A Look at Traditional Tibetan Medicine: Part 1

The medicine buddha

The medicine buddha

We are back from our two-week hiatus to continue this series on the Roots of Medicine. The last article before the break was a two-part look at Ayurvedic Medicine.

I continue today with a look at another traditional system of medicine, Traditional Tibetan Medicine.

I had my first in-depth look at traditional Tibetan Medicine a number of years ago, when I was living in San Diego and went to a presentation given by Dr. Yeshi Dhonden at the VA hospital in town.

Dr. Dhonden is a practitioner of Tibetan Medicine and the former personal physician to the Dalai Lama.

Dr. Dhonden was invited by the VA hospital to present and to do grand rounds. The grand rounds at the hospital that day took place in the auditorium, to a very large audience of health providers. The grand rounds consisted of doctors at the VA bringing some of their most difficult cases to the auditorium and having Dr. Dhonden give his professional opinion about their health status.


Dr. Yeshi Dhonden

One of the primary tools in Tibetan Medicine is urine analysis, though not in the standard way as known in Western Medicine, as a UA. In Dr. Dhonden’s approach to urine analysis, the patient would pee into a cup, and Dr. Dhonden would then make his diagnosis by observing the urine.

I can’t remember what he diagnosed for the patients based on his urine analysis, but I recall the treating doctors, and the audience as a whole, sitting in awe of this man of such deep wisdom.

Besides his urine analysis, he also used pulse diagnosis, which is a form of diagnosis also used in Chinese Medicine. Once he formed his diagnosis, Dr. Dhonden then was able to make a prognosis and make recommendations as to what the patient could do to improve their health.

So what is Tradititonal Tibetan Medicine?

It is a centuries-old traditional medical system that employs a complex approach to diagnosis, incorporating techniques such as pulse analysis and urinalysis, and utilizes behavior and dietary modification, medicines composed of natural materials (e.g., herbs and minerals) and physical therapies (e.g. Tibetan acupuncture, moxabustion, etc.) to treat illness.

The Tibetan medical system is based upon a synthesis of the Indian (Ayurveda), Persian (Unani), Greek, indigenous Tibetan, and Chinese medical systems, and it continues to be practiced in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Siberia, China and Mongolia, as well as more recently in parts of Europe and North America. It embraces the traditional Buddhist belief that all illness ultimately results from the “three poisons” of the mind: ignorance, attachment and aversion.

shapeimage_4Traditional Tibetan Medicine addresses the well being of the whole individual in the observation, healing and prevention of physical, mental, and energetic imbalances.

By synthesizing knowledge from various medical systems, Tibetans created a approach to medical science drawn from thousands of years of accumulated empirical knowledge and intuition about the nature of health and illness.

Centuries ago, before Buddhism entered Tibet, Tibetans like all ancient people had a significant degree of medical knowledge. According to traditional sources, in the beginning of the 4th century many new ideas regarding medicine began to enter the country. At first influences came from India in the form of what is now called Ayurvedic medicine, as well as more spiritual and psychologically based systems from Buddhist and other sources.

Around the 7th-8th centuries the Tibetan government began sponsoring conferences where doctors skilled in the medical systems of China, Persia, India and Greece presented and debated their ideas regarding health and the treatment of illness. Those with superior abilities in the diagnosis, treatment and understanding of illness were invited to stay and contribute to the country’s medical knowledge base.

In the 11th century, this knowledge was codified into a unique system containing a synthesis of the principals of physical and psychological medicine imbued with a Buddhist spiritual understanding. This understanding formed a foundation for Tibetan medicine and benefited patients and doctors alike. It acknowledged how health and illness resulted both from the relationship between the mind and the body and people’s connectedness to the natural world and sense of spirituality.

Next time: A Look at how Traditional Tibetan Medicine works.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Oldest System of Medicine, Part 2

origins_ayurveda_02-1In the last article on the roots of healing, I discussed how over the eons, the art and science of healing, as it becomes ingrained in a society’s way of being, becomes more systematized and formalized.

One such system, and the oldest system of medicine on the planet, is Ayurvedic Medicine. In the last article, Ayurvedic Medicine: The Oldest System of Medicine, Part 1, I talked about its origins and roots.

