Have you ever wondered if your body wants to tell you something? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), absolutely every symptom of the body is telling us something and for it it can be stagnant energy . Each symptom is part of a bigger picture, and when we are able to recognize what all those little (and not so small) symptoms mean, we are able to take charge of our health and do the things we need to do to heal and feel good. .

So if you’ve ever felt trapped, irritable, hunched shoulders, mood swings, tension or constipation headaches, and IBS-like symptoms. This is for you

Stagnation literally means just that: things are not moving the way they should. Think of it as an internal traffic jam. It is a hot summer day, things do not move, they recede, people get irritable and do not feel well.

What if we have stagnant energy

If we are stuck either from stress , tension, structural imbalance, improper diet, or a variety of other reasons, it means that our body is not working as well as it should. It is as if we had a blockage of energy and movement of the ” Qi ” * in the body. Things are piling up, proper blood flow is not reaching all the places it should, toxins are not being removed properly, and organs are not functioning optimally.

The results of this imbalance would show up in things like body aches, painful periods, headaches, constipation, and irritability just to name a few. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help remove that stagnant energy and get things moving again.

QI (pronounced “chi”) is considered a wise energy or our vital life force that runs through our body and every living being. Qi is essential for life and is necessary for every little thing that requires movement – digestion, thinking, immune system, walking, talking, cell division.

Chinese medicine opinion on stuck energy

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), “stuck” or stagnant energy is most often associated with the liver system and the flow of Qi (life energy) or blood in the body. When this system gets too stressed, it usually appears in physical discomfort such as headaches, menstrual cramps, digestive upset, pain in the flanks or tightness in the ribs, bloating, indigestion, high blood pressure or mental emotional symptoms such as PMS, depression and irritability. Even sighing a lot is a sign of an imbalance in this system.

This would be what is most often labeled as liver Qi stagnation in Chinese medicine terms. And how is it that the liver stagnates? There are a few reasons that stagnation can form in the body.

Emotions have a great impact on the liver system . One of the roles of the liver in TCM theory is to govern the flow of all emotions, thus, too much or too little of any emotion can wreak havoc on the liver system. Stress over a long period of time, without enough time to recover, will take its toll on our bodies. In the short term we can recover, but when we do not address the problems, the biggest imbalance and disease can result.

The problem with stasis

Being trapped in the long term can turn into what we call stasis , which could show up in things like blood clots, stabbing pain, fixed location migraines, chest pain, blood in the stool, palpitations, and the tongue would tend to have purple spots. or they have a purple hue.

Both Qi stagnation and blood stasis require movement of the circulation and in more severe cases, of course, medical attention. There are many wonderful current studies (in addition to thousands of years of clinical practice) showing the efficacy of treating stagnation or stasis in the body and its accompanying symptoms. This should always be done with the help of a professional and the herbs should never be self-prescribed. But on top of that, reducing stress and then making some lifestyle modifications and dietary suggestions help bring your body back into balance.

From a biomedical perspective, the liver is one of our great detoxification organs. Basically all substances that enter the GI (gastrointestinal tract) have to pass through the liver. This includes food, preservatives, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or anything else that can be ingested.

Furthermore, the amount of food we put into our system will also affect the flow or function of the liver. When we overeat, it literally creates a line of food waiting to be digested (and you know what happens when there’s a huge line, anyway).

When we are trapped, from whatever cause, changes in diet, lifestyle modifications and herbs and acupuncture when necessary, are very effective in dealing with this type of health situation. It’s important to remember that all the little things you do at home every day have a big long-term impact on your physical and mental health. Little things make a big difference.

What to do in the face of energy stagnation

Certain dietary changes are key, such as avoiding fatty and sticky foods, including more foods that help ‘move’ energy or improve circulation and increase movement or exercise (see below), but also look for what others Factors could be causing the energy to get stuck, it is vital to balance.

Some of the biggest culprits in our culture are stressors (financial, relationships, occupation, etc.). The first step in healing this is really identifying what your main stressors are in your life, and then identifying where the stress is in your body. This may seem like a weird concept when you start out, but as you begin to pay more attention you will become aware of the subtle signals your body is sending out.

Identifying stress

What are your stressors?

Think: financial, relationship, work, health, lack of motivation or purpose, lifestyle, time, social.

Where do you hold stress in your body?

Shoulders, stomach, head (headaches or migraines), mood (irritability / bad mood, depression, etc.), digestion and intestines (IBS / Crohn’s), PMS / period pain.

Diet to treat stagnant energy in the body

The foods listed below have a more “mobile” quality and help to break down stuck energy in the body . Think how different it feels to eat a fresh juicy orange compared to something fried or too sweet and sticky. Orange or citrus fruits have a fresher and more moving quality, fried or too sweet food a heavier, greasy and with stagnant properties.

Beneficial foods

  • Eat more fresh vegetables, small amounts of fruit, and have smaller amounts of carbohydrates or meats at meals.
  • Eat small to moderate amounts, but avoid overeating or eating too often (before the previous meal has had time to digest.)


