How to listen to your body clock
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) your body is a biofield of organised energy, which is always in constant motion. When the energy becomes blocked or obstructed in some way, physical and non-physical symptoms can arise, alerting you to take action and restore your body’s balance.
The body clock reflects the times when there is maximum energy and activity in particular body organs: valuable information if you want to increase your energy levels, address particular physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual issues or simply achieve more balance in your daily life. It is divided into two-hourly blocks, each representing a major body organ.
The TCM Body Clock
1pm–3pm small intestine
9pm–11pm triple heater
Did you know the best time to have your first bowel movement is between 5am and 7am as the sun rises? Yes, this means it’s also the best time to rise and start your day. Early morning is when your colon experiences its greatest flow of energy and is primed to eliminate its contents from your body as effortlessly as possible. To encourage this, try the following suggestions to “retrain” your bowel and get your bowel habits back in sync with the body clock.
On rising, drink a large glass of warm water (add some fresh lemon juice if desired).
Sit on the toilet for 5–10 minutes or, if you can, squat on the floor for the first five minutes then move to the toilet (squatting encourages elimination and helps the body to recognise your intention to pass a stool).
This is also the best time to exercise, as vigorous physical movement will help to activate your qi. A brisk walk or other activity will prepare your body for a healthy elimination afterward, while also setting you up for a productive day.
Any symptoms you experience at this time, especially if they are digestive or involve constipation or diarrhoea, may indicate an imbalance in the colon and a need to pay attention to this organ. Additionally, as the body and mind are so inextricably linked, there may be mental or emotional reasons for any colon-related problems.
The main psycho-emotional aspects related to the large intestine involve the ability to let go or a tendency to hold on to issues, people or situations. Often, resolving any psychological issues related to holding on or letting go will help to re-establish large intestine health.
As the old saying goes, “Dinner like a pauper, lunch like a prince, breakfast like a king.” According to TCM, breakfast should be the largest meal of the day as this is the time when the stomach has its best opportunity to absorb the nutrients from food. It should be high in fibre, include a good amount of protein and contain some beneficial fats. Opt for low-GI carbohydrates to stabilise your blood sugar and give you sustained energy until your mid- morning snack. Eating a good breakfast will also help to ground and connect you to the earth element.
If you are one of those people who have no appetite in the morning, the stomach may need to be strengthened. Often simple changes such as eating an earlier and smaller evening meal and getting to bed by 10pm can be enough to stimulate a healthy morning appetite. On the other hand, over-eating can point to an imbalance in stomach qi. Emotionally, this could be associated with a lack of nourishment, so it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about the real reasons for any over-eating or unhealthy eating patterns.
Morning spleen time
This organ is associated with the intellect and mental powers. According to TCM, the spleen is responsible for the conversion of nutrients from food into energy. Without a good morning supply of energy your brain cells don’t have the necessary fuel to function at their best.
A clear illustration of the connection between the spleen and mental performance is in children who skip breakfast. Teachers often report that these children are much more likely to have trouble concentrating, learning and focusing until after the morning tea break. Likewise, your own productivity and energy suffers when you don’t provide the spleen with the basic raw materials it needs to produce energy.
Common signs and symptoms of poor spleen energy include sweet cravings, lack of focus, inability to concentrate, tiredness, bloating and anaemia. Strengthening your spleen can help to address these complaints and, in turn, encourage increased mental focus and concentration.
Disappointment and lack of nourishment are the emotional aspects of the stomach and spleen. If you think these things may be interfering with your digestion, appetite and the ability to function in the morning, being grateful and practising thankfulness are effective tools to help strengthen the spleen and stomach energy.
The heart hours
Studies have shown that the highest incidence of heart-related problems and mortalities occur between the hours of 11am and 1pm and 11pm and 1am. When the energy is highest in the heart, someone with a heart weakness may not be able to handle this increase in energy and may experience heart symptoms and heart attack. Alternately, someone with a healthy heart may feel particularly joyful and loving (both emotions associated with the heart) and naturally want to enjoy their social connections over the lunch period.
Lunchtime is thus the perfect time to connect with others and enjoy your friendships. Conversations will flow smoothly and the joy you experience will benefit your heart on the physical level as well. It’s also a good time to address any issues you may have with others, as the warm co-operative heart energy will mean solutions are found with less resistance and more cooperation.
Weaknesses or imbalances in the heart area will often be exacerbated in the middle of the day, with palpitations being a key symptom of heart imbalance. Emotionally, the heart energy is associated with passion, inspiration and the experience of joy. People who radiate this passionate, joyful energy on a day-to-day basis seem to age more slowly; they remain young at heart. This is because your heart stores your shen or spirit, and your shen, unlike your body, does not age but grows more vibrant and vital under the right conditions.
So how can you strengthen your heart? Reach out, connect with others, be of service and find your passion. Go get yourself some joy; it expands the heart both physically and psychologically and it feels good.
1pm–3pm: small intestine
It’s common between 1pm and 3pm for people to experience an energy crash, reaching for pick-me-ups like sugar, chocolate and caffeine. If you are one of these people, this as a surefire sign that the small intestine is screaming out for energy. This may be a result of a poor choice of breakfast, skipping breakfast or poor absorption in general.
The psycho-emotional aspect of the small intestine involves the process of sorting out. Just as the small intestine is responsible for sorting out which substances it will collect for absorption and which it will leave for elimination on a physical level, emotionally it is connected with sorting out issues or problems, or getting your head around things. Thus 1pm to 3pm is a good time for problem-solving and thinking things over.