Today I will continue with the discussion, with Part 2 about Ayurvedic Medicine.

(Please note: After today’s column, I – and the Low Density Lifestyle website – will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. So this is the last article until Tuesday, Aug. 31).

As I mentioned in the previous article, Ayurveda stems from the Vedas, the ancient classical sacred texts of Hinduism. It is a medicine based on balance, and is a medicine of the body, mind and soul. It is closely associated with the other Hindu disciplines of yoga and tantra, which together are seen as the three paths of Vedic knowledge.

Ayurveda believes that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality.

The three doshas

The three doshas

When people think of Ayurveda, they often think of the three Doshas: vatta, pita and kapha. According to Ayurveda, these three Doshas (literally that which deteriorates) are regulatory principles that are important for health, because when they are in a balanced state, the body is healthy, and when imbalanced, the body has diseases.

The three doshas stem from the five great elements: Prithvi – earth; Aap – water; Tej – fire; Vaayu – air; and Akash – ether. Ayurvedic principles hold that all of these compose the Universe, including the human body.

In addition, Chyle or plasma (called rasa dhatu), blood (rakta dhatu), flesh (mamsa dhatu), fat (medha dhatu), bone (asthi dhatu), marrow (majja dhatu), and semen or female reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) are held to be the seven primary constituent elements of the body.

The doshas are comprised of the different elements. Vata is air and space, or wind; pitta is fire and water, or bile; and kapha is water and earth, or phlegm.

The Ayurvedic doctor uses a number of diagnostic approaches in order to determine the right diagnosis and understand which of the doshas is most predominant. This will then help the doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

This is actually standard protocol in any system of medicine, and what separates a system of medicine from just an approach or modality.

In a system of medicine, the doctor first makes a diagnosis, and from there determines what the best treatment principles and course of treatment is.

ayurvedaThe difference between Ayurvedic, and any other traditional system of medicine, and modern/Western medicine, is that with Ayurvedic, diagnosis and treatment is both an art and science, and as an art it is known that sometimes the body will work in mysterious ways.

Whereas with modern/Western medicine, diagnosis and treatment has had the art taken out of it, and has become a technological science that attempts to reduce things down to absolutes, which then allows no room for the mysteries of healing.

In fact, in the modern/Western way of medicine, the mysteries of healing are best to be avoided at all costs.

And so, with diagnosis for the Ayurvedic doctor, the patient is to be questioned and all five senses are to be employed. Ayurvedic texts recommend a tenfold examination of the patient.

The qualities to be judged are: constitution, abnormality, essence, stability, body measurements, diet suitability, psychic strength, digestive capacity, physical fitness and age. Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.

The study of the vital pressure points, or marma, is of special importance – it is the trauma science described in Ayurveda. There are 107 different spots described and located on the body surface which produce different signs and symptoms. With respect to the underlying anatomical structures, the symptoms vary according to blunt or penetrating trauma. The severity of the symptoms and signs also depend on whether the injury is exactly on the marma point or slightly around it.

A sampling from an Ayurvedic pharmacacy

A sampling from an Ayurvedic pharmacacy

Treatment includes diet and herbs; herbs may be a misnomer, because the Ayurvedic herbal pharmacy includes vegetables, animals and minerals.

In regards to the vegetable part of the herbal pharmacy, warming herbs such as cardamon, cinnamon, tumeric and pepper are very popular. They are said to strengthen the digestion.

Animal products include milk, bones, and gallstones. And minerals used include sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate and gold.

Some minerals employed by Ayurvedic medicine are toxic, but traditionally the toxicity of these materials are believed to be reduced through purification processes such as samskaras, which involve prayers as well as physical pharmacy techniques.

At least one scientific study has looked at the process of purification of toxic substances in Ayurveda with lab mice. The study looked at aconite, which is used in Ayurvedic pharmacy formulations, and is an extremely lethal substance in its crude and unprocessed form.

The study compared aconite in its crude and unprocessed form, versus aconite in the form where it is processed by way of the samskaras, which involve prayers as well as physical pharmacy techniques.

