In Chinese traditional medicine, it is known that each organ, or ‘set of organs’ has a certain time of day when they are most active and thereby influence the body greatest. If we learn this ancient secret, we can tap into some of the most powerful knowledge for empowering health in the body and beyond. This wisdom is called the ‘Organ Clock’ and it informs us when the ‘Qi’ or life-force energy is strongest in each body system during the day and night. This knowledge has informed acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and is the basis for their health care system. By using a simple clock we can learn what time of day influences digestion, heart health even anger and more!
In China, there are many medicine-less hospitals where patients only pay if and when they get better. Hmmm. Sounds like a good approach. I mean, what are health care providers there for? Certainly not to keep us sick – or are they? I know medical practitioners work with good intention, though the training is very different here in the west where we are fairly ‘new’ in the realm of the healing arts, in comparison with thousands of years of trial and error.
When we look at the body functioning as a system, and each part has it’s ‘time to shine’ we can begin to understand our bodies as more intelligent than previously thought and get a glimpse into the ecosystem always at work for our greater good. Chinese medicine has discovered 12 pairs of organs in the body (including 2 ‘accessory systems), who each have two hours per day, in which they function most optimally and have the most energy. By attuning to this cycle, we can know, by the times of day we feel ‘off’, which systems are being compromised and how to best approach healing.
Let’s start with early morning, since that is generally when our days begin. If we look at the 7-9 a.m. and the 9-11 a.m. time periods, we see the organ group of stomach/spleen, the stomach being active first, and then the spleen. What does this tell us? At first glance it seems obvious that the ideal time to eat is between 7-9 a.m. when the stomach organ is active. If the stomach is out of balance, symptoms such as heartburn, acid reflux, ulcers and foul breath may occur. Overall, a giant glass of water followed by a healthy, hearty meal between 7-9 a.m. -preferably including fresh fruits- is the best way to start your day. If the stomach is out of balance, mental anxiety can occur.
The spleen is next on the chart between 9-11 a.m., and, paired with the stomach, is considered the mother of all the organs (in case you were unsure what this vital organ was up to). The spleen helps us uptake vital nutrients from our foods, making sure we have the proper nourishment going into our bloodstream. The spleen is thought to govern the endocrine glands – a very important job in keeping the hormones balanced and the system healthy. The spleen is such a body regulator that it is important to follow hunger cues in order to maintain healthy spleen energy. In other words, don’t eat when you aren’t hungry, don’t over-eat when you are. Drink when you are thirsty and not when you aren’t.
Emotionally, the spleen ‘houses thoughts and intentions’ of the body. If there is ‘over-thinking’ or over-analyzing happening, the bowels can become too soft. Other imbalances might be signaled by craving sweets, after-meal bloating and low energy. This is a clue to use some spleen strengthening herbs such as cinnamon, dates, yams and lentils. If you are familiar with the Indian fare of kitchari – this is a great time to bring some into your diet. Reading poetry or listening to calming music can also relax the mind and strengthen the spleen.
“When the spleen is healthy it can generate all living things. If it becomes depleted, it can bring about the hundred diseases.”
Between the hours of 11 a.m.-1 p.m. is the heart’s time. The Neijing, which is the Chinese ancient ‘book of definitions’ regarding the organs and their properties, refers to the heart as “the ruler of the human body, the seat of consciousness and intelligence. If we decide to nourish this crucial element in our daily practice, then our lives will be long, healthy, and secure.” This organ rules our emotions and prefers relaxation and non-stressful situations. It is a good time of day for a nap and to avoid stressful activities and caffeine. Cayenne pepper is a good herb for balancing the heart if it needs it – shown by tiredness, pale complexion and night sweats. The heart governs the mind and all mental activities and how we relate with the world. If you don’t desire to ‘interact’ and are feeling like a bit of a hermit, the heart energy may need to be balanced. Gingko, ginseng and cinnamon can assist in strengthening the heart, and thereby, the heart.
The heart’s companion organ is the small intestine from 1-3 p.m. in the afternoon. It is the yang(more active) of the organ set, where the heart is the yin(passive). The small intestine obviously has work in digestion, especially separating out the fluids to move toward the kidney and bladder. This is where it becomes important to have drank enough water, so as to not harm the small intestines, resulting in bloating, gas and duodenal ulcers. If these imbalances show up, drink more water and add some bentonite clay or psyllium to the mix to help even things out.
The small intestines rule the power of discernment and good judgment, if this organ is balanced, a regular – at least once per day – bowel movement will occur.
