I quit Facebook because it was making me angry. The politics, the racism, the hatred, the pointless arguing that never convinces anyone.
All of this was making me angry. It wasn’t good for my Liver Qi.
Some people think that a qigong teacher like me shouldn’t get angry in the first place.
This makes me angry too.
Jesus got angry at the money lenders, the Buddha got angry at his monks, but somehow I’m expected to be 100% free of anger?
Someone once asked the Dalai Lama if he ever gets angry or outraged. He said:
“Oh, yes, of course. I’m a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain. [Laughs.]” [source]
I totally agree with him. And believe it or not, so does qigong philosophy.
The 3 Types of Anger
Qigong philosophy, which is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, tells us that there are 3 types of anger:
- Excess Anger
- Insufficient Anger
- Appropriate Anger
Two of these are unhealthy. Can you guess which ones?
If you guessed #1 and #2, then you get a gold star!
Think of a see-saw. One side of the see-saw can be up (excess anger), or it can be down (insufficient anger), or it can be perfectly balanced (appropriate anger).
Or if you want another analogy, think of Goldilocks.
Anger can be the bed that’s too hard (excess), the bed that’s too soft (insufficient), or it can be the bed that’s juuuust riiight (appropriate).
Let’s look at each of these different types of anger separately.
1. Excess Anger
Too much anger is the obvious one — the one that gets all the attention. It’s also the reason that anger gets such a bad rap.
You’ve seen this type of anger in action at some point in your life, and it probably wasn’t pleasant.
To illustrate the problems with excess anger, let’s take the example of an abusive husband.
He’s seething with anger, and he frequently lashes out with verbal and physical abuse toward his wife, his kids, and even the dog.
There’s no question that this is unhealthy for everyone involved, including him.
His anger is unbalanced in a way that leads to violence and abuse.
In the see-saw analogy, his anger is up. In the Goldilocks analogy, his anger is the bed that’s too hard.
2. Insufficient Anger
The idea that someone can have too little anger is downright confusing to most Westerners. This confusion is connected to the false idea that anger is always bad.
Westerners tend to think, “the less anger, the better”.
But less anger isn’t necessarily healthier.
Let’s take the same example from above, but this time let’s look at the wife.
If she has been enduring her husband’s abuse for years, then hers could be an example of insufficient anger.
Why doesn’t she leave him, or take steps to protect herself, the kids, and the dog?
It’s not because she’s weak. Her “fed up” switch isn’t working properly.
You’ve probably been in a situation where you finally got fed up. Once that happened, once the “fed up” switch was flipped, you suddenly had the energy, mental clarity, and motivation to make changes.
That’s precisely the energy that the abused woman is lacking.
Her anger is unbalanced in a way that leads to numbness and inaction.
In the see-saw analogy, her anger is down. In the Goldilocks analogy, her anger is too soft.
3. Appropriate Anger
Appropriate anger, sometimes called “righteous anger,” is not only healthy, but essential to human life.
This is the energy that fuels action, the energy that enables people to right wrongs, the energy that fights for justice.
For example, the energy that led Martin Luther King to fight for civil rights — that was righteous anger, especially since it was non-violent.
Another example is the anger that led Susan B. Anthony to fight for women’s rights.
Righteous anger is appropriate to the situation, flows naturally, and then resolves itself.
If you look at the example of the abusive husband and the abused wife — they both represent opposites sides of an anger imbalance. Neither one of them shows appropriate anger.
Anger and the Five Elements
Traditional Chinese Medicine has a core theory called The Theory of Five Elements.
Basically, there are five energies that are represented by fire, earth, metal, water, and wood.
Each of these energies has a list of correspondences. For example, the Water Element is associated with the season winter, the color blue, the putrid odor, and the emotion of fear.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to memorize the chart above — unless you go to acupuncture school, in which case you have to memorize a much bigger and more complicated chart!
(And if you’re already an acupuncturist, please understand that I’m simplifying the Theory of Five Elements here for the sake of clarity.)
