Support the Timberjay by making a donation.

Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

What are your body rhythms telling you?

Betty Firth
Posted 3/20/24

I promised in my previous column to write in more detail about the rhythms of the body as utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent illness. Oriental …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

What are your body rhythms telling you?


I promised in my previous column to write in more detail about the rhythms of the body as utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.
Oriental medical theory arose from and cannot be separated from Chinese philosophy, which embraces culture, art, thought, politics, and religion. The aim of TCM is to promote harmony with nature and within one’s self, to seek balance and wellness. “Most major cultural traditions identify a “vital energy” that guides someone’s physical and mental processes, called “prana” in India and “pneuma” in Greece.” says Dr. Jill Blakeway, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, “Chinese philosophy calls this vital energy “qi” (pronounced “chi”) and describes it as the body’s innate intelligence— the intangible yet measurable way we maintain what’s known as homeostasis, or the body’s ability to regulate its internal environment to create good health.” Qi and the meridian system of channels through which the qi flows in our bodies are at the core of TCM.
This is quite different from Western (also called “conventional” or “allopathic”) medicine, which originally evolved out of the more holistic (wholistic) view of the body held by midwives, healers, and early general practitioners, into a more delineated discipline during industrialization in modern times. I believe this led to a more mechanistic view of our bodies, aimed at fixing symptoms of the component parts, rather than seeking causes of imbalance. As scientific knowledge grew exponentially more complex, training for the various disciplines of allopathic medicine became more specialized, with even less of a holistic view.
Frustration with this compartmentalized perception of our bodies and beings led to increasing interest in oriental medicine and other complementary therapies which highlighted the importance of how our bodies, minds, and spirits function together. I believe that a concurrent search for spirituality and the deeper meaning of life in our often scattered, over-busy, modern lifestyles has also led some people to find help and satisfaction in the modalities which embrace the broader view of healing and wellness.
While many allopathic medical professionals have been skeptical of oriental medicine and other holistic modalities, a shift in thinking has occurred for many as awareness, understanding, and appreciation have increased. Nurses, in particular, have long recognized the importance of treating the “whole” person, giving patients caring and attention beyond taking vitals and doling out drugs. Indeed, the shortage of time allocated to be with patients is a frustration for nurses and many workers in medicine today.
Many hospitals and clinics are using alternative modalities for pain management, spinal issues, emotional imbalances, and many other areas of disease as it is recognized that these methods can be more effective than drugs or invasive surgery. Nurses can get continuing education credits in Healing Touch, which was second nature to many. Some medical schools are including introductions to alternative therapies in their curriculum, which may just scratch the surface, but is a step forward.
TCM has a complex organizational structure of many layers, with chi at the center, how it fluctuates through the meridians, channeling to the organs. Acupressure or acupuncture points are places where the energy is more easily accessible, and will show an imbalance, which can be caused by a deficiency or excess of chi. An acupressure practitioner’s sensitive fingers can tune in to the level of energy present. Some practitioners use an electrical reader to assess the points, determined by the level of electrical resistance present at those points. Researchers reading electrical energy in the body in 1978 showed that the lines of less resistance which were detected mapped out the meridian system used in TCM.
One tool of TCM is the 24-hour clock, which identifies the two-hour periods in which each of the twelve meridians is believed to flow more strongly and function best. For example, the high tide of energy in the lung meridian is from 3 to 5 a.m., which flows into its companion meridian, the Large Intestine, at 5 a.m., which then flows into the Stomach Meridian from 7 to 9 a.m. The body clock can be used for assessment, determining when a meridian is out of balance. For example, someone with a lung meridian imbalance may wake up or have lung congestion between 3 and 5 a.m. It is also believed that addressing issues related to each meridian during its body clock period may enhance that effort. Eating the morning meal from 7 to 9 a.m. might make the best use of the stomach meridian’s energy, converting the food into qi to make a good start to the day. This is not a new idea for most of us who have often heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, advised to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
While research into the body clock is not extensive, some research has shown that there are definite biorhythms in the body that correlate with TCM meridian flows. In a review of the literature in the Journal of the National Medical Association, Carl C. Bell concluded that, “Clearly the Chinese had an understanding of body physiology and biorhythms and sought to harmonize their medical treatment with the natural laws of the body.” He cited research that showed that some medications were shown to be more effective taken in the morning, but additionally could have an opposite, deleterious effect if taken later in the day. He surmised, “The administration of medication, without taking into account the biorhythms of the body, may well cause a disruption of the body’s natural rhythms that will result in an illness which is more chronic and severe than the original illness presented.”
What does this have to do with your sleep patterns? If you wake up consistently at a certain hour, you could check out what the TCM body-clock has to say about which meridian is “in charge.” You could try an acupuncture or acupressure session to see what you can learn about your body and self-acupressure that you can do at home to feel better and sleep better.
Of course, there are many factors involved, and TCM advice for healthy living in a nutshell is, “if you breathe well, eat well, and sleep well, your qi will probably be in balance.” I think the importance of breathing correctly is severely underrated and misunderstood. TCM practitioners recommend doiwng exercise that includes focusing on your breath like yoga, tai chi, or qigong, which, could bring you more focused, energetic days and more peaceful nights.
Betty Firth has studied and practiced acupressure and conscious breathing for thirty years.