Tibetan Medicine 101 བོད་ཀྱི་གསོ་བ་རིག་པའི་ངོ་སྤྲོད།
Tibetan Medicine is one of the world's oldest healing traditions and has been practiced for more than four thousand years in Tibet and the Himalayan region. Tibetan Medicine, called "Sowa Rigpa" in Tibetan, means the knowledge and science of healing. "Sowa" means to heal imbalances, and "Rigpa" means the knowledge or science of a particular subject. Along with five treatises of Buddhist Doctrine (such as technology, medicine (Sowa Rigpa), the study of sounds, logic, and philosophy), Sowa Rigpa is regarded as one of the most important sciences in Tibet. BACKGROUND The major goal of Tibetan Medicine is maintaining a healthy constitution through balance as an overall preventative approach, by providing treatment methods for sick people, aiding in longevity, and assisting those who want to be successful in their physical body, emotional and spiritual fields.
Fundamental Principle of Tibetan Medicine The fundamental principle of Tibetan medicine is that the body, disease, and treatment, all share common principles and are comprised of the five elements, earth, fire, water, air, and space. This approach recognizes that everything in the universe - plants, animals, and human beings including all our body tissues, internal organs, skin, skeletal system and even emotions, are composed of these five elements. Each one of them plays a major role, both individually and in combination as aspects of all matter.
The five elements maintain reciprocal relationships. When they stay in balance, it results in a healthy body, speech, and mind. However, if any one of these elements becomes out of balance, either excess, deficient, or disturbed, not only does the affected element manifest disharmony, but also it will cause the rest of the elements to lose their balance and manifest particular syndromes or symptoms. Since each individual disease is caused by disharmony or disturbances in one of the five elements, the treatment principle is to balance the elements through diet according to an individual's constitution and behavior, utilizing herbs, and other accessory therapies such as blood-letting, Mey-tzar (Tibetan moxibustion), external therapy (heat or cold), natural or medicinal bath, enema, and Ku-nye (Tibetan Massage ).
FIVE ELEMENTS and THREE NYEPAS Summary of the Function of Each Element
Earth - provides the hard and stable quality involved in the development of the flesh, bone, nose, and the sense of smell.
Water - moisturizes and lubricates body tissues involved in the development of blood, the tongue, the sense of taste, and the fluid portion in the body during conception.
Fire- controls and regulates body temperature and provides maturation of the body tissue and organs, generates heat throughout the body, provides color of skin or complexion, eyes, and contributes to the growth and development of the body.
Air - provides the ability to move and breath, an essential element for respiration, the skin, and the sense of feeling.
Space - provides an empty space or place to allow things to grow, develop, mature, and is involved in movement, pores, the ears, and sound.
Three Nyepas In addition to the five elements, another concept in Tibetan medicine is the three Nyepas - Loong, Tripa, and Baken. Nyepa means something harmful and pre-existing in our bodies. When the Nyepas are in balance or harmony, they help each other to promote and create our well-being; however, if any of these Nyepas become disturbed, they all start to lose their balance and deconstruct our health or well-being.
According to an Ancient Tibetan medical textbook, yGyudbshi, the three Nyepas resemble three biological brothers. When all three brothers are healthy, they stay in harmony; however, when any one of the brothers gets injured or attacked, this will automatically influence or affect the other two brothers. Eventually, the disturbances will result in disharmony in the body and manifest as different symptoms.
The relationship between Five Elements and Three Nyepas:
Air and space elements are equivalent to Loong
Fire element is equivalent to Tripa
Earth and Water are equivalent Baken
In Tibetan medicine, the two terminologies of Five Elements and Three Nyepas can be interchangeable, but the three Nyepas are more commonly used in medical theory instead of the five elements.
DIAGNOSTIC and TREATMENT METHODS Diagnostic Methods Tibetan medicine uses three diagnostic methods when examining a patient - observing, palpating (feeling), and inquiring. One of the most unique aspects of the Tibetan observation method is to perform a urinalysis during a consultation, which the doctor is able to analyze immediately without sending the sample to a special lab. The most common method of palpation is to feel both wrist arteries of patients. Palpation is done by the doctors' index, middle, and ring finger because each finger is able to detect characteristics of different internal organs. Detailed inquiry into a patient's health, symptoms and history is also a valuable diagnostic tool, giving the doctor greater context for the analysis of current health issues.
Treatment Methods Tibetan medicine equally considers diet, nutrition, behavior and lifestyle as essential elements of successful treatment. Apart from these methods, Tibetan medicine also applies many accessory therapies to promote positive treatment results. These therapies may include Golden needle technique, blood-letting, Me-tzar (Tibetan moxibustion), heat or cold external therapies, natural hot springs or medicinal baths, enemas, vomiting, purgatives, and Ku-nye (Tibetan massage). In addition, spiritual practice, five-element color therapy, and astrological configuration are treatment methods unique to Tibetan medicine. CAUSES OF DISEASE and BENEFITS Causes of Disease in Tibetan Medicine Tibetan medicine also borrows and shares certain ideas with the Buddhist tradition. For instance, "cause and effect" is one of the major concepts that Tibetan Medicine shares with Buddhism. Within Tibetan Medicine, there are two major divisions of the causes of all illnesses: long-term causative factors and short -term (immediate) causative factors.
The long-term causative factors are results of the three poisons or negative energies of desire, hatred, and ignorance at work in our physical, emotional, and mental levels. Normally, desire is the root cause of Loong, hatred causes, and Ignorance generates Baken. In short, the three poisons are the causes and three Nyepas are the effects. On the other hand, the short-term causative factors are due to physical trauma, injury, improper eating or behavior, and sudden or acute onset of illnesses.
Benefits of Tibetan Medicine Beyond treating symptoms, Tibetan Medicine concentrates on treating the whole person to promote healing through diet, physical exercise, herbal formulas, and spiritual practice. When Tibetan physicians treat a patient, they focus equally on both the mental and physical states because they believe that the mind and body are inseparable. They address the three poisons as the fundamental causes of emotional disturbances and mental disorders. A Tibetan physician also considers how diet, behavior, and daily habits affect each individual patient.
Therefore, Tibetan Medicine can be best described a Holistic Medicine because it is designed to prevent and treat all diseases of our living being. Particularly, Tibetan Medicine promotes the healing of:
many chronic illnesses
mental and emotional disturbances such as anxiety, agitation, frustration, stress, and insomnia
indigestion and digestive-related disorders such as jaundice, diabetes, hepatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, food stagnation or food poisoning
acute or chronic, skin problems
heart disorders, angina, stroke, poor circulation
neurological related problems such as nerve compression, spinal stenosis, sciatica, nervous
system, multiple sclerosis, motor and sense impairment of the body or limbs
respiratory disorders such as the common cold, asthma, cough, pneumonia, and bronchitis sinus problems such as congestion and sinus headaches
gynecological disorders such as premenstrual syndromes, menstrual related problems, menopausal discomforts, prenatal and postnatal care
preparation and healing before, during, and after chemotherapy, radiation and as a result of chronic disorders focusing on energy recovery, digestive related problems, joint pain and more
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