Unprocessed aconite was significantly toxic to mice (100% mortality at a dose of 2.6 mg/mouse) whereas the fully processed aconite was absolutely non-toxic (no mortality at a dose even 8 times as high as that of crude aconite).

An Ayurvedic oil treatment, or snehana

An Ayurvedic oil treatment, or snehana

Other treatment approaches include: the application of sesame oil to the body, known as snehana, abhiyanga and shirodhara; sweating, known as swedana; and panchakarma, which is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five treatments.” This is a process used to clean the body of toxic materials left by disease and poor nutrition.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Oldest System of Medicine, Part 1

ayurveda_17I’ve been writing about the roots of healing in this series, and in the last article I discussed sound healing. I said how sound healing is one of the oldest forms of healing known to humankind.

Now I will expand beyond discussing healing approaches and begin to discuss various systems of medicine. As medicine begins to be part of a society’s way of life, it becomes more systematized and formalized, in order that it can be used by the masses.

Ayurvedic medicine is one such system of medicine, and it is the oldest known system of medicine on the planet.

Ayurvedic medicine is native to India. The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit and means, “Science of Life.” In Sanskrit the word ayurveda consists of the words āyus, meaning “longevity,” and veda, meaning “related to knowledge” or “science.”

Ayurveda springs from the Hindu tradition, although Buddhism has also had a major influence on Ayurvedic ideas.

Ayurveda traces its origins to the Vedas, the ancient classical sacred texts of Hinduism. There are four Vedas, and Ayurveda is said to stem from the Veda known as Atharvaveda, which contains 114 hymns or formulations for the treatment of diseases. Ayurveda originated in and developed from these hymns. In this sense, ayurveda is considered by some to have divine origin.


Dhanavantari, the Hindu god of ayurveda

According to legend, the system of medicine was received by a man named Dhanavantari from Brahma, and Dhanavantari was deified as the god of medicine.

Dhanavantari is said to be an avatar of Vishnu from the Hindu tradition, and god of ayurvedic medicine. Dhanavantari was an early Indian medical practitioner and one of the world’s first surgeons.

Based on Vedic traditions, he is regarded as the source of ayurveda. He perfected many herbal based cures and natural remedies and was credited with the discovery of the antiseptic properties of turmeric and the preservative properties of salt, which he incorporated in his cures.

There is a quote attributed to Dhanavantri, in which he says, “I the Lord Dhanavantri brought this healing science on earth from heaven.”

Ayurveda is a medicine of the body, mind and soul, and is closely associated with the other Hindu disciplines of yoga and tantra, which together are seen as the three paths of Vedic knowledge.

According to Robert Svoboda, a doctor of Ayurvedic medicine:

“Because every embodied individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the Science of Life organized their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; Yoga, which deals mainly with spirit; and Tantra, which is mainly concerned with the mind. The philosophy of all three is identical; their manifestations differ because of their differing emphases. Ayurveda is most concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony of mind and spirit. Yoga controls body and mind to enable them to harmonize with spirit, and Tantra seeks to use the mind to balance the demands of body and spirit.”

Within Ayurveda, there are eight disciplines of treatment, known as Ashtangas. They are:

* Internal medicine (Kaaya-chikitsa)
* Paediatrics (Kaumarabhrtyam)
* Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa)
* Eye and ENT (Shalakya tantra)
* Demonic possession (Bhuta vidya): Bhuta vidya has been
called psychiatry.
* Toxicology (Agadatantram)
* Prevention diseases and improving immunity and
rejuvenation (rasayana)
* Aphrodisiacs and improving health of progeny

The symbol of ayurvedic medicine

The symbol of ayurvedic medicine

Balance is a central theme in Ayurveda. Balance is emphasized; suppressing natural urges is seen to be unhealthy, and doing so may almost certainly lead to illness.

To stay within the limits of reasonable balance and measure is stressed upon. Ayurveda places an emphasis on moderation in food intake, sleep, sexual intercourse, and the intake of medicine.

Ayurveda incorporates an entire system of dietary recommendations, along with lifestyle recommendations, in order to help achieve balance.

To be continued tomorrow…

Healing with Sound, Part 2

Sound and sound healingIn the first part of this article, Healing with Sound, Part 1, I disussed how healing with sound is one of the oldest healing modalities known to humans.

