Circadian Health

n my life-long quest to learn about living connected to Nature, there is one place where it happened for me with “effortless ease” — Iceland.  

That’s right, Iceland — not in the Blue Zones or on retreats to Sonoma or the Outer Banks or Southern California.  Why?  Because there’s nothing there but Nature, and so there’s no choice but to live connected to Nature, to the seasons, and even the rise and fall of the sun, moon and tides.

The ancient peoples who lived there had a word — or rather a Rune — for this Natural cycle — “Jera,” from which we get our English word “Year.”  But Jera means more than just Natural cycle; it means right actions in a Nature-ordered cyclical process.  (PS, did you know the word Rune translates to “whispered secret”?) 

When we switch elemental Qigong practices with the seasons, we are embodying Jera.  

If you caught the opening of the Winter Olympics last week, you would have seen how important the changing of seasons is to the Chinese culture.  They even did a lovely countdown to the 24th Olympics by counting down their 24 Solar Seasonal Terms.

But I was only in Iceland for about a month, so how did I find effortless ease into Natural health?  Well, away from computers and televisions (my main distractors)—I found myself drawn easily into rising and resting with the sun and the moon.  In Western Medicine, we refer to this as Circadian health.  

I had learned about Circadian health from doctors I worked with previously and know that the entire biological function of almost all life is intimately connected to the sun and moon.  All the queues for hunger, digestion, sex, rest, mental focus, physical peaks, sleep and dreaming…they’re all ruled by our connection to the sun and moon.  

The sun hasn’t quit rising, nor the moon, and the seasons haven’t stopped changing.  So why do so many people have difficult being healthy if these biological functions are Natural?  The easy answer is there’s a lot of disconnection to Nature in our societally accepted way of living now.  And so, our bodies are confused.  

Circadian health is at the CORE of what I believe I need most to be healthy and well.  It is also my most favorite topic of study—mostly because I find it isn’t effortless or easy here…and here is where I live.  So how do I become “unconfused” and still live and work?  My job is reliant on my computer and internet connection.  Since COVID began, my connection to people became dependent on the same with television as a stand-in.  Now I find myself somewhat addicted to these “glowing magic boxes” (as my dogs call them).  As such, it’s easy to lose track of the passing of the sun and with it the queues for hunger, exercise, and sleep…the building blocks of health.  While a move to Iceland sounds amazing, it’s just not something I’m ready to do.  Surely I can find a way here.

Qigong is one such answer.  In addition to seasons, Qigong can also be organized by daily cycles.  There are two ways I use Qigong in the cycles of my day:

The Chinese Medicine Clock.  Eastern medicine believes that organ systems also have a cycle of rise and fall, and this cycle is driven by the rise and fall of the sun.  The Five Elements are connected to these organ systems and as such, are arranged by elements and organs around a 24-hour time period.  There are several ways to interpret what is recommended during each interval, but the best way is what you know works best for you.  Practicing one or two flows for each of the Five Elements during their peak times is one way I use Qigong to connect to Natural cycles.  

Energetic actions of the Five Elements.  Each element has an energetic action that can be used like “movement medicine” during the times when you need them most.  For example, I tend to be overheated first thing in the morning, but by 11am I’m often cold so I practice a Fire Element Qigong flow to Raise my body temperature and Circulate my Qi.  By 2pm, I’m often drowsy, so I practice a Wood Element Qigong to Grow and Strengthen my Qi.  When I finish with work, I practice Metal Element Qigong to Let Go of any stress from the day and Purge my shoulders and back of their tension (from working at a computer).  Here are the energetic actions of the Five Elements:

  • Metal = Purging, Cleansing, Letting Go
  • Water = Sinking, Stillness, Tranquility
  • Wood = Growing, Lengthening, Strengthening
  • Fire = Circulating, Expanding, Raising
  • Earth = Attuning, Nourishing, Nurturing 

As Winter begins to turn into Spring (not marked by temperature, but by the growing amount of light in our days), it’s a good time to really listen hard to the energy–the Qi–stirring in  you.  What do you need?  How can you better connect to Nature, the Natural cycles, and your inner Nature for health, well-being and vitality?