For our purposes here, we only need to look at the Wood Element, and the corresponding organ and emotion.
As you can see above, the emotion for the Wood Element is anger, and the corresponding organ is the Liver.
So what does all this mean for you and your liver?
Facebook vs. Your Liver
I mentioned earlier that Facebook was bad for my Liver Qi.
Can you see the connection now?
Facebook was making me angry, which was affecting my Liver Qi.
Eventually, this could affect my entire Wood Element, throwing my whole energy system off balance.
Yes, Facebook is one of the many things screwing with your qi!
Remember that it’s nearly impossible to have appropriate anger on Facebook. The same is true of reading a newspaper. You simply can’t take meaningful action against every issue you see on Facebook or in the news.
Sorry. Sharing an article on Facebook doesn’t count as a meaningful action.
The anger that I was feeling while scrolling through my Facebook feed was going nowhere. It was just getting stuck. And that’s not healthy.
So I quit. I still use Facebook for Flowing Zen, but I no longer scroll through my news feed.
And my liver is happier for it.
The Two-Way Street
Here’s the fascinating thing about these Five Element correspondences: they work in both directions.
For example, if you injure your liver, perhaps by drinking too much alcohol, then you can actually make yourself angrier.
The Liver Qi gets disrupted by the alcohol abuse, which then disrupts the balance of anger.
In other words, anger can injure your liver, or injuring your liver can make you angry.
If you’re thinking, “That seems like a vicious cycle,” then you’re exactly right! The connection between anger and your liver can snowball in some pretty unhealthy ways.
Balance Your Wood!
By now, I hope you’re starting to see that anger management is really about managing the Wood Element.
When your Wood Element is in balance, then you’ll experience more and more appropriate anger.
Similarly, you’ll experience less and less of the imbalanced versions of anger, like rage or numbness.
In the example above, if we were to harmonize the energy in the wife’s Wood Element, then she would develop the balanced, righteous anger necessary to leave or stand up to her husband. (I’ve actually seen this happen with my students.)
If we were to harmonize the energy in the husband’s Wood Element, then his anger would calm down, and he would gradually find ways to express himself without being verbally or physically abusive.
This is all well and good, but how do we actually do it?
How To Develop Appropriate Anger
If there is something better for managing anger than qigong, I haven’t yet found it.
Acupuncture is great, and a good acupuncture physician should help you to diagnose and treat the imbalances in your Wood Element.
Yoga is also great, although it doesn’t use the Five Element theory. I also think that, when it comes to anger, qigong packs more of a punch, literally and figuratively (see below).
I assume that the Dalai Lama uses sitting meditation, and techniques like Loving Kindness Meditation.
(Click here to read my article about Loving Kindness Meditation, including a free audio — but make sure to READ the article before sending me hate mail. Thankyouverymuch!)
Punching Your Way to Appropriate Anger
I mentioned that qigong packs more punch. That was actually a bit of a qigong joke. I’ll explain.
There’s a famous qigong is called Punching with Fiery Eyes. This exercise happens to be excellent for harmonizing the Wood Element.
This technique is found in both the 18 Luohan Hands and 8 Pieces of Brocade qigong sets. The picture above shows a bunch of my certified instructors doing the technique (with Simon leading the charge).
There are lots of qigong techniques that will harmonize the Wood Element, but this one is a great example.
Slow and Soft, or Hard and Fast?
Punching with Fiery Eyes can be practiced slowly and gently, like tai chi.
Or it can be practiced more forcefully, like karate.
If you have excessive anger, then practicing the softer version, with a gentle punch and soft breathing, can help to soften your anger.
If you have insufficient anger, then practicing the harder version, with a forceful punch and a shouting sound, can help to raise your anger to a healthier level.
Whether the energy of your Wood Element is too hard or too soft, qigong exercises like this one can really help to bring it back into balance.
Personally, I just love that the same technique can be used for both types of imbalanced anger. It’s yet another reason to fall in love with qigong.
From the heart, Sifu Anthony