What is Stagnation?
Like streams and rivers in nature for the water to flow there must be adequate water and a clear pathway. When there is too little or the river is blocked with pollution or debris the water will stagnate and fester. The flow of Qi, Blood and Fluids in our body is very similar. When we have adequate amounts and clear paths for these essences to flow through, we have vitality, can ward off disease and heal quickly. When it is inadequate or blocked we stagnate. Left alone this stasis will grow from a meager Qi stagnation in congealed Blood. Not fun…and stasis is a common problem in our culture.
Types of Stagnation
Stagnation exists on a continuum. Minor stagnation may be just feeling a stuck and frustrated where a deeper pattern of stasis can be cause serious depression and illness.
Qi Stagnation – A bit of sighing, feeling of frustration or being stuck and non-pitting edema. It can move quickly out of stasis with a little movement or change in thought process. Yeah, a lot of stasis comes of congestion of thoughts and habituated emotions. Minor PMS falls into this category. The pulse is a little uneven or choppy, tongue may not indicate much. Qi replenishes quickly, given the opportunity. Read more on Qi.
Fluid & Food Stagnation – If fluid or food stagnates it is a given that Qi will be stagnate too. So you can add to the above symptoms slow digestion, eating too quickly or when you are emotionally upset – verp… Pitting edema, retention of fluids, slowed digestion, nausea, bloating, and congestion of fluids. It will take a little more to move these guys around. Chinese medicine practitioners will look for a slightly choppy pulse, with a slippery nature. The tongue will likely have a greasy coating.
Blood Stagnation – Next level up. Blood has actually started to coagulate. This can be as simple as a localized bruise from an injury or as deep as a long held emotional patterns and chronic illness. There is often pain. Patterns like congestive heart failure, cancers and other serious illnesses have congealed blood patterns. If you are needing to take blood thinners–there is Blood stasis. Here the pulse will be choppy and hard. The tongue will be purple or dusky and will have distended veins underneath the tongue. Treatment would work to ‘crack’ congealed Blood.
We have a saying in Chinese medicine – Where the Qi goes the Blood flows. You will not move Fluids or Blood without moving the Qi too. Fluids and Blood themselves require Qi to move them to their destinations. In many cases we are have to build Qi & Blood while moving Stasis.
The 12 Organs and Stagnation
Asian medicine identifies the 12 organs or officials of Asian medicine by their roles and functions. The Lung, Colon, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestines, Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Warmer, Gall Bladder & Liver all have independent jobs, yet all are interlinked and interdependent. For example: The Heart has a large role in creating and pumping the Blood, however it cannot do so if the bod is Blood deficient (anemic) do to lack of appropriate nutrition. Blood originates from the food we eat and the appropriate transformation of that food–a role given to the Spleen. If Spleen isn’t given the basis for Blood–adequate nutrition–or it can’t properly transform it, we will become Blood deficient. The Heart will have little Blood to move around to nourish the other organs and the system will start to decline.
It can be quite the intermingling and web of connections. However, we can clearly identify the several organs that have the greatest responsibilities in keeping things moving.
The Lungs – move Qi, Blood and Fluids in two ways – by descending and dispersing. Inhalation moves Qi, Blood and Fluids downward (descends) to the lower organs and deep into the body. Exhalation disperses these vital essences out to the extremities. When the Lungs are weak, for whatever reason, these functions will be compromised. For example: facial swelling and edema, which we might see in acute allergies, is a failure of Lungs to properly disperse Qi, Blood and Fluids downward. Some asthma patterns are a problem with Lungs being unable to descend combined with the Kidneys failing to grasp the Qi. Check in with your breathing. If you are holding your breath, you are stagnating your Qi.
The Liver – One of the Liver’s jobs is that of free and easy flow. Meaning when the Liver is functioning properly, the Qi, Blood and Fluids will move smoothly and easily in all directions. That’s the ideal. The Liver, however, tends to be very congested in our culture causing stasis or causing the essences to rise. High pitched ringing in the ears? Blood shot eyes? Yeah – your Liver needs a little smoothing out.
The Heart – The physical pump and ruler of the Blood. However, the blessed little Heart cannot perform its functions properly if it is weak or deficient.
Triple Warmer –Helps to regulate circulation, the water pathways and warm the body.
Other signs & symptoms of Stagnation
Sighing and tightness in the diaphragm – Sighhhhhh….. Feeling the need to take in a deep breath or constantly sighing is a sign of stagnation in the diaphragm. Often caused by Liver & Lung regulation issues. The Liver may be too congested to allow the Lungs to descend the Qi, or the Lungs may be too weak to keep an excessive Liver in place. Either way the two need to smooth things out. This pattern is common in emotional based stasis like anxiety, nervousness and mood swing.