Modern science, especially quantum physics, has explained how it works. And modern medicine has incorporated the principles in developing ultrasound imaging; modern medicine also uses sound healing to treat kidney and gall bladder stones.

Here are some quotes over the eons on the profundity of healing with sound:
Plato: “Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other in the integration of the human being because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the Soul on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the Soul of him who is rightly educated truly graceful.”

Leonardo Da Vinci: “Do you know that our soul is composed of harmony?”

Hazrat Inayat Khan: “A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced. Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism.”

George Leonard: “At the root of all power and motion, there is music and rhythm, the play of patterned frequencies against the matrix of time, Before we make music, music makes us.”

How does sound healing work? I mentioned in the previous article, Healing with Sound, Part 1, that the principle of resonance lies at the heart of healing with sound, that when sound resonates with the body, mind and soul, it allows the body to open up.


Tibetan singing bowls

What occurs when this resonance happens is a person goes deeper into the sacred spaces within their body, the nonverbal regions where the soul resides. It is a deeply meditative place, a space of deep peacefulness, clarity and sharpened awareness.

The science of sound healing calls this entrainment, and talks about the different brain wave states that the body can be induced to go into.

In our everyday waking state, brain wave frequencies are in the Beta state. But with the proper entrainment from various sounds, the brain will go into the deeper and trance-like Alpha and Theta states, as the brain harmonizes with the vibrations of the sounds.

With sound healing, first you will become truly relaxed, allowing your brain activity to slowly guide into the gentle waves of Alpha. Your awareness expands and you experience a liberating sense of peace and well-being.

Alpha is a place of deep relaxation, but not quite meditation. Alpha lies just below conscious awareness – it is the gateway, the entry point that leads into deeper states of consciousness.

As the healing sounds continue, it can take a person even deeper into relaxation, where they will enter the elusive and mysterious Theta state, where brain activity slows almost to the point of sleep, but not quite.

The different brain waves

The different brain waves

Theta is the brain state where fascinating things can happen within a person’s neurological activity. Theta brings forward heightened receptivity, flashes of dreamlike imagery, inspiration, and long-forgotten memories.

Theta can bring deep states of meditation, and a sensation of floating. And because it is an expansive state, in Theta the mind can expand beyond the boundaries of the body.

Theta is one of the more elusive and extraordinary realms that can be experienced. It is also known as the twilight state, which is normally experienced briefly. Theta is like a waking dream, with vivid imagery flashing before the mind’s eye; in this state a person is more receptive to information beyond normal conscious awareness.

Healing sounds can be produced by chanting, bells, gongs, singing bowls, drums, rattles, and other sound tools.

When the brain goes into theta state, deep healing can occur

When the brain goes into theta state, deep healing can occur

Different spiritual traditions around the world teach the sacredness of various sounds, and that meditating and saying these sounds can lead to the creation of health, happiness, peace, and harmony, along with a heightened awareness.

And there are companies that have developed audio technology that incorporates binaural beats that synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain, allowing the brain to quickly go into the Theta state. The two best known audio technologies are called Hemi-sync and Holosync.

Healing with Sound: Part 1

Healing with Sound is one of the oldest and most primal ways of tapping into Soundhealing1_000the Innate Healing System in order to help facilitate and maximize the power of a person to self-heal.

Today and next time I’ll delve into healing with sound, with a two-part article about it.

Quantum physics tells us that the universe is primarily made up of consciousness and information, and that the language of consciousness is vibrations and frequencies.

Matter emanates from consciousness, as quantum physics tells us – the technical name for matter is wavefunction.

A wavefunction is what matter is – part wave/vibration and part material form.

If at the heart of matter lies vibrations and frequencies, then at a basic level, matter communicates with itself through the primal sounds of vibrations and frequencies.

Ultrasounds are based on this principle. The ultrasound sends sound waves into the body, with a different frequency used, depending on which organ is being imaged. The organ picks up the frequency and through the process of resonance, the image of that organ is seen.

sound_healingResonance is the principle on which sound healing is based, just as resonance is the principle in which activating the innate healing system is based.

