Traditional Chinese Medicine Organ Times and Meridian System
–-Their Applications in Health and Wellness Practice
The meridian system is a key concept of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but understandings of the energetic body are shared by many cultures. It is believed that vital energy — also known as the life force, prana, or qi (chi)—flows throughout the body in the same way that blood does. When this energy becomes blocked or disproportionate, adverse symptoms and disease may occur. The goal of TCM is to optimize the circulation and balance of qi through methods of energy healing such as qigong. These practices are believed to prevent and cure disease, regulate metabolism, and support cellular health.
The meridian system can be understood by imagining three nesting tiers:
Qi Energy — Qi is considered the vital force of any living being. It is always present in our bodies, but its delicate balance and fluidity are essential for growth, recovery, and general health. Balancing qi means not only distributing energy evenly throughout the body but also achieving a balance of yin and yang energy. These two types of energy are opposite yet complementary and interdependent. Each bodily function uses both energies simultaneously. In TCM, good health is built on the harmony of yin and yang.
Meridians — Meridians are channels that direct the flow of energy through specific pathways of the body, much like the circulatory system holds and transports blood. Each side of the body is traversed by six meridians—three yin and three yang. Every meridian corresponds with a particular organ but encompasses the larger functions of that organ as well as other organs around them. For example, the kidney meridian is responsible for urinary health but is also believed to carry sexual energy and affect reproductive processes as well.
The Meridian System — Meridians connect all major organ systems. Each meridian plays a specific and crucial role in the health of the entire body. If the energy flowing through a meridian is imbalanced in any way, the system it fuels is jeopardized, and disease may result.
In Simplest Terms — Qi refers to the natural and essential energy of livelihood. This energy flows through multiple pathways of the body called meridians. Each meridian regulates a particular organ, but all are interconnected. Good health depends on the circulation and balance of energy throughout the entire meridian system.
Meridians and Body Organ Clock
In TCM, there is an organ clock that represents the time of the day when each organ is functioning optimally and has the most energy. There are 12 organ systems and 2 accessory systems that are represented by this clock. Each organ system is also associated with an emotion, taste, sense organ, season, etc. but this is beyond the scope of this introduction. Here we will discuss the physical and emotional symptoms that arise if an organ is out of balanced. But keep in mind that if some of the symptoms don’t make sense (ie. kidney imbalanced showing up as premature greying of hair), just know that TCM is a highly developed and intricate form of medicine that differs from Western medical diagnosis.
This body organ clock is called “Ziwu Liuzhu” in Chinese, or Meridian lingers, which advocates nature and humanity correspondence, consider human-being is a part of nature, the human habits should follow the natural law of the four seasons, while personal qi-blood flows have certain timing and period. The meridian lingers connect people’s rise and fall of zang-fu organs and meridians with timing of day, so as to seek a balance of Yin and Yang, achieve physical fitness, prolong life of preserving one’s health.
Ziwu Liuzhu compares the human qi-blood movement to the flow of water. From mid-night to noon, with different time sequences, the ups and downs of Yin and Yang, the movement of ying-wei, the flow of meridians, and the opening-closing of time points all have the same rhythmic changes with nature. There is also a fixed time for the rise and fall of Yin-Yang through qi and blood. When qi and blood are in surplus, it is rising; when they are out of date, it is decline. Opening points at regular time can effectively harmonize Yin- Yang and correct excess and decline of the body.
The wellness practice, or Yang-sheng in TCM, are usually carried out by the body organ clock. The focus of wellness practice at each time point vary according to the body organ clock. Following is a brief discussion of the organ systems with their corresponding times, and how imbalances in these systems may arise both physically and emotionally.
3-5am Lung: The lung is responsible for moving the qi (energy) through the meridians and to the entire body, as well as providing immune protection. It is also emotionally associated with grief. You may find that wake up during these times if you are struggling with grief or sorrow. Imbalances may also show up as wheezing, coughing, asthma, or getting sick easily.
5-7am Large Intestine: This is the best time to have a bowel movement. The large intestine is all about ‘letting go’ physically and emotionally. Symptoms of malfunction include constipation, dry stools, skin rash, and feeling emotionally ‘stuck’ .
7-9am Stomach: The stomach’s function is digestion & breakdown of foods, so this is the best time to eat a healthy & hearty breakfast. If out of balance, symptoms that may arise include acid reflux, stomach ulcer, and bad breath.
9-11am Spleen: The spleen extracts nutrients from food, transforms it into energy and transports it to other organ systems. During this time, you can support the spleen by having a nice cup of warming tea, or a light snack. Foods that support the spleen include cinnamon, yam, dates, and lentils. Imbalances may show up as loose stools, bloating after meals, craving sweets, and low energy.
11am-1pm Heart: During these hours, it is best to relax, take a siesta, and enjoy lunch. The heart dislikes heat (emotional & physical), so try to avoid caffeine, stress, intense exercise, or anything that raises your blood pressure. Symptoms of imbalance are palpitations, shortness of breath, cold hands & feet, and insomnia.
1-3pm Small Intestine: The small intestine separates the clear and turbid fluids, and moves these to the urinary bladder and large intestine, respectively. If you haven’t drank enough water during the day, you are more likely to feel dehydrated during these times. When out of balance, conditions that may arise include duodenal ulcer, bloating with vomiting or gas.
