The Chinese Body Clock: Synchronize with the Body’s Natural Rhythms
Traditional Chinese medicine doctor Jingduan Yang shares advice for healthy living
“If we follow the rhythm of nature, we’ll become much more efficient than the people who run around trying to do more things.”
—Dr. Jingduan Yang
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest surviving branches of medicine in the world. In ancient times, Chinese medical doctors understood the interrelationship of the human body with nature and the greater universe. Dr. Jingduan Yang is a 5th generation Chinese medicine and acupuncture doctor, as well as the founder of the Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine and the Tao Clinic of Acupuncture in the United States. In this interview with Magnifissance, Yang shares his wisdom on following the natural rhythms of the body, especially through the Chinese body clock, to live our best lives.
How important is it for people to follow the rhythms of nature?
Nature has its own rhythm as does the human body. When the human body synchronizes its rhythm with that of nature we’re in our best state of health.
Let’s take the sun as an example. I always ask people: “Is the sun great, is it important for us?” Everybody says “yes.”
But as important as the sun is, it’s actually very regular and obedient to the rhythm of nature. It arises and retires very regularly and precisely. The sun will never say, “I’m not going to get up this morning.” It will never say, “I’m going to stay up late today” like we humans often do.
Just like the sun and the earth, the human body has a circadian rhythm that we should follow. This is the 24-hour rhythm of the body that cycles each day. Following this gives us the easiest schedule because the rhythms in nature are synchronized with the energy inside our body.
Can you give us some advice for how we can apply that to our lives?
The best way to organize ourselves is according to the concept of the Five Elements.
In TCM, we divide the year into five seasons. Each season has its own dominant energies. In the spring, we have wind. In the summer, we have heat. In late summer, we have dampness. In the fall, we have dryness, and in the winter, we have coldness.
Different seasons nourish different parts of the organ system. For example, spring is the best time to take care of our liver and gallbladder. Summer is important for our heart and small intestines. Late summer is a good time to take care of our spleen and stomach. Fall is important for the lungs and the large intestine. Winter is the best time to take care of our kidneys and bladder.
That’s because the seasonal energy corresponds with the energy of the organs. We have to be sensitive to changes in the climate as the seasons change.
If the seasons affect the body differently, what about various times of the day?
Each day also follows a specific rhythm. We have the morning, the afternoon, the first half of the night and the second half of the night. Each period of the day corresponds to particular organs. The rhythm of nature is synchronized with the energy inside our body. If we don’t follow it, we’re going against the energy of nature. In that case, I don’t think we can win.
However, in a technology dominated society, people consider their natural rhythms to be restrictions. People think they can live any way they want. They’re trying to ignore nature and that entails a risk physically and mentally.
In the past we had to sleep because it was getting dark. These days we have electricity. We have all kinds of things that allow us to avoid following the natural rhythms. We think we’re smart, that we’re gaining some freedom. But actually we’re creating problems for ourselves. We’re actually losing our freedom because, when we’re physically or mentally unhealthy, we’re spending lots of time seeking medical care. Dealing with suffering and pain, we don’t really have the freedom that we imagined.
If we follow the rhythm of nature, we’ll become much more efficient than the people who run around trying to do more things. That’s why people say you should work smarter, not harder. I think working smarter means following the law of the universe, the rhythm of nature.
What should people pay attention to when it comes to scheduling their sleep?
I always advise people to get to sleep no later than 11 p.m., because the most important time for our sleep is between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. This is the time when energy revitalizes the function of the liver and gallbladder meridians.
This system of energy nourishment and revitalization works hard during the day because the liver and gallbladder basically run our daily routines (from the metabolism to the circulation of energy and the decision-making process). It’s like a commander-in-chief running an army, and it absolutely needs to rest during those four hours at night.
The Body’s Biological Clock
3 a.m. – 5 a.m. Sleep and Regroup
The lungs receive the most energetic support. It’s good for the body to sleep at this time.
5 a.m. – 7 a.m. Wake Up
The large intestine receives most of the body’s energetic flow. It’s the best time to get up, drink water, go to the bathroom, and get ready for the day.
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Breakfast
The stomach receives the most energy. It’s time to eat because the stomach is at its peak for digestion during this period.
9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Productivity
The spleen receives the best energetic support. The body is most efficient in transforming food into energy. The brain is at its peak for thinking and creativity.
11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Lunch
The heart receives concentrated energy support. A delightful and healthy lunch is warranted. A short nap effectively refreshes the mind. Take a break, get some lunch, and have a nap if possible.
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Productivity
The small intestine receives the most energetic support. The body further absorbs nutrients and energy from lunch. The brain performs at its peak of clarity.
3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Productivity and Hydration
The bladder receives the most abundant energy. The bladder meridians support the entire body and the brain’s functions. These are another two good hours for productivity. Make sure to drink lots of water to hydrate yourself and flush out your system.
5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Exercise and Dinner
The kidneys receive the best energetic support. This is a great time to exercise and train yourself to become better coordinated. A kidney nourishing dinner is a good idea at this point.
7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friendship and Family Time
The pericardium receives the best energy flow. This is the time to have some fun and be lighthearted. Enjoy family time and friendships in the evening.
9 p.m. – 11 p.m. Wind Down
The Triple Burner (chest, abdomen and pelvic cavities) receives an abundant flow of energy, reorganizing and recharging the entire body. This is when you should start winding down. Stop expending energy and start storing it up for the next day.
11 p.m. – 1 a.m. Go to sleep
The gallbladder receives greater flow of energy. The gallbladder meridian supports digestion, vision, decision-making, and sleep. It’s the best time to go to sleep.
1 a.m. – 3 a.m. Sleep
The liver receives concentrated energy flow. Since the liver has to do all the heavy lifting work during the day, such as regulating digestion, energy and blood circulation, detoxification, and executive brain function, it’s critical we let the liver rest during this time.