10 Takeaways from my second lecture on Ancient Wisdom, Modern Health
I teach a class at Osher, it's five weeks long. I discuss principles of Chinese medicine and how they apply to our life, and Western research which backs them up. Today was the second week, all about energy pathways (meridians) and organ systems, including the body clock and circadian rhythms.
1. Yang Meridians pull energy down, Yin meridians pull energy up.
This may seem backwards...we learned last class that in terms of the relationship of yin and yang, yang is higher up - head vs feet, sky vs ground, heavens vs earth. Yet the direction of yang is down and yin is up. Why is this?
2. If Yang were to go up, and Yin down, there would be separation of yin and yang, which leads to death/nothingness.
Since Yang is already the heavens and Yin the Earth, if they pulled away from each other they would separate. Yin and Yang must always be together for anything to exist. The three arm yang meridians pull the yang energy down and into our bodies, the three leg yang pull the yang energy from our head down to our feet. The three leg yin pull the yin energy up from the earth into our torsos, and the three arm yin from our torsos up to our fingertips, causing yin and yang to flow properly throughout our bodies.
3. In Eastern medicine, the meridian is named after the organ, but does not refer only to the anatomical organ.
When we talk about an organ system in Chinese medicine/acupuncture, we are also talking about its corresponding element, color, emotion, sense organ, mental aspect, etc. That is why if someone has an organ removed, their meridian is still functional, because the organ system/meridian is more than the anatomical organ. The actual organ is only one aspect of the whole energy system.
4. Organs like the brain, the immune system, and reproductive system do not have their own meridians and organ systems in Chinese medicine, but can be found in the ones we do have
The immune system is found in the metal element, and lung meridian. The brain and reproductive systems correlate most with the functions of the kidney meridian and organ system. The functions of these organs systems often encompass much more than what we understand in western medicine.
5. Western research on circadian rhythm shows what Eastern medicine has known for thousands of years.
Every organ, tissue, function in our body has a specific time of day where it functions best. Even our microbiome (the bacteria, yeast, and other microbes in our gut) runs on a circadian rhythm. In Chinese medicine this is known as the body clock. As the energy runs through the body, it is strongest in each of the 12 meridians for a two hour time period: Lungs (3 am - 5 am), Large Intestine (5 am - 7 am), etc through to the Liver (1 am to 3 am) then back to the Lungs, equaling 24 hours.
6. The body's energy crosses the body once a day
The Large Intestine meridian is the only meridian (out of twelve) that starts on one side of the body and ends on the other, left to right and vice versa.
7. There are relatively new branches of western medicine: chronobiology, chronomedicine, chronotherapy
Chrono means time, after the Greek god (titan) Kronos/Chronos. Western research is proving that the same foods eaten in the morning cause less of a blood sugar spike than if eaten in the evening. Front loading calories helps treat obesity, blood sugar issues, blood pressure, helps lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. They are also discovering taking medications at different times of day have different impacts on the body. People who take their blood pressure meds at night have lower incidence of heart attack, stroke, morbidity rates. Some doctors don't know about this research and don't use it in their practices.
8. Circadian rhythm is the largest regulatory system in our bodies, and we can sync our circadian clock if it's out of whack
Whether from travel, an odd work schedule, or other reason, if our circadian rhythm is out of whack we suffer. We can sync it up by eating a big morning meal and exposing ourselves to light in the morning and during the day, and making the night very dark (eliminating lights.)
9. One of the best ways to improve health overall is to stop eating by 7pm.
This is not a fad diet, or the latest trend. This is based on the body's clock which has been known in the East for thousands of years. Digestion is strongest in the morning (7 am - 11 am), and weakest twelve hours later and overnight. If we eat late at night we not only experience indigestion, but also restless sleep and insomnia, and our liver - whose housekeeping functions like blood purification - are strongest overnight, are taxed when we pull energy from that to try to digest food. When we stop eating by 7 pm we not only lose weight, but our blood sugar evens out, blood pressure drops, triglycerides go down, LDL cholesterol goes down, sleep gets better, we are better rested in the mornings, our circadian rhythm can sync up.
10. If you're not hungry in the morning stop eating late at night.
Many people say they are not morning people, not hungry in the morning, but they get hungry at night. To shift the clock, purposefully stop eating at night. Force yourself through the hunger (or just have a fruit if it gets so bad that you can't sleep since fruit is simple and easy to digest). When you are hungry in the morning, eat. Follow this plan until your hunger cues shift and it becomes natural to eat in the morning and not late at night.