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Drawing on the Dao: Tied up in Knots

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 116 - October 2005

Boiling Resentment

Daoism emphasizes that change is the one certainty of our lives and that when we react to it with resentment we risk illness – most particularly we risk Liver Chi Stagnation. This is a blockage of life energy where the symptoms range from a sense of oppression in the chest with possible abdominal distention, tight muscles in the back and shoulders or a clenched jaw to migraines, bowel disturbances and, more severely, strokes. Accompanying these physical symptoms, Liver Chi Stagnation is felt as a boiling resentment that can give rise to depression which can constrain the Liver further, leading to increased feelings of depression and frustration.

By letting go of resentment we disperse Liver Chi Stagnation, but in order to attain this release, firstly we need to let go of hanging on to our demand that the world should co-operate with our expectations. A patient of mine resented a change in her circumstances in which she found herself with an elderly relative to care for as she felt that she should not have to deal with this situation. To tell the old man how she felt would have had devastating results, but sitting on her anger left her with a simmering discontent along with severe muscular tension in her neck and shoulders.


Free up Liver Chi Stagnation; firstly let go of your expectations by removing the words 'should' and 'should not' from your vocabulary and instead develop an acceptance of both the world 'out there' and the inner world of your emotions. When we accept that life is forever changing; – 'one moment empty, the other moment full' – and we accept and express our sometimes resentful reactions towards these changes, we will, through this process, come to feel a sense of relaxation and peace of mind as the Liver Chi flows freely once more. In this way we develop compassion and understanding towards ourselves and others and can respond to our changing circumstances and challenges in a more creative way.

Once my patient let go of her expectation that her life should always be the same and accepted her changes, whilst expressing to a close friend her feelings of resentment at having to care for her ailing relative, she felt better as her Liver Chi began to flow more smoothly and her neck and shoulder tension started to ease off. Accepting and sharing how she felt, she grew in understanding of her own needs and was able to organize for herself the time and space needed to recharge her batteries.

Chuang Tzu tells the story of a disciple who travelled a great distance to see Lao Tzu in the hope that the sage would solve his inner state of resentment and conflict. On his arrival he was greeted by Lao Tzu who said: "Who are all these people you have brought with you?" Nobody was there. The 'crowd' was the disciple's baggage of expectations and beliefs. After meditating for ten days the man still felt in turmoil. Lao Tzu said: "Miserable! All blocked up! All tied up in knots! Try to get untied!"

He asked his disciple: "Can you embrace the One and not lose it? Can you rest when there is rest? Do you know when to stop? Can you mind your own business without cares? Can you stand on your own feet? Can you duck? Can you be like an infant that cries all day without getting a sore throat, or clenches his fist all day without getting a sore hand, or gazes all day without eyestrain?"

Lao Tzu's words taught his disciple to flow with life; accepting it like an infant in the here and now, instead of demanding that it should be other than it is and becoming frustrated by it. Try this approach when you feel 'tied up in knots' so that the Liver Chi can flow again.


Help to drain off stagnant Liver energy by working with the Gall Bladder meridians. On a twice daily basis massage each point for three minutes in an anti-clockwise direction to free the Liver Chi.
• At the nape of the neck, in the depression an inch (on each side) from the ears massage the acu point 'Wind Pond'.
• Bring the right hand up to the left shoulder and support the right elbow in the left hand. With the pads of three fingers press gently into the shoulders moving them from neck to shoulder joint. In the centre of the top of the shoulder is the point 'Shoulder Well'. Repeat for other side.
• Massage in a downward direction Liver Point Liver 3 'Supreme Rushing' found in the angle of your foot between the big toe and second toe.


Ni HC. Tao The Subtle Universal Law. Seven Star Communications. 1979.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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