Between 3-5 p.m. the bladder has full energy. If you are not well hydrated, at this time of the day you may notice sleepiness or unusual fatigue. The bladder finds nourishment in salty foods such as soup broths and it loves a good lemon drink to keep things flushed out. The ruling emotion of the bladder is fear, so if you have some unresolved fears, they could show up as a bladder infection, infrequent or overly frequent urination and a difficulty in making decisions. Jealousy is also processed here – so release that emotion and keep the bladder happy and healthy.
Kidneys turn on at 5 p.m. and run through 7 p.m. – when most folks sit down to dinner. Since the kidneys rule the reproductive system, development and growth, the best meal to have is a healthy love affair in the bedroom, followed by a light meal. That’s right, sex helps to keep the kidneys essence strong and working at optimum health. A light meal that’s just a tad salty will replace any lost electrolytes and leave you feeling refreshed before night time creeps around. The kidneys are the home of courage and will-power along with sexuality. If your kidney chi is low, so will be the libido as well as your self-confidence. Sesame seeds, grapes, sweet potato, seaweed, strawberries – all great for the kidneys.
Pericardium/Triple Warmer(triple burner)
These are the ‘accessory organs’ mentioned earlier. The pericardium protects the heart both physically and emotionally and the triple warmer helps you feel over-all balance in the system by governing the intake, transformation and elimination principles in the body via the thorax, abdomen and pelvis. To nourish the pericardium, make sure the sex you are having to strengthen the kidneys is the loving kind. The pericardium responds the the love vibration and in this way, protects the heart from emotional damage. The triple warmer, if imbalanced, can result in depression and feelings of guilt. To balance the triple warmer – go to bed and get a good night of sleep.
From 11 p.m.-1 a.m. is the most active time for the gallbladder, which not only excretes bile for good digestion, but also rules the decision making process and good judgement. It is thought that if sleep is not occurring during this organs time the results could be poor judgment, low self-esteem and a difficulty making decisions. Gallbladder is also over the emotion of anger. If these things are occurring for you, up the intake of good oils in your diet in order to lubricate the gallbladder duct – including flax oil, coconut oil, olive oil, fatty fish and sesame oil. Avoid hydrogenated oils and animal fats. Good fats not only help cleanse the system, but bring about a healthy, balanced state of mind due to their essential fatty acid content.
The liver is most active and powerful during the 1 a.m.-3 a.m. hours. Anger is also associated with this organ, as part of the pair – so if you are waking up during this time of night, it’s a good idea to see how well you are processing your emotions and if you have an unresolved anger to look at. Good avenues for expression are writing, exercise, screaming (not at anyone), punching a punching bag or pillows, anything that helps to exert that extra pent up emotion without directing it at anyone else. The liver also stores our blood, so if you are awake during this time, watch out for anemic conditions, especially as a woman – as women need these hours to build strong blood for their menstrual cycle.
The movement of energy through the entire body, via the meridians – or energy passageways – is the role of the lungs. In yogic traditions, the control and movement of breath is vital to the health of the whole system of the body and is known to strengthen the life force energy. The lungs also work to keep the immune system strong and working properly, and compromised lung energy is related to immune system problems. If you are imbalanced in the lungs, you may wake up during lung hours of 3-5 a.m. or experience coughing, wheezing, asthma or vulnerability to colds. Sleeping with the window open can support the lungs as can taking deep, conscious breaths. The emotions of grief and sadness are in the lungs realm, and if you have lung conditions it is smart to pay attention to these feelings and work on processing them. Herbs that feed the lungs are mullien, horehound, black cherry bark, and garlic.
The large intestines are the last organs to examine on our little journey. They have their peak hours from 5-7 a.m., when they say is the best time for a good bowel movement. As this organ is all about the emotion and the act of ‘letting go’ it is also a good sign this organ is out of balance if you find yourself holding on too tightly to something. Symptoms of imbalance are constipation, hemorrhoids, rashes, dry stool and repeating the same ‘scene’ over and over in your head. Some practitioners say if you wake during this time in the morning with indigestion, you should definitely not eat whatever you ate last before bed. A big glass of warm water is healing to the large intestines. Drink it down upon arising to stimulate a great movement – in the bowels and your day.
Once you know the best time of day to influence each organ, you can greatly assist your body’s proper digestion, heart health, emotions and so much more. This powerful information, known to the Chinese for thousands of years, can be implemented by anyone everyday for more optimal health in both body and mind. Keep a simple chart around the kitchen and bedroom to remind you and in no time, you will find just by becoming aware of the systems and their timing, you too will feel more aligned and empowered.
Written by: Stasia Bliss