Physiology and Indigenous Medicine

June 4, 2018

Healing systems of indigenous cultures around the world organize basic substances and energies within an elemental system. A common arrangement found throughout the world is a five element system: earth, fire, water, wind and space. Regardless of what kind of element system is used, many traditional systems place diseases into two categories: hot or cold.

A painting of a person kneeling on a cliff facing the sun.

“Harmony” by Alexandra Yakovleva

Underlying the hot or cold classification is the foundation of the mental/emotional/spiritual experience. This is generally known as the wind element, which is the fundamental difference between the cosmology of the indigenous medical world and the conventional medical paradigm.

That stress or positive emotions can affect health is undeniable. The depth of understanding that traditional cultures have about this is incredible.

Hot disorders are known in modern physiological terms as catabolic-dominant physiology, or dysaerobic chemistry dominance (oxidation out of control).

Cold disorders are known in modern physiological terms as anabolic-dominant physiology possessing anaerobic chemistry dominance (oxygen deficiency).

Though this is scientifically recognized, it’s not very well known among nutritionists or doctors. It was firmly established by Dr. Emmanuel Revici, the modern pioneer of the study of fats and cell membrane lipid research. His studies paralleled many findings that the traditional systems of medicine found long ago, over thousands of years of observation.

Knowing how to distinguish between a catabolic dominance and anabolic dominance creates insight into a disorder and the remedial measures, that before was only the territory of indigenous medicine. Of course it is not traditional medicine because of the necessity to take wind into consideration, which I will cover shortly. However, it is more effective than just running after symptoms.

As people self-prescribe nutrients, superfoods and other forms of supplements, the ignorance of what dominance the body chemistry is in reduces the likelihood of helping and increases the risk of doing harm. Complicating a health issue is the common result from just running after symptoms. Deficiencies occur, but often are a result of already available nutrient components’ inability to reach the location they are needed, or being out-competed by compensations the body is making to keep more important balances in order. The digestive capacity and strength, and the stress on the nervous system play an important role—not just the increase of certain nutrients. The presence of the correct fats allow nutrient movement as well.

Overdoing the wrong fats, or the wrong nutrients through therapeutic doses of nutraceuticals and “healthy” substances is actually more likely to be harmful than otherwise. As most clinicians know, the addition into the body of most anything will alter the pressure on the system dynamics and bring the appearance of improvement. But due to the body having to compensate in different ways, and because true balance or healing has not occurred, another problem arises or the same problem returns after a couple months of being unnoticeable.

Knowing what to take takes an understanding of the effect of the substance, and the state of the body. In traditional pharmacology the use of fats is understood. Heavy fats solid at room temperature increase anabolic dominance in the body, as well as antioxidant activity. They are cooling. Light, fats that are liquid at room temperature increase catabolic dominance, and increase oxidation. They are heating.

Tibetan medicine is properly called Sowa-Rigpa, meaning “the healing science”, and also translated as “nourishing awareness”. Another traditional name for Sowa-Rigpa is “the medicine of the sages”.

Sowa-Rigpa took the best of the indigenous medical traditions of the Tibetan and Mongolian areas, north and south India, China, and the Middle East (ancient Persia/Egypt/Greece). Sowa-Rigpa has been used for more than a thousand years throughout the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Eastern Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet, and some consider it to be the most popular medicine now in China. Its roots go back many thousand of years in the different medical traditions it drew upon in its formation. It is similar to Ayurveda, which means “the science of life”, yet has original ideas and practices that are not even found in any of the systems that it combined. The geniuses that put the system together were also renowned as being saints and yogis, especially Yuthok, the “father” of Sowa-Rigpa who was considered to be an emanation or incarnation of the Medicine Buddha, the perfected potential of healing power.

Sowa-Rigpa describes in depth about hot and cold syndromes, and like other indigenous forms of healing discusses the importance of the wind element which could be translated as the energy of consciousness in life. For Sowa-Rigpa, the symbol of the wind that is used is a blind horse (the raw potential power of life-force energy) which is mounted by a rider who has no legs (consciousness). Together they create long life and harmonious health. When disconnected or out of balance they are the foundation of imbalance and disturbance in health.

Wind is the key factor in indigenous healing systems, and Sowa-Rigpa clearly gives it the position of greatest importance. Some medicines of Sowa-Rigpa are formulated to effect the wind and are so effective that even though the substances in the formulas do not affect the symptoms directly, the result is that they disappear due to their masterful effect on the wind. This is enhanced even more in the presence of the corrected diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately, like other parts of Tibetan culture such as dance and music, the Chinese government is insisting that Tibetan medicine is only part of Chinese medicine. This is clearly a political tactic to reduce the identity of an independent culture. Since the government of China is being very aggressive in their policy to not call anything “Tibetan” practitioners are asked not to call this medical system Tibetan medicine which it has been called for several decades. Using the traditional term Sowa-Rigpa is not only more accurate but also helps support its independent identity among medical traditions.

One comment:

  1. john tucker

    June 4, 2018 at 11:07 am

    I like it… “Running after symptoms” is a great phrase.

    In contemporary USA culture there is an massive, immense, overwhelming leaning towards an anabolic state.

    We are like fish in water. We are unaware of the water all around us because we never experience any other environment. I have been very, very fortunate to travel extensively in third-world countries such as Belize, Brazil and Ethiopia. I travel alone, far from any other tourists, and I aggressively mix with the indigenous people, eating, dancing, praying and sleeping together.

    I’ve had so very much fun but I absolutely cannot share this with people around in my own culture who have never had such experiences. From my vantage point, the imbalance in the USA is like trying to function deep under the ocean, with all the weight and thickness of all that water heavily impeding any motion or activity. And the medical community has this problem every bit as deeply in its approach, its methods, just as everybody else does.

    I could write a whole article on the misuse of the word “stress” in our culture. Our language is getting lazier and lazier as people use “texting” for more and more of their communication in lieu of face-to-face oral conversation. The bodies and minds of homo sapiens are designed for stress, just like a pre-stressed concrete beam. Stress is the normal condition and they are put at great risk by being “at rest” with reasonable stress removed. The pejorative condition is called “anxiety”, and that can be dangerous and destructive but the definition of it is quite different from “stress”… I’d love to see someone write an article that merely delves into that etymology.



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