The wee small hours
3pm–5pm: bladder; 5pm–7pm: kidney
Your kidneys store your constitutional qi, or your energy reserves. When they are functioning at their peak in the late afternoon, you should feel energised and alert, but for the vast majority of people, the opposite occurs. Due to our stressful lifestyles and the overproduction of the stress hormone adrenalin (produced by the adrenal glands, which sit on each kidney), we are often lacking in energy. Consequently, at the time when we should be benefiting from our reserves of energy, we fall into a heap because of a dire lack of them.
If the late afternoon is not a strong time of day for you, ask yourself, “Where have I spent my energy reserves and what can I do to restore them?” Often we need to employ herbal and nutritional measures to top up our energy reserve tanks. Adrenal restorative herbs such as withania and licorice are marvellous for restoring the adrenal glands and boosting kidney energy, as is vitamin C, which is found in the largest quantity in the adrenal glands and becomes quickly depleted under stress.
In the mental-emotional sphere, constant anxiety will deplete your energy and strain the kidneys. Other clues that there may be an imbalance in the bladder or kidneys can include an aversion to cold weather, a strong dislike of the winter and frequent urination. As willpower is the mental emotional expression of strong kidney qi, practising strong discipline can help to restore balance to the kidney region.
Hot and protected
7pm–9pm: pericardium; 9pm–11pm: triple heater
The pericardium and triple heater are not organs as such, but have important roles in protecting the body and regulating its vital processes. The pericardium envelops the heart and protects it, while the triple heater is a TCM concept believed to influence the trunk of the body and be responsible for co-ordinating and regulating energy, water and temperature.
It’s not a great idea to give your body a huge evening meal to deal with, as the body needs to concentrate on reorganising and regulating anything that may have become imbalanced throughout the course of the day. It’s also a poor time to eat a heavy meal because it’s directly opposite stomach/spleen time on the body clock (7am–11am).
In terms of sleep, getting to bed as the triple heater starts up at around 9pm will mean the sleep you do have will be of the best quality and also ensure that early rising will not be so difficult.
11pm–1am: gallbladder; 1am–3am: liver
Ever wondered why you sometimes wake around 2.30am for no reason? Your liver needs some attention. Any congestion or toxicity in the liver may well be experienced as pain in this region during these times. If you are constantly waking in the early morning, your liver may be telling you it’s not able to use its allocated time to rejuvenate as it’s overwhelmed by other tasks. A poor diet, overindulgence in alcohol and fatty foods and overmedication with prescription drugs may be creating stagnation in the liver.
Just before liver time is when the gallbladder is most active and this is often the time when people with gallbladder issues, including gallstones, experience pains and stones passing. If you have any symptoms or wake during the liver and gallbladder times, you may want to consider a gallbladder flush or liver detoxification to cleanse these very important processing organs and relieve the strain on them. You may also find you are then able to sleep through the night.
In our society, excess energy in the liver is quite prevalent. Our fast-paced, congested environment, constant exposure to toxins and pollutants, and toxic emotions such as anger and stress all directly target the liver. Muscle cramps and muscle injuries may indicate a liver energy imbalance. As the liver is also responsible for regulating body processes, any condition where there are uneven or erratic symptoms, such as PMS, mood swings or erratic bowel habits (constipation alternating with diarrhoea), may indicate a liver issue. The liver also supports the eyes and sight, so long hours straining your eyes at a computer screen will definitely weaken your liver.
It’s interesting to note that the grain associated with the liver is wheat. Could it be a reflection of the out-of-balance state of our livers that a large part of the population cannot tolerate this grain? Is it really wheat that is the problem or could a wheat intolerance or sensitivity be yet another message from our bodies that the liver energy is out of balance?
On an emotional level, frustration and feeling “stuck” are the key emotions associated with unbalanced liver qi. In contrast, a capacity to be organised, motivated and hold a vision of where you are going are all signs that the liver is functioning well. Practising assertiveness and taking responsibility for your actions are simple ways to strengthen the liver.
The emotion associated with the gallbladder is rage. This rage could manifest as aggression or, if it is being suppressed or is unacknowledged, a person could appear painfully shy or timid. The ability to make decisions is indicative of a strong gallbladder and practising this in your life will, in turn, help to strengthen a weakened gallbladder.
Lung before the dawn
The lungs experience their peak energy flow between 3am and 5am and many cultures traditionally rise at this time to engage in deep breathing and meditative exercises. If you sleep soundly through this time and don’t experience any symptoms, your lungs are probably doing well. If, on the other hand, you wake at lung time, and more so if you wake with shortness of breath, asthmatic symptoms, or coughing, you need to pay some attention to your lungs.
The emotional and spiritual aspects of the lungs involve the capacity to let go of stuff in your life. Issues around injustice may also be signs that the lungs need some rebalancing. The ability to be flexible, tolerant and non-judgmental are signs the lung qi is in good balance. Tools to strengthen the lungs include being present in the now and learning to follow the breath.
Timing is everything
So why not structure your daily activities around the body clock and see how it feels? Get to bed at a decent hour and rise at 5.30am or 6am for some morning exercise. Prepare yourself a good hearty breakfast between 7am and 9am and have a nutritious morning snack before 11am. At lunchtime, engage the warm social heart energy by connecting with friends, family or co-workers and bask in the joyful energies of midday.
If you’ve been diligent in setting up your mornings well, you should soon be reaping the benefits come afternoon, with sustained energy and motivation. Aim to get to bed by 9pm or 10pm, remembering to make dinner a smaller, lighter meal than either breakfast or lunch: maybe a soup, salad or even a boiled egg with some wholegrain toast.
Observe changes in your body and use the body clock to identify what particular body organ needs attention. Start to acknowledge your signs and symptoms as the divine intelligence of your body subtly but surely points you to the fastest route to your own healing.
Lisa Mount is a naturopath who works on the Central Coast of NSW.
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