If you find yourself prone to feeling sad, worried, or anxious, the culprit might be your qi as much as the common stressors in life. You might let out an unintentional sigh or two, or perhaps wonder if it is possible for your bundle of emotions and worries to start manifesting itself in physical symptoms such as bloating and a lumpy feeling in the throat… If that’s the case, you might be experiencing qi stagnation.
Qi stagnation is one of nine body constitutions in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM practitioners believe that good health is represented by a smooth qi flow throughout one’s body. When qi is unable to flow smoothly from one compartment to another one, we may experience qi stagnation. This may explain bloating sensations on the chest, along with other symptoms, and determine how susceptible we are to certain diseases and illnesses. Those are also attributable to age, gender, diet, and lifestyle habits — even the seasons of the year. Though not all the factors that contribute to your body constitution are changeable, once you know which body constitution you are, you’ll know how to ease your discomfort from the root.
Qi Stagnation: the Tell-Tale Signs
Do any of these physical characteristics, temperaments, and other attributes sound familiar?
Common physical characteristics of qi stagnation are:
- Heart palpitation
- Frequent, unintentional sighing
- Irregular and / or painful menstrual cycles and flow
- Premenstrual syndrome symptoms (PMS) (e.g., tender breasts)
- Tip / sides of tongue appear unusually red
- Muscular pain
- Lumpy feeling in throat
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal distension
Common temperaments and other non-physical attributes of qi stagnation are:
- Prone to sadness
- Preference for staying in
Possible Causes of Qi Stagnation
While genetics play a factor in determining one’s body constitution, environmental factors and one’s overall well-being also come into play. In fact, many common causes for qi stagnation are mood-related, e.g., melancholia, excess worries and / or anxiety. Prolonged stress and not getting enough rest could also contribute to this as well, so it is important to find ways to relax a little whenever possible.
As for environmental factors, cold temperatures are known to slow down qi circulation – think of your qi as a running river that begins to freeze up during the cold winter months. It is especially important for those with qi stagnation to bundle up and stay warm.
Possible Links Between Qi Stagnation and Health Conditions
TCM believes that qi powers one’s vitality, and different health maladies could ultimately be traced to a qi imbalance. When qi does not circulate properly within the body, it could accumulate (i.e., stagnate) and potentially manifest into more serious health conditions such as acid reflux and other digestive issues, chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, or depression.
Restoring Qi Stagnation with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
If you have a qi stagnation body constitution, you may want to reduce your intake of alcohol, coffee, excessively spicy food, iced food (sorry to ice cream lovers), processed food, and food that is high in fat content. TCM believes that the liver drives most of the qi circulation in the body, and accordingly the best food for this particular body constitution are also food that nourishes the liver. Some foods and drinks that fit the bill in these categories:
- Grains & nuts - Quinoa, rye, barley, buckwheat, oats
- Fruit - Papaya, cherry, orange, plum, pineapple, banana, jujube, grapefruit, lemon
- Vegetables & legumes - Beetroot, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, turnips, beets, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cucumbers, mung beans, celery
- Meats and dairy - Tofu and other soy products, chicken, pork
- Herbs and spices - Rose, jasmine, rosemary, basil, rosemary, mints, cumin, turmeric, fennel, cilantro, perilla, lavender, thyme
Your day-to-day lifestyle and habits can also play a big role. Here’s what can make a difference:
Look after your mental well-being
Staying in shape is a priority for many, but make sure your mental health is taken care of too. Chronic stress, anxiety, and / or depression contribute to qi stagnation, and it is important that you take the time to address these concerns, whether by confiding in trusted friends or professional mental health practitioners.
Indulge in lighthearted materials
If you are feeling heavy and tense, try to lighten up by watching a comedy or doing some lighthearted reading everyday. Give yourself a break, and ease your worries with a chuckle or two. Conversely, letting out your emotions is also a healthy way of expressing yourself – as the saying goes, crying doesn’t mean that you’re weak, but it’s just what you need to get strong again.
Get good quality sleep, and sleep early
Sleep is one of the best ways to recharge your qi, so it is critical for those with qi stagnation to maintain a regular sleep schedule – TCM practitioners generally advise being asleep before 11pm as that is when your liver and gallbladder begin to regulate qi. It might be tempting to check your phone and emails before going to bed, but you may wish to stay away from devices for at least an hour before going to bed – doing so can contribute to getting better quality sleep as well.
Overly rich and greasy food can further slow down your qi circulation, which is why they should be generally avoided for those with a qi stagnation body constitution. Instead, try eating lighter meals and incorporating more cooked vegetables into your diet, which could help with sluggish qi circulation.
Practice meditation and breathing techniques
Practicing meditation and deep breathing exercises can help calm the mind, which, in the case of those with qi stagnation, needs a break from time to time. Abdominal breathing is the most important skill to activate your parasympathetic nervous system in order to release your stress. Spending some quiet time by yourself to clear your mind and purge your worries – doing so will provide you, as well as your qi, relief.
Head outdoors and exercise
Active exercise promotes qi circulation, which, in the case of those with qi stagnation, is one of the most effective ways to improve your qi circulation. Moreover, exercising outdoors can provide the added benefit of getting fresh air and sun in, which also helps promote healthy qi circulation and boost your immunity to reconnect your body to nature. High intensity cardio exercises like swimming, climbing, and running outdoors are also good for your qi. These physical challenges will also give rise to a surge of serotonin to help with stress release.
Remember, our body constitutions aren’t fixed
Finding your balance is an ongoing process. Don’t put too much pressure on any single one of these tips — try what speaks to you, listen to your body, and adjust as needed. Reaching balance isn’t a one-and-done deal for most people. Follow your natural ebbs and flows, adjust your lifestyle and nutrition as needed, and your body will thank you.
Want to know your constitution? Take our quiz to find out!