The “Chinese Clock” is a concept in traditional Chinese medicine in which each of our organs is considered to have a time of day when it is strongest and does its best work. The day is divided into twelve two-hour segments, each belonging to a different organ. During each organ’s time, there are certain activities to engage in and others to avoid in order to make the best use of the natural flow of energy. Also, if a particular symptom or event tends to happen during the same time period repeatedly, it may indicate a problem with the associated organ. While an in-depth discussion of this system is beyond the scope of this article, I hope this basic introduction will inspire you to be more conscious of what’s happening in your body, mind, and life.
Keep in mind that I am referring to the Chinese Medicine view of these organs, which are often greatly expanded from the biomedical view. Sometimes they have minimal overlap with the anatomical organ of the same name. Also, many believe that during the Daylight Savings portion of the year (usually March through October) we should subtract an hour from what the clock says to get the “real” time.
3:00 AM to 5:00 AM – Lung Time:
The time of the lungs is marked by a certain “crispness” – like the air the lungs breathe. The lungs are associated with the metal element, and in the same way that metal can be reflective, this can be a good time for reflection and “airy” explorations, such as meditation and breath work. The lungs also relate to grief and loss, and feelings from the past often surface during this time. Most people are sleeping, but this has long been a time for yogis to start their morning practice.
5:00 AM to 7:00 AM – Large Intestine Time:
The large intestine is all about letting go – letting go of physical waste and letting go of any other “stuff” we’re carrying around that is ready to be released. This is the ideal time for the first bowel movement of the day. If you have trouble with bowel regularity, trying sitting on the toilet during this time period and relaxing. When you have a bowel movement, practice becoming aware of anything you’re ready to let go of, direct this image to your bowels, and imagine you’re releasing it.
7:00 AM to 9:00 AM – Stomach Time:
This is the ideal time for the first meal of the day. The stomach is all about receiving nourishment. That makes this also a good time (after having released any garbage in colon time) to receive positive affirmations and compliments. Try giving and receiving some of these to others and yourself during this time period. Whatever good comes into your life during this time, imagine using the receiving power of your stomach to accept it.
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM – Spleen Time:
In Chinese medicine, the “spleen” is responsible for transforming nourishment into you and distributing nourishment to all of your many parts. “Spleen” is really a poor translation for this group of digestive and nutritive functions. In a broader sense, it governs your ability to nurture the many parts of your life – people, projects, career, etc. The spleen is associated with the earth element and is like Mother Earth, who supports and feeds everything that lives upon her. Try imagining the energy from your breakfast making its way into all your cells. Consider extending an expression of motherly understanding or nurturing to a malnourished person or part of your life.
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM – Heart Time:
As the main organ of the fire element, the heart is naturally dominant when the sun (fire) is highest in the sky. In the community of bodily organs, the heart is called the Emperor or the Supreme Controller. It is home to your truest awareness and an expression of the Dao, the Divine, God, or whatever term you like. The heart rules the “kingdom” of your body and everything you consider to be you, and the way it rules is through love, warmth, and inclusion. It shines through us without any effort from us. During this time, practice allowing it to be open, allowing love and compassion for everyone and everything.
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM – Small Intestine Time:
The small intestine is the heart’s partner. This organ, which comprises the largest portion of the digestive tract, is where most absorption takes place. Not just absorbtion of food, but our capacity to absorb and process life experiences. It has the task of “separating pure from impure” – that is, determining what is “pure” and worthy of taking into the heart’s kingdom, versus what is “impure” and should be passed on to the colon for elimination. During this time consider if there is an “impure” element in your life you’d like to eliminate or if there is some especially “pure” influence you’d like to invite into your life.
3:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Bladder Time:
The bladder’s functions go far beyond urination. While the kidneys govern the storage of reserve energy, the bladder is associated with the utilization and expenditure of reserves. The Chinese bladder has some overlap with the nervous system and our primal drive for security and survival. Many people, having lived with this drive engaged habitually for years (perhaps unconsciously), feel tired during this time period because of having depleted their reserves. The best thing to do at this time is be respectful of your limits, slow down, don’t overdo, and reflect on how much you expend versus what you do to replenish yourself.
5:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Kidney Time:
The kidneys store a deep reservoir of energy, like a well of potential. When this reservoir runs out we die. The kidneys and bladder, representatives of the water element, are easily disturbed by fear. Our deepest fear is of using up this reservoir of life, yet when we are fearful we tend spend our energy like crazy. Just as the surface of water gives an inaccurate reflection when it’s disturbed, fear disturbs the water element within us, making it difficult for us to reflect accurately on the state of our reserve energy and how we’re spending it in the world. Ideally, we should not disturb this reservoir by trying to manipulate life, but instead let the potential within us flow out at its own pace. During kidney time, reflect on the ways you may be overly focused on the future. Slow down, reel yourself in, be still now and reflect.
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Pericardium Time:
The pericardium is the sac that encloses and protects the heart. As the “heart protector,” it’s like the wall around our heart and the drawbridge through which we let others – and ourselves – inside. The pericardium governs intimacy, and it, rather than the heart, takes the brunt of the emotional blows we receive. This is a good time for candid discussions, romance and other forms of intimacy, and healing past emotional traumas.
9:00 PM to 11:00 PM – San Jiao Time:
The San Jiao or “triple warmer” is like a communication network between our organs and also a kind of thermostat. It is closely associated with the hormonal (endocrine) system. It also relates to our ability to interact in social settings. It gives us the ability to feel out a situation and know how to present ourselves in a harmonious way within our surroundings. This is a good time for light social interaction, for games, or watching comedy.
11:00 PM to 1:00 AM – Gallbladder Time:
The gallbladder, in Chinese thought, is responsible for decision making and courage. A timid person is said to have a small gallbladder while a brave person is said to have a large one. The gallbladder is intimately united with the liver – the “planner.” While the liver help us plan, the gallbladder helps us make the big choices and all the minute-to-minute ones too. If you are still awake at 11 PM, this decisive energy may keep you up, giving you a second wind that takes you into the wee hours. While some folks thrive on this energy, the gallbladder functions exceptionally well when we’re asleep, working things out while we dream.
1:00 AM to 3:00 AM – Liver Time:
The liver is called the General or the planner. It governs our ability to have a clear life plan and goals, and also to do short term planning. It gives us the vision and perspective to see the “big picture.” Like gallbladder time, it can become addictive to be awake in liver time, since some people find they get a lot done, have big ideas, do planning, etc. But humans are not nocturnal by nature, and the liver does its best work when we sleep. A common time for insomniacs to wake is around 3 AM, at the transition from liver time to lung time. Frequently, this coincides with some sense of frustration or obstacle around one’s life plan. Consider making lists or scheduling your day in advance so your mind doesn’t have to keep track of it all. Write down your goals and some action steps you can take toward accomplishing them.
I hope this brief introduction to the Chinese Clock and the organs sparks an interest in becoming more mindful of your daily ebbs and flows. If it seems daunting to try to remember all these times and themes, just try starting with one organ period at a time.