The Timing of Your Qi
What do you mean?
You may be aware that energy, aka qi, circulates within our bodies in specific pathways that correspond to internal organs. But, did you know that the energy moves through these pathways in a specific direction over the course of a day? Every two hours, the qi is strongest in a particular organ/ energetic pathway and it is weakest in another organ/energetic pathway. Think of the implications! The timing of our qi flow is called the Horary Clock and it is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine both diagnostically and therapeutically.
Every day, I am fascinated with the ways in which I see Traditional Chinese Medicine theory play out in my patient’s presentations. Signs and symptoms that would seem unrelated to a practitioner untrained in TCM, are often clear indicators of a TCM diagnosis. For example, a patient that presents with a headache in the front of the head that is better with pressure, as well as, bloating after eating with alternating hard stools/constipation and loose stools/diarrhea points to a common diagnosis: Wood overacting on Earth. From these symptoms alone, I can guess that the tongue will be swollen and pale and that the pulse will be wiry in the Liver position and weak in the Spleen position. This patient may also have acid reflux and if she is a woman, she may have menstrual cramps and/or nausea with the onset of her menses.
As if the diagnostic patterns of TCM were not incredible enough, the Horary clock provides yet another tool to understand energetic imbalances, allowing for the best possible treatment and outcome.
Tell me more:
One of the greatest things about practicing Chinese Medicine in a cash-based practice (vs. following the rules of insurance billing) is that I have time to listen to my patients. Often, patients will discuss times correlating to their symptoms. For example, he/she may say, “my energy plummets around 1pm”. Timing at nighttime is particularly useful because the body can speak to us clearly since, the distractions of life are muted during this time. Patients often wake up between 1-3am, wake at 3am on the dot, wake up with the need to urinate between 3-5am, cough between 3-5am, or wake up with diarrhea between 5-7am.
Based on which organ system the energy is flowing most strongly in during these times, a practitioner can tailor a treatment more effectively.
Let’s look at some examples:
Say a patient is waking up routinely between 1-3am. This is when the energy, or qi, is strongest in the Liver organ system pathway. It is likely that this patient’s Liver system is sluggish and needs some help detoxing. The practitioner can use acupuncture, herbs, or another TCM modality, to address this. The patient may be advised to make lifestyle changes as well, such as avoiding late-night eating and cutting down on alcohol consumption.
Waking at 3am on the dot is also quite common. At 3am, the qi finishes it’s daily cycle, exiting from the Liver pathway, and entering the Lung pathway, to begin another 24-hour cycle. It is not uncommon for the qi flow to get ‘stuck’ here. My favorite treatment for this is to use acupuncture and/or tuning forks, as well as, to place inter-dermal press tacs, on the exit point of the Liver pathway (LR14) and the entry point of the Lung pathway (LU1).
Diarrhea between 5-7am? It’s more common than you think! This is when the qi flow is strongest in the Large Intestine pathway. More often than not, there is a weakness within another organ system which, is causing the Large Intestine to ‘work overtime’. By looking at the tongue, taking the pulse, and getting more information about the patient, we can figure out which organ system needs a boost, so the Large Intestine can ‘relax’.
When the qi is strongest in a particular pathway, it is also weakest in the opposite pathway. A couple weeks ago, a patient came to me with extreme abdominal pain and nausea that she experienced on a daily basis. During our half-hour intake, she mentioned that if she wakes during 1-3am with pain and nausea, then she knows that the pain will be more severe that day. On the horary clock, 1-3am is when the qi flow is strongest in the Liver organ system. During this time, the qi flow is weakest in the Small Intestine organ system. Treatment would be directed toward strengthening the energy of the Small Intestine.
Applying this to life:
Here’s a breakdown of when the qi flow is strongest in each of your organ systems and some tips to better live in harmony with our natural energetic timing.
You should be sleeping soundly during this time. If you are coughing, it could be because your lungs are expelling toxins. Try taking an Osha Root tincture before bed or the mushroom blend (of Chaga, Reishi, and Coryceps) “Breathe” by Host Defense.
5-7am: Large Intestine
Between these hours is the ideal time to wake up. As soon as you wake, drink water (lukewarm, ideally)! For extra help to get your bowls moving, add fresh-squeezed lemon to your glass of water. It’s best to wait until later in the morning to drink caffeine but, if you must, be sure to drink twice as much water as caffeine. Emotionally, the large intestine is about letting go, so EFT/tapping exercises and/or meditation or other exercises to release negativity are ideal practices during this time.
This is the ideal time to eat a big, hearty breakfast! Ideally, stay away from cold things like cereal and yogurt; it is best to eat warm, cooked foods. Congee is an excellent choice for breakfast; it is eaten in many Asian cultures; it is any whole grain mixed with water and left in a crockpot overnight. Click the link for the recipe.
This is the time when your body, including your spleen, will digest and assimilate your food. The spleen governs thinking, too. An overactive mind that worries and ruminates reflects a weak spleen. Keeping your thoughts focused and your mind active during this time is helpful; it is an ideal time for working.
When the qi is strongest in the heart, communication is an excellent activity. Socializing, especially with laughter and enthusiasm comes most naturally during this time. Try to eat lunch with friends!
1-3pm: Small Intestine
During this time, you will be digesting lunch. The small intestine is involved in sorting. This would be an excellent time to organize your plans or your to-do list, or to get clear on your priorities.
Feeling fatigued during this time is common and indicates an imbalance within the bladder organ system. Staying hydrated throughout the day goes a long way! Be sure to drink lots of water. Aim for drinking 1/2 your body weight (in pounds) in fluid ounces of water per day.
Kidney are the Water element. This is a great time to decompress, be silent, and rest. Relax while cooking a nourishing (light) dinner and slowly eating it. Chew thoroughly and be present and grateful with every bite.
During this time, circulation increases. Endocrine organs such as the pituitary, hypothalamus, and reproductive organs are strongly connected to the pericardium system. (Reference 1) This is an ideal time to socialize and connect with loved ones. It’s also an ideal time to have sex.
9-11pm: Sanjiao/ Triple Burner
Along with the Pericardium, The Sanjiao organ system plays a large role in our endocrine system (ie. hormones). Using this time to relax and destress is crucial to reset from any adrenaline-producing stresses of the day. It is best to get to sleep by 10pm, so that you can wake by 6am, during Large Intestine time.
“As energy flow in the gallbladder meridian increases, the body begins processing cholesterol, cleansing body tissue, and enhancing brain function” (Reference 1). Deep sleep during this time is crucial.
While you sleep, the liver is cleansing your body, filtering toxins from your blood, and repairing your cells. Those who drink heavily or use drugs often wake during this time. If you wake up groggy and do not feel refreshed, it is possible that your Liver needs some extra help to detox. Milk Thistle (I like Gaia’s liquid tincture) before bed can aid the Liver to detoxify. Be cautious of other detox protocols/kits/herbs, as they can be quite harsh.
I hope this is helpful! As always, feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
Allison, BS, MA, LAc
Basic Balance Acupuncture & Asian Healing Arts
BONUS: Check out this article to learn how to tap on horary points to relieve Jet Lag!
(by John A. Amaro D.C., FIAMA, Dipl.Ac.,L.Ac)