As Americans, and even as international inhabitants of the Earth, we have been going through unprecedented times of change and upheaval. Not only have we stopped the normal flow of life due to the COVID-19 health crisis, our economy is shifting, the earth and its weather patterns are shifting, and our government and politics are embattled. All of this conflict, combined with pandemic-necessitated confinement, has created a state of stagnation and frustration. Even our airflow, while being protected or refrained from spreading an invisible threat, is restricted. All of this creates an emotional, mental, physical, and dare I say, even a spiritual state of stagnation. One cannot stay in this stagnation forever. If we do not circulate physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, then we can fall into depression.
When we are in a state of depression, we can feel lethargic, emotionally confused and anxious, sad and withdrawn, unable to fully connect with others or even ourselves. We will feel more aches and pains, making it uncomfortable to sit, sleep and move about. Shoulders and neck can be stiff, and the back will ache. Varicose veins may develop from lack of movement. We can experience headaches, dry eyes and throat, sinus issues and allergies, chest pain, numbness and stiffness in the arms and legs, and bloating with digestive issues.
All of these are signs of a pattern of stagnation which Asian Medicine attributes to a Liver imbalance called Liver Qi Stagnation. With Qi representing the energy in the body, Qi will cease to flow smoothly and without interruption if affected by emotions such as anger and frustration. If we experience grief or sadness, it can affect Lung energy and respiration. If we experience fear or terror, it can cause the Kidney energy or Qi to descend into an immobilized state and extreme fatigue. Worry and overthinking can create a level of anxiety that keeps us from being centered and grounded, also affecting the Spleen and Stomach energies of digestion and energy/fatigue levels. As a result, some of us might lack an appetite while others might overeat or consume unhealthy food and drink to cope due to these emotions. And when we are affected by any of these, the Heart energy and spirit, and the ability to love and make heartfelt decisions is unsettled.
In Asian Medicine, it is critical to get the Qi flowing so that these physical and emotional ailments do not stagnate, making it hard to move forward. We become stuck in our emotions and are unable to process them effectively, making us unable to resolve problems and make positive changes. Collectively, the depression that we are all experiencing here in America and around the world, is reflective of the whole Earth’s stagnation. The problem with stagnation and depression is that it will either erupt or sink further into stillness. Neither is a desirable state, and the solution is to release this stagnation as gently as possible to allow movement, resolution and change.
One of the most basic methods to relieve depression and stagnation is to influence the energy channels to flow. This can be done by either releasing emotions fully (e.g. through meditation, counseling, journaling, or even a good cry). We can also physically move the body through exercise, walking, yoga, or swimming. As we physically move the body, trapped emotions will rise to the surface to be cleared (better than keeping them stored in the body to cause further imbalance and disease). We might even experience physical stiffness, aches, sneezing or digestive rumblings as things move through the body to get cleared. It is important to be patient and continue with this clearing that might take a bit of time to fully discharge stagnant energy from the body, mind and emotions.
Asian Medicine provides some useful tools to assist in the process. There is the highly effective Xiao Yao San (also known as “Relaxed Wanderer”) herbal formula designed to deal with the many symptoms of this pattern of stagnation ranging from headache, body stiffness, bloating, fatigue to irritability. This formula comes with several variations that can be tailored or combined with other formulas to more perfectly address individuals. can see Acupuncturist or Herbalist to get “fitted” for ideal formula.
One can also receive an acupuncture treatment, which would be designed specifically for the set of patterns that one is experiencing, Each person is different and might experience a unique set of physical symptoms, emotions, thoughts and feelings. An experienced Acupuncturist can decipher these conditions and create a treatment using acupuncture and other tools to unblock stagnant Qi, soothe the emotions, and restore harmony in body, mind and spirit.
And finally, one can perform some self-acupressure on a few body points called the “Four Gates” which can open up the energy for better flow. These four (4) acu-points are located one each in the webbing between the thumb and forefinger on both hands, and also in the webbing between the big toe and second toe. The points are specifically close to the inner part of the hand and foot where the bones connect. The points may be tender to touch which indicates stagnation is there. Massage and hold those points for a few minutes and experience the very subtle change of energy. One may not notice right away, but there should be an eventual relaxation, settling of emotions, a “feeling better” and even a more general positive outlook as energy begins to flow. This is a great treatment for jet lag and stress, and is even so powerful that can be used to stimulate birth contractions. What a great metaphor for clearing out stagnation and giving “birth” to fresh new ideas and perspectives, which are much needed at this time.
It is important to note that energy or Qi exists everywhere, both in our bodies and in the environment around us. It flows and is connected to us and through us, like light and radio waves. And from that perspective, it is important to realize that not only are all the parts of our bodies connected to each other by energy pathways, but also that we as humans are connected to each other and to our surroundings of this earth and beyond. We may not realize this or even think about it, yet the point of this concept is to understand that we are connected to each other and we are not alone. We may feel isolated by our thoughts or physical distance from each other, yet we are all one communal energy organism. So, it is not enough just to fix one part of the body or one person or group of people. Because we are all connected, stagnation in one part eventually creates stagnation everywhere. Thus, it is important to unblock this stagnation collectively, and to do so, we can start with ourselves.
Since each of us is first responsible for our own self in this life, we start with clearing our own stagnation. If each of us can do this (on a regular basis as well), we would have energy to support others in clearing their own stagnation. And so on and so on. It can start with this simple act of massaging the Four Gates to feel better. It is indeed our responsibility to return to a state of balance and authenticity wherever possible. Self-acupressure of the Four Gates points is a first step we can take to heal the world, all done by the simple act of healing ourselves first. And it is neither weak nor selfish to reach out to others to help us with this process, whether it is a skilled Acupuncturist for a “fitted” treatment or formula, or to connect with and talk to a trusted counselor or friend. We are all in this together on the path of life to continually relieve stagnation and restore the flow of harmony. And the power to do so is in our own hands.
-Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac.
President & CEO, PIHMA College & Clinic