Ever felt out-of-sorts & frustrated for seemingly no reason at all?

my days as a “free and easy wanderer” in India

The cause (and the solutions) might surprise you.

Sometimes it’s as if our vital force gets backed up somewhere, creating an energy “traffic jam” that can lead us to feel uneven, tired, irritable, and generally out-of-sorts. Today I’m going to share a little bit about how Traditional Chinese Medicine understands this stagnation syndrome, and give you a step-by-step action plan to get your energy flowing again.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we call this energy traffic jam “Liver Qi Stagnation.” Like all of the organs in TCM, the “Liver” refers to a whole complex of physiological functions rather than just the physical liver itself. In this system, the Liver is seen as responsible for circulating the life force (or “qi”) through all of the body’s systems. When stagnation sets in, the Liver isn’t able to perform this function, resulting in symptoms like:

  • frustration or outbursts of anger
  • sluggishness
  • cold hands and feet
  • frequent sighing
  • PMS characterized by sore/swollen breasts, bloating, and irritability
  • chronically tight neck & shoulders
  • “deer pellet” stools, constipation

Like any imbalance that affects your physical & emotional self, Liver Qi Stagnation responds best to an integrated approach that includes healing foods, lifestyle changes, and herbal medicine. Here’s my DIY guide to get your qi flowing again. Better moods, looser muscles, and a new-found sense of ease will follow once your qi gets free to do it’s thing.

Foods to Get Your Qi Flowing

  • Increase bitter foods like dandelion greens, lettuce, celery, broccoli, swiss chard, collards and kale.
  • Increase sour foods like fresh lemon & lime juice, raw apple cider vinegar, and green apples.
  • Strictly avoid dairy foods as well as deep fried and processed foods.
  • Limit nut butters, avocado, and nuts. Even though these are very healthy fats, they’re still capable of creating stagnation.

Lifestyle Factors

  • The Liver *loves* moderate exercise. Even a 20 minute walk can make a big difference.  Choose any activity that gets your whole body moving and gets your breathing & heart rate elevated.
  • Give yourself an outlet to express your feelings & inner life. Stuffing your emotions stagnates your qi—and anything that you stuff down will always find a way out. Try journal-writing, talking to a friend (while walking!), singing in the shower, dancing in your living room, or engaging with a creative hobby.
  • Yin Yoga is deeply restorative and can be tailored to move the Liver energy. Here’s a guide to the practice. (Readers in DC, check out Sierra Weaver’s Yin class at Flow on Sunday evenings.)

Herbal Medicine

  • There are amazing traditional formulas to treat this problem, the most famous of which is called Xiao Yao Wan, or “Free and Easy Wanderer Pills.” If you have access to a trustworthy source of this remedy, it’s a great one to use that’s specific for this pattern. The Plum Flower brand is one that I trust, as well as Planetary Herbals’ version called Bupleurum Calmative.
  • A more accessible approach for many people is to use Dandelion Root Tea. Get a high quality organic brand of dandelion root tea bags, or buy some dried root online and steep it yourself in a french press. Take 6 oz of strong tea 3x per day. In the first day or two you might feel a little bit more angry/frustrated than usual; that’s usually just the stuck energy moving. You should feel relief after about 3-4 days. Continue using the tea as long as you like.


Have you experienced Qi Stagnation before? What did it feel like? And what do you do to bring yourself back into balance?