The Cycles of Chi: The Body Clock

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In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners work with body clock for diagnosing and treating imbalances. All organs ebb and flow as the chi circulates within the body every twenty-four hours. This concept of chi cycles is based on the observation that the twelve meridians are symmetrical on the left and right sides of the body; they interconnect. The chi flows through each organ and therefore the meridian system, like a serpent winding around the same river, providing the opportunity for the release of stagnation and inviting the organ to operate at its optimal level.

Chi begins its daily flow in the Lungs and traverses to the Large Intestine before continuing to its next destination. It finally stops at the Liver, before it begins again. If the chi is blocked in a certain organ, it will not be able to completely activate that organ or continue its journey with enough intensity to fully benefit the next organ systems.

Each chunk of time is related to a specific organ system and has its own set of unique characteristics in which certain functions of the body can perform at a more optimal level.

Source: Cangeloso, l. and cangeloso, l. (2020). Chinese Medicine Clock — Wild Earth Acupuncture – Portland, Oregon. Wild Earth Acupuncture – Portland, Oregon.

The organ systems are named after major organs within our body and each one has a meridian associated with it. One major categorization of the organ systems is the relationship with its yin/yang pair. You will see this relationship clearly when you follow the clock through its 24 hour cycle.

  • Lung (yin) / Large Intestine (yang)
  • Stomach (yang) / Spleen (yin)
  • Heart (yin) /Small Intestine (yang)
  • Bladder (yang) / Kidney (yin)
  • Pericardium (yin) /Triple Burner (yang)
  • Gallbladder (yang) / Liver (yin)

These brother-sister meridians are similar yet contrasting. For example, the Spleen and Triple Warmer meridians, while opposing one another, both regular the immune system and are radiant currents. One however is yin and the other is yang. If one is undercharged, the other becomes overcharged; therefore, one affects the other. You will notice they are exactly opposite at their peak ties. The Spleen meridian is at is most active between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. vs. the Triple Warmer, its opposite is at its active time between 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The Body Clock

3-5 am: This is the beginning of the cycle when the Lungs energy are at their peak. You should be asleep during this part of the cycle, soft deep rhythmic breaths will help us sleep and process emotions. The lungs are linked with emotions such as grief.

5-7 am: The bodies Qi then moves onto be the most active within our Large Intestine. The body is ready to wake up and start a fresh new day! A healthy body empties it bowels soon after waking, to have a fresh start to the day, and to rid the body of waste accumulation overnight.

7-9 am: Ah yes- the Stomach, moving onto the beloved breakfast “the most important meal of the day”. This is an ideal time to eat the biggest meal of the day as the energy of the stomach is at its highest, making the body more efficient at digestion and absorption, optimizing digestion.

9-11 am: The Spleen is a tricky organ system to comprehend when trying to make a correlation between Chinese medicine and western thought. It can be thought of as the spleen/pancreas, the yin earth pair to the stomachs yang energy. This is a great time of the day to get work done and exercise! The spleen helps to convert food you eat into brain food.

11-1pm: High noon brings the energy of the body to the Heart, the yin organ of fire. This is also when the day is at its fullest yang energy. The body is now focusing upon circulating nutrients absorbed by the food to the entirety of the system.

1-3pm: The Small Intestine helps to separate clear fluids from turbid, and filter them to the kidneys or large intestine for waste secretion.

3-5pm: The time of the Bladder is often when people feel a lull in energy especially if they are not well hydrated.

5-7pm: This is when the Kidney energy is at its highest. The kidneys are the root of all energy in the Chinese organ system. This is a great time to eat a light and healthy meal to help replenish the body’s nutrients.

7-9pm: The time of the Pericardium, known as the protector of the Heart. This time frame is a wonderful time to do activities to nourish the heart such as socialize with loved ones, create art and music, or go dancing.

9-11pm: The Triple Burner, also known as the San Jiao, is most active at this time. It is a great time to wind down, relax and drift off to sleep. Gentle stretching, meditation, reading or cuddling can help the body quiet down. This is when melatonin secretion begins within our circadian rhythm.

11-1am: The time of the Gallbladder- it is said that when out of balance a person has trouble making decisions and has low self-esteem. A spike in energy can come at this time for many people, but it is best to use this time to go to bed.

1-3am: This is the time of the Liver and is the best time for deep sleep and dreaming. Often people with deficiencies wake during this time and experience a range of emotions.

Source: Dale, C. (2009). The Subtle Body. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc, pp.225-227.

Diary Notes

Instructions: Record the date(s), time(s) you wake up with any symptom(s) in the boxes below and at your next visit we will discuss the next step in the treatment plan.

Date Time You Woke Up Symptoms 

How can the clock help me?

The Chinese clock and the circadian rhythm help to remind us that we are influenced by our environment in many ways. It reminds us when each organ system is functioning optimally and at its highest energy. When we live in connection to the natural cycles of our body we tend to be more balanced and can love a healthier happier life!

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