Irritability, mood swings, anxiety and angst – That feeling of being pent up and anxious-time to move some stasis.
The color purple – Purple is the color of stasis. It can appear on the tongue, under the fingernails, on the lips, or a bruise. A purple blue as seen under the nails in Reynaud’s indicates stasis of cold – I would give this client ginger and cinnamon to warm her up. The client with purple red on the tongue has obstruction and heat and would need to have cooling and clearing done at the same time.
Inability to move forward in life – Yes, really. One of Liver’s role is to give us vision – not just sight, but the ability to plan our futures and look forward. Guess what happens if we have a weak or stagnate Liver? No forward planning for our life.
Distended veins under the tongue – Dead give away to stasis. We rank the severity of distention from 1-5 with 5 being the most severe.
Pain – Pain caused by Qi stagnation is subtle and can disperse pretty easily – a minor tension headache is an example. Pain caused by Blood stasis is fixed, needle-like and stabbing like migraines.
Pulse – Chinese medicine and Amma therapy practitioners will use pulse assessment to identify areas of stasis. Minor stagnation will create an uneven pulse that might only appear in the pulse corresponding to the organ responsible. Deep stagnation brings knotted, chopping presence to the pulse.
Masses, lumps, tumors and knots – Definitely stagnation is present. Dampness can accumulate quickly and form lumps and masses. Left unchecked, these masses will congeal into phlegm stasis. Think breast lumps or abdominal masses.
Stagnation likes to pair up with other patterns.
At the start it might be just Qi, but eventually it will drag in something else. Let’s play with some patterns.
- Pitting edema that improves with heat= Stagnation of Qi, Cold and Fluids
- Arthritis that is worse in damp, hot weather= Damp heat stagnation
- Stroke caused by excess Liver patterns = Accumulation of toxins, phlegm and wind
- Cramping with late periods and scant blood with clots==Stagnation of Blood caused by Blood deficiency.
In all instances above, we need to move stagnation, but we will be a better treatment if we can hone in even closer–get it?
The above are just a quick glance at the origins and symptoms of stasis–but it can be enough to give you an idea if you are prone to stasis.
Tips to unlock stagnation
Meditation & Qigong – My number one recommendation. I’ve not seen a chronic case of stagnation that didn’t have a huge emotional component in it. And perpetuation of negative thoughts and emotions create a viscous loop of physical behaviors that encourage stagnation (eating while angry, not exercising) which in turn allows the emotions to run rampant. Meditation and Qigong help to create space outside of emotion and they regulate the breath. You may feel frustrated at first–but stick with it, it will dissolve. Aghhhhh….
Sour Flavor – Sour moves Liver Qi Stagnation quickly. Including sour foods like lemons, sauerkraut and vinegar can be a blessing to move the Qi. Avoid sour, however, if you are overly tight and very Yin deficient, as it astringes, it will further dry and tighten you up.
Bitter Flavor – We love our coffee. Why? It gives a mighty kick to move through stagnation and move the Qi. Problem is coffee is not the ideal bitter and will you Qi deficient in the long run. Include other bitters in your diet like amaranth, rye, teff and bitter greens to move through stagnation–especially if you have Heart conditions.
Mint – Mint cools, soothes and moves stagnation beautifully. Double bonus – it prevents wind if you are someone with Liver wind conditions like twitches or epilepsy mint should be your buddy.
Use lavender – A Qi and Blood regulator, lavender eases through stagnation.
Watch your thoughts – Harboring long term anger, hatred or frustration creates stagnation that damages the Liver, Heart and Lungs…crud…. If you have a habit of staying in an emotion look into methods like guided meditation, coaching, and counseling to move beyond being in a state of constant emotion.
Singing and laughing – Releases excess energy stored in the chest and forces the breath down deeper, they bring joy and comfort to the heart. Get a little goofy, have some fun.
Build Blood – Especially for women who bleed regularly, if Blood becomes deficient stagnation can take hold.
Move appropriately – Stagnation appears in some as pent up energy that they “must release by running or getting out”. Okay, yes the movement is great, it moves Qi, Fluids and Blood, but if you are in a space of always having to move or you are crazed, we may need to add in something else to smooth the flow out. Here, the situation of stagnation is appeased by movement but the core cause isn’t abated and they quickly re-stagnation – cursing the whole time. Finding the appropriate amount is key or the right mix. One day you may want to walk, another dance or run – do a myriad of movements and have fun with them. Inversions and twist? Remember those? It’s hard to be stagnate when you turn upside down or twist.
Formulas – Asian medicine provides us with a lot of great formulas for stagnation like Ban Xia Ho Pu Tang, Aspiration or Xiao Yao Wan (Relaxed Wanderer). Check with your Amma therapist or Chinese medicine practitioner to get a match for your pattern.
Here’s to moving forward!