Why is it we feel sleepy in the afternoon or that the rumbling of our stomach tells us to start the day? Why do dinner parties in the later hours turn into heated debates or philosophical ponderings? and why is it some people wake at 2am every night on the dot? It is common sense that our stomach should rumble in the morning, but there is more to it. TCM and the concept of the body clock has a lot to answer for.
In Chinese Medicine, there is a constant flow of energy around the body, at specific times in the day certain organs will be at their energetic peak. This article is written in two parts and will explain the cycle of the organ clock and how you can live in accordance with it.
Like wearing warmer clothes and eating cooked foods in winter, we live in accordance with the seasons to maintain heatlh. It is also important to live in accordance with the energetic cycle of each individual day. By doing this we can increase our energy levels and eliminate stresses in our lives.
The times and their related organs are as follows: In Part one of this article we will take a closer look at the times from 3am-1pm.
5am–7am: Large Intestine
1pm–3pm: Small intestine
9pm–11pm: Triple heater
Why, when a child has a chest infection do you hear them coughing all night, yet in the early hours of the morning they fall into a silent and still sleep. It is because early morning is the time of the lungs highest energetic peak. Alternatively, in chronic conditions such as asthma, at this time the lungs energy is so low that there will be an increase in coughing and asthmatic issues.
Have you ever noticed when you wake in the morning the air feels cleaner and crisper. This is the best time to do deep breathing exercises such as tai chi and qi gong. In modern culture perhaps this is not the normal time to rise, if this is so, the lungs are still functioning at their peak. The old saying of keeping the window open a little at night, for this reason is important. It is essential to get fresh ari into the lungs early in the morning.
This is the time of the large intestine and the most common time to wake. In TCM the lung and the large intestine are related, thus if you are a later riser, do not fear! - It is still a good time for breathing exercises.
The lung breathes energy inwards while the large intestine creates movement and expels faeces outwards. In harmony with yin and yang the lung and intestine work together.
Most people that take laxatives will go in the morning, this is not coincidence but because it is the time of the large intestine. The peristaltic movement in the large intestine can be seen as the gradual movement and starting up of your body in the mornings as you move into action for the day. A healthy individual should pass a bowel motion before 7am.
In modern society people often rise later, this affects the bodies energy balance. To kick-start your day drink a cup of warm lemon water after rising from bed. This helps to cleanse the large intestine and start your day.
From an emotional perspective, the large intestine is responsible for letting go of repressed emotions. If somebody is holding onto thoughts or emotions, constipation can result.
Tip: if you find you are not having a bowel movement first thing in the morning, try incorporating some squats into your morning exercise routine. This encourages movement in the intestines.
This is the time of the stomach. Logically this makes sense, as it is breakfast time and the time to eat food. It is the time to resupply the energy of the body to provide sustenance for the day. TCM therefore says that breakfast should be the most important meal and the largest of the day. It is the best time to eat harder to digest foods such as whole grains and nuts because at this time our stomach energy can handle it.
Perhaps you have heard the Chinese saying 'eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper'?
For a healthy days food intake try: porridge (oats, quinoa, rice) with cinnamon, poached pears and nuts for breakfast, a light stir-fry for lunch with an easily digestible grain such as rice, then, for dinner a light meal such as a soup.
This concept of a big meal in the morning is heatedly debated in modern culture with the suggestions of a light breakfast such as lemon juice, fruit smoothies or an on the run coffee. In Chinese Medicine, this is just not logical.
However, in many cultures around the world hearty breakfasts are common. Instead of going out for a big dinner with friends and family, many people are choosing to go out for breakfast instead. From mental perspective this time of the day is also a good time for discussing new ideas. Committing to ideas is another story, this should be kept for the afternoons.
Spleen time. This is the time best fit for mental activity and learning. However, this function is only possible if the stomach energy is at its peak and is fulfilled with the nutrients received from a solid breakfast. It is true in schools; children who skip breakfast are not only mentally lagging in the morning but miss their energy peak in the afternoon.
Are you a student? After waking early, doing some light stretches or breathing exercises and after the completion of breakfast, it is 11am and now the best time to study and learn. Your memory is at its peak so embrace this time of the day. This time is also a good time for important business meetings and discussion.
The stomach channel on the human body flows into that of the spleen. If the stomachs energy does not support the spleen disruption can occur. If you have read my previous blog about the 5 elements you will know the spleens flavour is 'sweet'. This is why, if your body is out of harmony, or from a western perspective, it didn't gain its glucose hit from a sustainable breakfast, you may begin to crave a sugary snack for morning tea. If this continues it is a sure sign leading to the increasingly common disease of diabetes. This is why breakfast is essential.
This is the time of the heart. Did you know the majority of heart related mortalities actually occur at 11-1 in the morning and night?
It known in TCM that the heart is the connection with emotions. This has actually been known in many cultures for a long time. Think of the saying 'you will die of a broken heart' this is always used in reference to an emotional event.
At this time of day it is vital to maintain a calm frame of mind. It is a good time to spend with friends, as it is when you should be feeling happiest. It is also the time for lunch. An important part of eating is being in a good mental state to do so. If food is consumed when one is angry or upset it can 'knot' ones Qi or in other words hamper ones circulation and digestion.
This time of day is also the hottest part of the day and the hearts 5 element relation is fire. The TCM heart has the function of maintaining a good temperature for the body. The most important thing to do at this time of day is be calm and maintain clarity. Sit after you have had lunch, relax and think of the events of the morning and afternoon with a clear and balanced thought process.
Tip: to strengthen your heart, this is a good time to do something for somebody else. Help an elderly person by opening a door or shout your friend lunch. This is a time for reaching out and connection.
In conclusion, to get oneself safely and alertly through the morning it is essential to rise early with some gentle breathing and exercise, eat a hearty breakfast, do your mental work and then finally relax and stay calm as you enjoy lunch with your friends. If the morning organ cycle is followed this provides the foundation for sustained energy in the afternoons. My next blog will further continue the organ cycle into the afternoon and night showing how to maintain a good nights sleep and set the body up for the next day.