Breaking Through Stagnation

Photo by Tim Gouw

Photo by Tim Gouw

Stag·na·tion (noun)

the state of not flowing or moving.
lack of activity, growth, or development.

In the Chinese Medicine system of diagnoses, one of the most common patterns we come across is called stagnation, sometimes referred to as stasis. Generally it is stagnation of qi or blood, resulting in some kind of physical pain. Stagnation can happen to bodily “substances” that are both palpable and not palpable. Just like qi, blood, and lymph fluid being prone to stagnation, so are thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Some of the common symptoms of stagnation are chronic or acute muscle pain, menstrual pain or irregularity, fatigue, irritability, depression, headaches, migraines, muscle spasms, abdominal pain, and digestive upset.

In many medical traditions it is well known that for each mental-emotional response there is an equal physical response. Sometimes we pay closer attention to the physical, sometimes the mental-emotional. The same can be said for moving through congestion, whether it’s blood stagnation causing painful periods or repetitive thoughts causing indigestion. The root is often the same: things aren’t moving.

Our lifestyles here in the West make us inherently prone to stagnation. We sit in cars and at desks for long periods of time, we often eat for convenience rather than for nourishment, and we let our sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system run wild. Of course being aware of these factors and finding ways to adjust our habits to live healthier lives is necessary and important. Speaking of necessity, sometimes it’s necessary to choose convenience or to sit for long hours at a desk or in a car. That may just be our reality right now. That being said, here are some tips you can add to your life that will help you break up the stagnation and move towards more energy and more growth.


Like really stretch. This may sound like old news, but this falls into that category of physical and mental health being so intertwined that physical flexibility and ease can promote mental flexibility and ease. Who doesn’t want that? Aim for 10 minutes a day. Let yourself sit in each stretch for at least a minute to really allow the muscles to relax into the pose.

Eat Until You're 80% Full.

In Chinese Medicine we believe that your digestion system is your foundation, your fulcrum. If it's out of whack it's likely that the rest of the system will soon follow suit. More energy is required to break down food when the GI system is bombarded with over-eating. That's energy that is taken away from physical movement and brain function. Eating until you're 80 % full falls into the category of mindful eating, which may be the most important point on this list. Putting down your fork before you're at capacity is one component, but here are a couple others:
Eat slowly and make sure you are taking deep (ish) breaths while eating.
Chew your food until it’s mush. Digestion begins in the mouth and this signals for digestive enzymes to start flowing.
Taste your food and pay attention to the physical experience of eating. Try not to do anything else while you’re having a meal.


Mental stagnation is a REAL THING. If you paid attention to your thoughts you’d realize just how repetitive (and possibly self sabotaging) they are. Mindfulness meditation can literally re-train your brain to come back to the present moment rather than to go down the normal rabbit hole of thinking that it’s used to. This is key for stressful situations when we are likely to catastrophize or future trip. Here is a study on how meditation can change your brain if you’re still a meditation skeptic.

Hydrate with Citrus.

Citrus is a natural detoxifier and helps to move qi, blood, and lymph fluids. In fact, dried orange peel is one of the most popular herbs used within the Chinese Medical Pharmacoepia to break up stagnation. Add it to your tea or to your water and sip on it all day.

Get a Massage.

Our muscles hold a lot of tension. They get used to sitting or standing in certain positions and the larger, more accessible muscles start to over-compensate and eventually burn out, leading to pain and/or spasms. Massage therapists that use a technique called myofascial release are able to really get in there and release the muscle back into its resting state.




Kaylie Hopper