Dill, basil, mint, chives, caraway, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, marjoram, mustard, orange peel, star anise, turmeric, saffron, horseradish,


  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.
  • Beets, turnips, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, pumpkin, asparagus.
  • Dark leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach, rapini, bok choy, mustard greens, etc.)
  • Onions, chives, leek, radish, eggplant.


Berries, peaches, plums, grapefruit, lemons, and limes (including citrus peels often found in teas or seasonings).

Nuts and seeds

Walnuts, chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds


Sturgeon, crab, chicken egg


  • Vinegar (apple cider in particular, red wine and / or rice)
  • Seaweed (seaweed, arame, etc.)
  • Pickles
  • Sour plums
  • Rye bread
  • Lightly season food (but not too spicy)

Things to avoid if your energy is blocked or stagnant

  • Avoid cold or frozen foods.
  • On the consumption of products of animal origin (particularly those that have been treated with hormones / antibiotics or that are excessively fatty).
  • Dairy products (cheese, ice cream, yogurt).
  • Excessively sweet foods.
  • Greasy foods (pizza, french fries, etc.).
  • Avoid eating on the run or standing up and eat quickly.
  • Avoid eating when you are upset or angry.
  • Limit alcohol (although it may temporarily feel good, in the long run it can lead to more work on the liver system that will contribute to more of that stuck feeling.
  • Avoid eating in a rush (that is, make sure you chew your food well – your stomach has no teeth).
  • Try to eat your main meals earlier in the day, giving yourself time to digest before bed rather than digesting when you need to recharge and detox from the day before.
  • Eat mostly foods poached, lightly steamed, or lightly fried.
  • Avoid overeating.
  • Avoid junk food or processed foods or foods with a lot of colorings or preservatives.

Lifestyle tips if you’re stuck

In addition to what you eat, the way you live your life can contribute to certain imbalances or patterns in your body,

move on

Stuck literally means that things are not moving as well as they should. It appears in circulation problems often, tense muscles and irritable mood. One of the best things to do when you are trapped is to move. Exercise is one of the best things for people with stagnant energy . You have to listen to how much energy you have to expend. People with energy locked out so they even feel drained might do better with a gentle 30 minute walk, and those who are not so drained might do extremely well with a full on cardio blitz. In any case, people should always do some kind of movement on a daily basis.

Don’t forget to breathe

Very often when we are stressed we forget to breathe. Make sure you are taking full in and out breaths, that can really drastically affect your stress levels for the better. A simple deep belly breath that makes your exhale longer than your inhale (that is, breathing in for 3 counts and out for 6) actually lures your body out of that stressed state.

We tend to breathe like this when we are relaxed (when our parasympathetic nervous system is on it), so when we do it when we are stressed our body says “I only do it when I am relaxed. So I guess I’m relaxed ”and it turns off the stress hormones.


Laughing changes your body chemistry and releases good endorphins. Find a funny movie or show that you love to watch. Save all the funny YouTube videos you love and watch them on a stressful day or just make regular time with the people in your life who make you laugh. Laughter is really good medicine.

Identify your stressors

Everyone has stressors in their life, but not all of them are necessary. Identify the situations or events that could be causing excess stress and that really have control over you. Are there people that you spend time with and that you really feel worse when you leave? Do you feel stressed and upset after watching the news? Maybe consider a fast means of communication for a week and limit watching the news especially before bed and see how it feels.

Express yourself to get stagnant energy out

There are people who suffer from energy blocks who are quick to rage, but there are also many people with these characteristics who do the opposite by bottling their emotions until they can no longer hold them or simply explode when they have ‘had enough’.

Finding healthy expression of emotions is key to moving stuck energy . Journaling, therapy, talking things over with a trusted friend to get to the root of feelings is helpful. Remember that all emotions, including anger, are necessary and healthy, but it is only exaggeration or inferior expression that causes us to be out of balance.

Take time off

Holidays are just fun, they are a necessary break. If you’re stressed out by the amount of work you have to do or simply the complexity of your life, break time may be just what you need. As counterintuitive as it might seem, being too busy non-stop wears down our system and we lose the ability to cope with things in the best way.

We all need to recharge sometime and downtime and the vacation is just that. Creative play, unscheduled time, and time out of our routine are every day essential for well-being.

Love your body and let others love it too

Body work, acupuncture, massage, sex, everything works. When we have simple skin-to-skin contact for more than 5 seconds, our body releases the good oxytocin which is the sensation hormone, helping to release some of those stuck sensations. In addition, according to the theory of Chinese medicine, when we have an orgasm it helps to move the energy in the body, in particular the Qi of the liver or the stuck system.

Acupuncture is another way that we can help increase our circulation and move that stuck energy in the body that helps us balance and feel good.

To meditate

Current research on mindfulness, meditation, stress reduction, mood, and well-being is amazing. By incorporating even as little as 15 minutes of meditation daily you can have a dramatic impact on that stagnant energy .

We are all fighting internal battles and we really have daily stressors. Sometimes being aware of how we are relating to the world and being curious about others and their stories releases energy that might otherwise be directed at others deliberately thinking that they are trying to make us angry. Mindfulness helps us release some of this energy. Meditation makes that “happy place” within them really accessible.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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