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From the bowels of TCM: Arise, and to the toilet!
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Our bodies move like TCM clockwork, with 12 meridians moving qi over 24 hours and shifting between yang and yin. In the morning, it's important to rise and shine on time, writes Zhang Qian.

Maintaining a 24-hour health schedule is important in traditional Chinese medicine, which breaks down the day into 12, two-hour units comprising four blocks of time. It's all about moving qi in your body.

Last week we told you how to get a deep sleep from 11pm to 5am. Now it's the next six hours hours: Get out of bed early, move your bowels early, eat a nourishing breakfast, work or otherwise pass the time, eat lunch, take a short walk, and a nice nap. All are important.

TCM is definitely for early risers and not for night owls who like to stay up late and sleep in.

TCM recognizes 12 time units, the 12 earthly branches, each equivalent to two hours of the day - zi, chou, yin, mao, chen, si, wu, wei, shen, you, xu and hai.

Your body has 12 regular meridians, rivers of energy that carry qi in our bodies and are on duty at each time unit in turn. Extra blood and energy flow to the meridian on duty to keep it active, and each meridian has its own job at its active time.

Having the meridian finish its task at the appointed time ensures regular and healthy energy flow. Disruption of energy flow leads to health problems.

According to the schedule in the classic text "Huang Di Nei Jing" ("Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor"), you should move your bowels at mao (5am-7am), eat your breakfast at chen (7am-9am), work at si (9am-11am), and have your lunch and nap at wu (11am-1pm).

Next week we'll tell you about the following six hours from 1pm to 7pm.

Mao (5am-7am)

Large intestine meridian

When the lung meridian finishes its job of distributing energy and blood to the organs from 3am to 5am, the large intestine takes over. This means you should be on the toilet at this time.

According to TCM, most people will naturally feel the bowels moving at mao. Those suffering slight constipation may find it easier to evacuate their bowels during these two hours as the time agrees with the natural body schedule.

TCM also believes that there is a close relationship between the lungs and the large intestine. The energy in the lungs helps move bowels. We tend to hold our breath when we have difficulty defecating. Actually, we are trying to send more energy from the lungs to the large intestine to solve the problem.

Build-up of toxins is a harmful result of constipation, yet TCM doctors are more concerned that constipation may cause heart attacks in the elderly and in heart disease patients who already have insufficient energy in the lungs.

These susceptible people should not hold their breath as they move their bowels, but should breathe regularly. Transferring a lot of energy suddenly to the large intestine may deprive the lungs and heart of energy, in some cases causing sudden death.

Those with chronic constipation can eat foods that reinforce energy in the lungs such as yams and honey. If the problem is severe, they should see a doctor.

Chen (7am-9am)

Stomach meridian

After getting up, attending to the bowels, and washing, you should be ready for breakfast at chen as your stomach meridian wakes up.

As we explained last week, yang energy, which starts to grow at zi (11pm-1am), plays a crucial role in digestion. Sufficient yang energy has been collected inside the body by chen. This is the best time to eat a nutritious breakfast, and if you eat right and on time, you won't gain weight.

The yang energy will help digest all the food and send nutrients to the spleen meridian, which is on duty in the next two hours. The spleen then turns all the digested foods into energy and blood and sends them to muscles to support daily life. As a result, no extra foods will be left over to form fat if they are sent to the right "production line" on time.

Si (9am-11am)

Spleen meridian

Blood and energy flow to the spleen meridian at si to support the conversion of nutrients into blood and energy and send them to the muscles. You can be fully engaged in work in these two hours as a healthy spleen can finish the work by itself. And the energy and blood produced and sent by the spleen will support your activities.

Apart from having lunch to get energy for activities in the afternoon, having a nap at wu is also crucial for health. At this time, strong yang energy is giving its way to yin energy. TCM believes that the human body should be at rest when the controlling energy shifts from yang to yin. Activity can disrupt the transfer.

There are two transferring moments in a day - one at zi (11pm-1am) while the other is at wu. Yet as yang energy is still dominant at wu, it is best to take a nap for under an hour, rather than fall into a deep sleep. This way we don't waste energy for other activities.

Besides, we only need seven to nine hours of sleep a day, and napping too long during the day may result in sleeplessness at night.

Napping immediately after lunch may cause stomach discomfort, so it's advisable to take a walk for 15 minutes before going to sleep. Again, remember to get up slowly, not abruptly, and move slowly when you first wake from a nap.

Drink a cup of water before going back to work.

(Shanghai Daily April 8, 2008)

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