3-5pm Urinary Bladder: This is a time of the day when you can feel a dip in energy levels, especially if you are not well-hydrated. The urinary bladder stores & secretes urine (clear fluid), and is nourished by salty foods so having a bowl of brothy soup, such as miso or veggie broth, during this time helps strengthen the bladder (and the kidney, which is it’s paired organ). When out of balance, you may experience burning when urinating, yeast infection, or urinary incontinence.
5-7pm Kidney: The kidneys are responsible for healthy reproduction, development, and growth. Some activities that support this are to have a healthy meal (but not too large) with a little salt for flavoring and love making, which keeps your kidney ‘essence’ strong! When the kidney meridian is out of balance, symptoms that may arise include sexual difficulties, low back pain, or premature graying of hair.
7-9pm Pericardium: This is one of the accessory organs systems.To support the pericardium, this is the time to do something gentle to help you ease into sleep, such as meditation, light stretching, reading, or cuddling.
9-11pm San Jiao (Triple Burner): This is the second accessory organ system. During this time, to best support San Jiao, we should think about going to sleep during this time – having an earlier bed-time in the winter, and staying up a little later in summer.
11pm-1am Gall Bladder: Physically, the gallbladder stores and excretes bile, but emotionally, it is in charge of self-esteem and decision-making. If you’re not sleeping by this time, you are depleting your gall bladder’s energy stores, which over time, can lead to poor self-esteem, poor judgment, or difficulty digesting fats.
1-3am Liver: The liver’s role is to store blood for menstruation and to get us through the day. If you’re not sleeping at this time, you can quickly become deficient, especially if you are female because of the importance of blood for menstruation (even for those going through menopause). The liver is also emotionally connected to anger. You may find that you wake up between 1-3am if you have repressed anger or long standing resentment. Symptoms of liver imbalances include irregular menstruation, anemia, chronic fatigue, and headache.
Master the Keys of Wellness-Health by Time
The year has the twelfth months and the day has twelve time zones. The human body is a harmonious and balanced system. If you follow its rules, you can keep your body healthy. If you deviate from it, the body will become ill. Master the secret of the body itself, using the law of the body meridian circulation, choose the best time for health preservation and treatment, also master the secret of longevity and health.
The twelve meridians are related to the twelve viscera (zang-fu), and the cycle time of the twelve meridians is closely corresponding to the twelve viscera. In accordance with the law of Ziwu liuzhu, using the health-preserving wisdom in Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic (Huangdi Neijing), according to different time zones, respectively, to maintain the meridians and collaterals in season, to achieve the function of qi-blood unobstructed, strong zang-fu organs, so as to realize the dream of health and longevity.
Throughout the ages, wellness expert attaches great importance to twelve hours of health-care or wellness practice, respectively in twelve hours of maintenance of the meridians and collaterals, has reached qi-blood unobstructed, strong viscera effect. TCM wellness practice pays attention to the concept and method of the unity of heaven, earth and man. It decrypts the magical connection between human health and nature with the ancient wisdom of TCM and reveals the health code hidden in time. The theoretical foundation of this mysterious regimen is the law of Ziwu Liuzhu, which was laid down in the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, a classic Chinese medicine book of more than 2,000 years. Such as “the year has twelve months, the day has twelve hours, Zi-wu for the longitude, Mao-yan for latitude.” The principle of Yin-Yang and the five elements, the law of heaven-earth and branches, and the characteristics of the twelve viscera are integrated into daily life, keeping healthy in accordance with Yin and Yang as the ancients did. Twelve-hours health teaching candidates for the time, massage meridians, grasp the important acupoints, adhere to the long-term kneading, follow the “pain is impassable, no pain is going-through” principle, find out the pain point, according to kneading and knocking, have meal on time, adhere to the “meridian”, follow the trend, so as to obtain health and longevity.
One of the useful applications for body organ clock in emergence-care is to massage the specific figures or toes by the time when the injury or emergence occurs. For example, if you had a leg injury or unexplained pain between 11am and 12noon, you may quickly massage the small figure (little man) on left hand to achieve special therapeutic effect; If it was between 12 and 1pm, the massage should be on the small figure on right hand; because 11am to 1pm (noon time zone) is the heart meridian on duty, while small figure is where heart meridian starts. What if you had the injury or unexplained pain between 5 and 6pm? Check the body organ clock chart above, you should massage your middle toe on the left foot to achieve instant relief of symptom. If it occurred between 6 and 7pm, the massage should be on the middle toe of right foot because 5 to 7pm is the kidney meridian on duty. Well, in our weekly Sunday Qigong for Health (online classes), we will teach more details on how to apply body organ clock in our daily wellness practice. You may join us at any time by click the following link for registration:
For more information about TCM wellness practice in the winter, please check out the following article:
In short Meridian Lingers theory holds that: the circulation of qi-blood channels has its own rise and fall, and the twelve channels are pumped at twelve time zones a day, namely Yin-time starts from lung channel, flows into large intestine channel, stomach channel, spleen channel, heart channel, small intestine channel, bladder channel, kidney channel, pericardium channel, sanjiao channel, gallbladder channel and ends at Chu-time liver channel. Here’s a song to help you remember them:
One lung two large and three stomach channels, four spleen, five heart and six small intestine;
Seven bladder eight kidney nine pericardium, Sanjiao gallbladder liver linked in line.