies is often appropriate, but there will almost always be a moment of discomfort at the end of “no”. This is where you are going to want to give in and do whatever the other person wants. Learning to allow this moment of awkward is key to setting a boundary.

The reason it feels awkward is because you may have never done it before, and the person you are interacting with has probably never seen you do it either.

You have just re-negotiated the rules of your relationship and it comes as a surprise. Fear not, a respectful friend will recognize that you are not able to do what they want, and will come up with another solution. And if you find yourself surrounded by people who cannot accept your new boundaries you may wish to distance yourself a bit and cultivate new friends who are not looking for doormats.

When I started learning to say “no” I was concerned that others would think me to be selfish and unkind. What I have found is I am so much more likely to say “yes” when I know I can say “no” if I want. Being free to say “yes” when you want to is liberating, and you can give from an openhearted place – because you know where your limits are.

Flower Essences to support you as you learn to set boundaries

Centaury flower essence for boundaries

One of the primary flower essences for this issue is Dr Bach’s Centaury.

Siberian Yarrow flower essence for boundaries
Okinawan Holly flower essence for boundaries

I use this essence often in my client work as so many women have this challenge. The traditional indication for Centaury is for the doormat personality, the one who can’t say no to anyone. This willingness to give is a laudable quality, but in the Centaury personality it is way out of balance. This person will give beyond her ability, and will drain her emotional, physical, and financial batteries dry. You do not need to be such an extreme case to benefit from Centaury flower essence, it can help you if you recognize a need to develop better self care in any of your relationships.

Siberian Yarrow flower essence can be a valuable addition to a self care formula. All the yarrow flower essences help you develop boundaries, and strengthen your sense of self. The Siberian Yarrow has the quality of helping you share space, learning to peacefully interact with others, not needing to reactively withdraw. Developing boundaries is a daily practice – we have many opportunities at work and at home to refine and negotiate.

Okinawan Holly is another flower essence I draw on for clients who are finding new balance with giving and receiving. The plant has a distinct signature of difference between the male and female (with the male Okinawan Holly a spinier and more upright form than the rounder leaf and softer growth form of the female). I find this essence to soften the extremes, balancing excessive tendencies, whether a tendency towards over-giving or one of contraction and unwillingness to share.

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Flower Essences to develop healthy boundaries

flower essence for boundaries

So many of us have been taught to be “nice” above all else. We want to be liked, and to be nice we must bend over backwards to accommodate the wishes of others. But inside, you are likely to feel unappreciated and stepped on, and eventually you will begin to feel resentful.

Setting healthy boundaries is a valuable life skill.

Learning to set boundaries is a process that involves some self-reflection.

Recognizing the signs takes practice. For many of us, having our boundaries crossed is something we have been taught to accept. If your preferences have been ignored from childhood, and you were regularly compelled to obey the directions of authority, your boundaries have been comprehensively dismantled. Learning to rebuild boundaries will take some time, and will require you to develop new skills such as learning to say “no”.

First, recognize that setting boundaries is your job.

The other person is not to blame for crossing a boundary you have not set or defined clearly. How are they supposed to know what is ok for you if you don’t tell them?

How to recognize your boundaries have been crossed.

Surprisingly, many people don’t recognize the signs of a boundary violation. It is actually quite easy to tell – you will feel angry.

But, you say, I never get angry. And besides, anger is a negative emotion, and I am a nice person. Anger is destructive, dangerous, and bad.

For years, this is exactly how I felt. I firmly believed anger was an un-evolved emotion, that “good people” didn’t allow themselves to express it (and even feeling it was really a bad sign!).
I am so grateful to have read Karla McLaren’s book The Language of Emotions – her work has helped me see “negative” emotions in a much more forgiving light.
She describes anger as an “honorable protector”, that anger, like all your emotions, is simply an energy that moves through your body. Anger arises to help you set and defend your boundaries. It can be as simple as that – when someone starts to cross your line you can very clearly say “hey, step back please”. The sensation of rising energy gives you the strength to put out a hand and say “no”.

Seeing anger as a force looking out for your protection changes it from something to be avoided and repressed to something with a valid message for you.

The anger we fear, the raging, out of control force, is anger that has been denied and bottled up for a very long time. Learning to notice the arising of anger in its early stages will help you learn to work with it so it does not need to become so large and overwhelming.

Setting Boundaries

It is important to recognize that boundaries do not need to be rigid or inflexible.

You can define and negotiate them throughout your interactions with others. Some relationships may require firmer boundaries than others; you may offer more leeway with a close friend than a casual acquaintance. It is a constant dance, checking in with yourself and making decisions based on how much you wish and are able to offer at any point in time. Your emotional responses will guide you and help you navigate.

Flower Essences to help you recognize and set your boundaries.

A good first step may be the Self | Care flower essence combination formula. Learning how to balance your own needs with those of others will always be a work in progress, but is crucial for your personal sustainability. If you are putting out way more energy than you are taking in, your body will eventually object.

flower essence for boundaries

China Rose flower essence is an excellent choice to learn to set boundaries. This rose offers the most beautiful fragrant flowers, but maintains her space with a strong structure and serious thorns. She teaches openhearted giving from a place of strength and abundance.

flower essence for boundaries

Siberian Yarrow flower essence, like all Yarrow essences, helps you develop a strong protective field. When you have poorly developed or undefined boundaries it can be hard to tell where you stop and others begin. Siberian Yarrow helps you interact with others, sharing space while maintaining your autonomy.

In my practice with clients I find that many women have poorly defined or nonexistent boundaries, and often feel resentful and frustrated.

I can sympathize, I have experienced this myself and have felt all the self-judgement and shame around feeling this way. When we work with this issue together it is important to work slowly and strengthen your boundaries so you can become aware when you are giving beyond your ability to do so. It takes time to get in touch with feelings of anger, and to start to release it in small and healthy ways. Flower essences, used skillfully, can help you slowly and safely start to let go of old resentments and aggravation. Over time you can develop a healthy relationship with all your emotions, even anger, and use them appropriately.