Foundations of Healing
Early Indian, Chinese, and Greek beliefs about health and disease
The Indian tradition: The Indian tradition dates back to 5000 B.C. and is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine (literally, knowledge of longevity). Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes mental, physical, social, and spiritual harmony. One’s state of mind is made up of a balance of three (3) mental principles: Sattva (the mind’s natural state), tamas (a focus on external objects), and rajas (a focus on action). A predominance of tamas and rajas suppresses sattva and causes the mind to be more "efficient," improving mental health. The body’s dosas (vata, pitta, and kapha), however, work together to sustain physical health and are representative of the five central elements of both the universe and the human body (i.e., earth, water, fire, air, fire, and space). Vata directs action, pitta directs transformations, and kapha stabilizes the two. The balance or imbalances of the dosas maintains physical health or creates disease.
Treatment involves stimulation of the five senses (e.g., music, massage, and the use of aromas), purification (e.g., enemas and "emesis" or vomiting), and the use of "medicines" (which can be either actual physical substances or certain thoughts or beliefs), all aimed at balancing the dosas.
What is Ayurvedic medicine? Click here
The Chinese tradition: The Chinese tradition dates back to 4500 B.C. and is rooted in the Taoist philosophy that the body is a miniaturized version of the universe. While change is common to both, it is represented in the body by a flow of energy called "qi". Lack of "qi" makes one susceptible to illness because of constantly evolving circumstances that make one unable to deal with either changes in the environment (e.g., an argument with a spouse) or changes within the self (e.g., angry feelings). The balance of energetic forces distributed throughout the body is represented by the polar opposites of "ying" and "yang". If these energetic forces are unbalanced, it is because "qi" has been blocked and treatment consists of redistributing "qi" throughout the body.
To restore mental and physical balance, treatment consistes of nutritional changes to one's diet, exercise, as well as adopting a correct psychological attitude.
What is Chinese medicine? Click here
The Greek tradition: The Greek medicine tradition is associated with the teachings of Hippocrates and his followers (including Galen, a prominent Roman physician) starting around 400 B.C. Central to health was the balance of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile) and the balance of the four elements (air, water, fire, earth). Each humor had a different origin in the body (heart, head, gall bladder, spleen, respectively) and were renewed by food and water. Health and disease resulted from their imbalance. For instance, excessive black bile caused melancholia (i.e., depression) and produced various forms of malignancy. Humors were generated, blended, and transformed by way of the body’s internal fire or cauldron, which originated in the left ventricle of the heart. These humors gave rise to the four temperaments or what is now referred to as "character" or "personality" (i.e., sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic personalities, respectively) and these personalities were affected by the seasons of the year.
Treatment consists of restoring the balance of the humors through a proper conduct of life that included: Appropriate food and drink, suitable daily activities and living conditions, proper exercise, the quality of one's sleep, engagement in appropriate sexual activity, as well as psychological understanding of oneself and others.
What was early Greek medicine? Click here
Synthesis: All three ancient traditions emphasized health as consisting of:
- A balance of substances
- The individual integrated into the larger social and physical world
- Prevention as the goal of medical knowledge
- The individual's ability to self-heal
- Treatment conceptualized as treating the whole person
Ideas about health and disease underwent little change until the advent of science in the 15th century. But, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the “germ theory of disease” was discovered and modern medicine was launched. Medical science, however, became divorced from psychological, spiritual, religious, and moral influences. Nonetheless, dissenting voices gave rise to natural healing movements (e.g., homeopathy, osteopathy, naturopathy, and chiropractics) and ushered in new treatments as an alternative to modern medicine. Some of these new treatments are now being incorporated into contemporary medicine.
Some suggested reading:
Daruna, J. H. (2004). Introduction to Psychoneuroimmunology. NY: Elsevier Science.
Sternberg, E. (2001). The balance within: The science connecting health and emotions. NY: Holt, Henry, & Company.