If there is one thing I've learned over the course of the years, it is that there is a lot of room for misinterpretation of the language of Chinese medicine. When a client walks into my office, I explain that the language of acupuncture is different; when I am discussing your kidney, I'm not talking about your physical kidney. It can be very confusing for someone not used to the language. For this reason, I tend to talk more about blood and qi, to be on safer ground. People do not seem to get overly nervous when I tell them that they have stagnation, but I can not tell you how many times I've had to explain that even though I'm not treating the kidney, no, they're not experiencing kidney failure!

So, I thought that I would spend some time clarifying just what the energetic organ systems do. Today we'll start with the liver.

In Western medicine, the basic job of the liver is to filter. It stores blood, and toxins toxins from the body, and is known for its amazing powers of regeneration.

In TCM, it also has a lot to do with blood. Are you pale, fatigued, dizzy? The liver is not sending out enough blood. These symptoms, along with insomnia, floaters in the eyes, and depression, are all symptoms of blood deficiency, which means your liver needs some work, and I need to build your blood. The liver also controls the tendons, which means that if you are one of those people who are always very tight, your liver needs to loosen up!

Other physical symptoms of liver issues are neck and shoulder pain and tightness, headaches (especially certain headways, such as migraines), high blood pressure, hernias, genital issues, PMS, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. This does not cover nearly all of the problems of the body that can stem from the liver; it's just a general and brief overview.

From an emotional standpoint, the liver has a lot to do with stress, anger, and boundaries. Just as a liver imbalance leaves the tendons too tight, it can also lead to a tightness of the spirit. Imagine this: a red-faced hypertensive man waiting impatently in line at a store, huffing and puffing because he has to wait like everyone else. He is pointedly looking at his watch, and glaring at the cashier.

Every once in a while he bumps into the woman in front of him as he checks his watch, and she moves back, submitting to him and allowing him to take over her personal space. He is becoming more and more furious by the minute, because he is late for his scheduled activities. Most people would describe this guy as a controlling jerk, but in the world of acupuncture, he simply has an imbalance of the liver!

I do not mean to insist that all people who have a liver imbalance act this way, or that the liver is responsible for creating miserable “Type A” s. This liver energy is necessary for creating useful boundaries as well, and for keeping us on track. Without it, we would not have a sense of purpose, and we would not be able to get anything done.

The key is balance. We could take another look at that line the angry man was in, and take into consideration the woman who was bumped into. Her imbalance of liver energy in the opposite direction creates a lack of boundaries, allowing her to have a “push-over” mentality. When someone steps into her personal space, she steps back. She lacks the assertiveness that a strong liver energy can bring forth.

So when you come in for an acupuncture treatment and I tell you that I'm treating your liver, do not assume that cirrhosis has set in. I may actually be treating your neck … and the chip on your shoulder.