The title of this article may be a bit confusing to those familiar with Nei Gong practices or similar,as the Lower Dan Tian is often considered the water wheel which moves Qi and indeed the most important factor in movement. However from a Zang Fu perspective (and in an effort to bring a little creativity to the title) the Liver could be summed up as the organ of movement.
The Liver is considered a Zang organ whose Fu counterpart is the Gall Bladder.
The main functions of the Liver are:
- Storing and Regulating the Blood.
- Regulating and Smoothing the flow of Qi.
- Ruling the Tendons.
- Rooting and providing the physical and energetic basis for the Hun or Ethereal Soul.
- Governing Anger and Compassion.
- Manifesting in the nails.
- Opening in the eyes.
It is classically considered that the Hun resides in the Liver at night. During the day the Hun ascends to the eyes and is responsible for the taking in of information. This strengthens the Livers connection to the eyes and eyesight. During the night the Hun descends and is stored in the Liver. However the Hun also wanders within and without during the night to create dreams. The amount of wandering is tied to the health of the Liver Blood and excessive dreaming can be indicative of a weakened Liver which is unable to appropriately Root the Hun. This leaves very little time actually in the Liver, however it is the only organ which stores the Hun and so this is the generally accepted, if only partially correct, terminology.
The placement of the Liver, in the various schools of Chinese Medicine is outlined in the table below:
|Five Elements||Mu (Wood Element)|
|Six Divisions||Jue Yin (Diminishing Yin)|
|Stems and Branches||Chuo (2nd Earthly Branch) / Yi (2nd Heavenly Stem)|
|Zang Fu||Zang Organ|
The Yin aspects of the Liver are primarily concerned with its control over the Blood. In Chinese Medicine it is the Liver, not the Spleen, which is the main organ that stores Blood when resting. When needed (such as during physical exercise) the Liver controls the flow of Blood into the muscles, tendons and skin. This is also indirectly controlling of the tendons, moistening and strengthening them. The Liver Blood is closely tied to the menstrual blood in women, and therefore the Liver has a strong affect on the menstrual cycle, often becoming one of the focus’ of treatment in infertility.
The Liver also directly controls the tendons, and imbalances within the Liver can manifest as a tightening of the tendons. The easiest way to observe this relationship is to note the body of someone experiencing sudden or intense anger (ideally not as the subject of this anger!) their body will tend to tense and tighten, and the chest will push forwards and up (this is in response to the increase in Wood Energy as opposed to the tendons directly).
The Yang of the Liver governs the movement and heating of Qi within the body. This function is utilised often within Traditional Chinese Medicine as the most common cause of pain is a lack of flow (of Qi and Blood) and improving this function is central to most pain conditions.
Due to the connection between Qi, Blood, Shen and Emotions* the smooth flow of Qi as governed by the Liver is vital for a balanced and settled mind.
*Qi moves within the Blood, propelling it through the vessels. Shen is also carried within the Blood, refracting down within its structure, and the Shen is the controlling aspect of the Mind and therefore the Emotions.
Alongside these aspects, the smooth flow of Qi within the Middle Burner governs the digestive process, providing the Livers ability to govern digestion and is the reason behind the pathological patterns of the Liver invading the Spleen/Stomach.
The Great Mover
When considering the Liver in Chinese Medicine (and the Gallbladder as its tied organ) the main theme that recurs throughout is movement.
Its functions are mainly concerned with governing the smooth flow of Qi and Blood, and in its governance of the tendons the movement of the body as a whole is controlled.
When the Liver becomes imbalanced the overarching symptom is rigidity, physically a shortening and tightening of the tendons leads to reduced flexibility. Energetically, as the Suwen states “Where there is no flow there is pain” any Liver imbalance will negatively affect the flow of Qi and can lead to Qi stagnation and pain disorders throughout the body.
Emotionally anger is considered almost an energetic release valve, discharging the emotion before it can damage the Zang Fu.
The part of consciousness tied to the Liver (and Gallbladder), the Hun is an ethereal aspect that wanders throughout the body and further during sleep to engender dreams. Again the notion of movement arises, although this explanation of the Hun does not begin to cover the various aspects and importance of this part of the human spirit.
The classical name for the Liver was the General, governing the movement of troops, and once again it quite elegantly sums up the quintessential truth of the Liver.