The Five Zang-Viscera —Liver( Gan )

Table of contents
  1. The physiological functions of Gan 

Gan  is located in the abdomen, below the diaphragm, on the right side, and is protected by the ribcage.

Gan  stores Blood, ensures the smooth flow of Qi, regulates the sinews, opens into the eyes, and manifests in the nails. It correlates with Wood in the Five Elements Theory, and belongs to Yang within Yin. Gan  houses the Ethereal Soul . It is externally–internally related to the Gall Bladder by meridians. The Liver, Gall Bladder, tendons, nails, and eyes are related to the Gan system.

As one of the five Zang organs, Gan  pertains to Yin because it stores Yin-Blood, but Gan’s function pertains to Yang because Gan’s Yang-Qi is active, resolute, and tends to disperse. The Basic Questions says, “The Gan is like an army general from whom the strategy is derived”. That is why Gan is described as “an army general organ” and why Gan Qi ascends.

The physiological functions of Gan 

(1) Gan  smooths and dredges Qi flow

Gan’s most important functions, smoothing and discharging, reflect Gan-Qi’s characteristic moving and rising. Gan , as a “rigid organ,” needs to be nourished by Blood and Yin. Its healthy function can be likened to the flourishing growth and development of trees (Wood) when Gan-Qi is free from obstruction, depression, or inflammation. The function of Gan  is to regulate Qi activity by promoting the motion of Qi. It is this regulated Qi activity upon which the physiology of the viscera and the flow of the meridians rely:


(a) Gan promotes circulation of Blood and body fluid, which depend on the propelling function of Qi movement; reciprocally, Qi movement relies on Gan’s smoothing and dredging function. Abnormal Gan Qi may affect Blood circulation and body fluid metabolism, and cause some problems, such as disordered digestion or menstrual problems.
Gan  also helps transport and distribute body fluid.
(b) Gan’s  smoothing regulates Pi Qi and Stomach-Qi functions. Bile, produced by Gan, is excreted into the Small Intestine to assist digestion of food.
(c) Gan  smooths Qi flow and deeply influences emotional and mental states. With abnormal flow, Qi circulation is obstructed, giving rise to emotional frustration, depression, or repressed anger, and physical symptoms such as hypochondriac pain, or a feeling of a lump in the throat (“Plum Pit Qi”). Gan malfunction causes emotional tension, which in turn damages Gan function and the circulation of QiGan  malfunction due to stagnated Gan-Qi will lead to abnormal mental conditions, such as heavy-heartedness, melancholy, and sentimentality. If Gan-Qi flows transform into Fire, this will present as dizziness and sudden deafness.
(d) Gan  serves to regulate the Chong and Ren Meridians related to menstruation. If Gan cannot regulate Qi flow, various women’s diseases, such as irregular menstruation or amenorrhea, will be caused by Gan Qi flow being irregular or Gan failing to dredge.
(2) Gan  stores blood and maintains its normal circulation

Usually, Gan stores Blood to prevent pathological bleeding throughout the body. If Gan is dysfunctional in storing Blood, Yang Qi becomes inflamed, manifesting as distending pain in the head and eyes, or bleeding. The Basic Questions says, “The Liver stores Blood … when a person moves; Blood goes to the channels; when at rest it goes back to the Liver” .

Gan’s Blood-storing function is extremely important in women’s physiology and pathology; “the congenital base for women is the Gan.”

(3) Gan  regulates sinews and tendons

Gan-Blood nourishes sinews and tendons. If Gan is deficient, it may present as limb numbness, and tremor of the hands and feet.

(4) Gan  is manifested on the nails

In TCM, the nails are deemed to be extensions of the sinews and tendons. Gan-Blood deficiency often affects nail color and quality. Soft and thin nails may show Gan-Blood to be insufficient.

(5) Gan  opens into the eyes

The Gan Meridian branches into the eyes, and so the eyes are nourished by Gan energy and radiate light. The Miraculous Pivot says, “Gan Qi extends to the eyes; when the Gan is healthy the eyes can distinguish the five colors” . The Basic Questions says, “The Gan opens into the eyes.” . Insufficient Gan Blood may cause eye dryness, myopia, color blindness, “floaters,” and blurred vision.

“The tear is the secretion of the Gan.” When Damp–Heat pathogens attack the Gan Meridian, tear secretion may either thicken and cake, or induce aversion to Wind.

The Essence of the five Zang- and six Fu-organs flows into the eyes. The six Fu meridians especially come very close to the eyes. The Miraculous Pivot says, “The Essence of five Zang and six Fu all pours into the eyes, forming their Essence”.

(6) The main function of Gan  is on the left

Gan’s location is in the right upper abdomen and, according to the Five Elements Theory, Gan  Wood produces Xin , Fire, so Gan-Qi must go left under the diaphragm, then up through the diaphragm, and rise to Xin  Heart system), which is located on the left side of the chest. If Gan-Qi happens to irregularly rise directly up through the diaphragm to Fei, it is called “Gan-Qi invades Fei,” and will cause Lung dysfunction and disease. Some left-sided headaches may be related to a Gan malfunction. The tongue’s left side reflects the state of Gan, while its right side reflects the state of the Gall Bladder. In pulse diagnosis, of course, the Gan beat is on the left hand. So Gan is located on the right side, but the main function is on the left side.

(7) Gan  houses the ethereal soul and is responsible for the emotion of anger

The Ethereal Soul (Hun) is an invisible energy body, not easily perceived or recognized. When Gan flourishes with Gan-Blood (Gan-Yin), Hun stays in the body; when Gan-Blood (Gan-Yin) is weak, Hun leaves the body for a short time. There are other cases where Hun may escape from the body. Hun may influence our subconscious, help us solve problems, or suggest our life path with wisdom and vision. Highly developed Masters, who have devoted themselves to years of mind–body practice, can utilize these energies. The average person is unaware of these subtle energies, let alone trying to be capable of using them by mind–body practice.

Anger, a strong feeling of displeasure, is a reaction to external stimuli which disturbs Qi flow, intensifies Yang-Qi, and propels Qi and Blood upward. Gan is normally characterized by its rising Qi movement, and the inherent ascent of Yang-Qi. However, great anger forces Gan’s Yang-Qi upward to such an extreme state that it damages Gan’s function, or “rage injures the Gan.”

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