Resonance can open the body up in very powerful ways. The body can become like a tuning fork, reverbating in synchronous harmony with different sounds.

Different sounds resonate with different parts of the body, and a range of sounds can resonate with the entire body and find its way into the depths of the soul.

Sound healing is one of the oldest forms of healing known to humans. Sound healing was used in the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt, Greece and India. In the Bible, David played his harp to lift King Saul’s depression. Handel wrote his “Water Music” to help King George’s problems of memory loss and depression.

Pythagoras - mathematician, philosopher, mystic

Pythagoras - mathematician, scientist, philosopher, mystic

The Greek mathematician Pythagoras postulated that there was a rhythm of sounds that emanated throughout the cosmos, and that these sounds were in harmony with one another and with all of creation. He called this “The Harmony of the Spheres,” and it was his belief that as long as people were in harmony with the rhythms of the cosmos, they could then live in harmony with nature.

In modern times, sound healing is now widely used in Germany and Eastern Europe. Patients report a reduction in headaches, better sleep patterns, improved memory and concentration.

Hospitals are now using harpists to calm patients on the operating table after research found that the instrument eased pain. The sound and vibrations have also been shown to lower the heart rate, decrease blood pressure and combat heart disease. Research in the United States found that the range of vibrations emitted by the plucked strings affect the body’s nervous system.

At the Department of Coronary Care at St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, music ranks high on the list of modern day management of critical care patients. Its relaxing properties enable patients to get well faster by allowing them to accept their condition and treatment without excess anxiety.

In a study of 59,000 patients, 97% of them stated that music was a real help to them to relax in the postoperative situation and during surgery with local anesthesia.

To be continued next time…

The Innate Healing System

pranicOver the last few weeks, I’ve written articles on some of the oldest forms of healing, methods that really are at the root of all healing methods.

These articles were on spiritual healing and on shamanism.

These healing approaches were predicated on helping the person to heal themselves. They were used to facilitate and activate the innate healing system that all of us have within.

The progression of medicine over the eons is based on this concept: everyone has a healing system, and it just needs to be maximized. All natural approaches have started with this basic premise, and have worked from there. All the modalities and disciplines used by the various natural healing approaches have this in common – they work at stimulating the body’s own reservoir of healing.

Modern medicine has gotten far away from this essential truth. It is a technological bioscience, and doesn’t recognize that people have great capacities of healing. To recognize that fact, that people can heal, a doctor would have to take the time to listen to a person, to get to know them, and then to give thought as to the proper treatment approach – and this approach would not just be writing a prescription.

It could incorporate nutrition, exercise, rest and stress management – the whole of the person would be looked at, from diet, lifestyle, emotions, attitude, spiritual health, the energetic body, and so on.

Working at this level is how the innate healing system can then be mobilized.

Bernard Lown, M.D.

Bernard Lown, M.D.

Bernard Lown, M.D., is the author of the book, The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine. Dr. Lown is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In The Lost of Healing, he wrote:
“Our health care system is breaking down because the medical profession has been shifting its focus away from healing, which begins with listening to the patient. The reasons for this shift include a romance with mindless technology, which is embraced in large measure as a means for maximizing income.

“Since it is uneconomic to spend much time with patients, diagnosis is performed by exclusion, which opens floodgates for endless tests and procedures. Malpractice suits should be viewed as mere pustules on the physiognomy of a sick health care system. They are not what ails medicine in the United States, they are the consequence.

“The medical care system will not be cured until the patient once again becomes central to the doctor’s agenda.”

Albert Schweitzer, M.D.

Albert Schweitzer, M.D.

Another physician who was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer, born in 1875 and who died in 1965, practiced medicine in his native Germany and in Africa. He was fully schooled in the virtues of helping the innate healing system. He said:

“Each patient carries his own doctor within him. They come to us not knowing that truth. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.”

In case you were wondering, Dr. Lown won his Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for his work at trying to end nuclear war; Dr. Schweitzer was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life,” and the different ways that he manifested and expressed that.

Over the days and weeks to come, this series on Healing will take a look at different modalities and disciplines whose aim is to activate and cultivate the innate healing system.

I invite you to read along as I delve into these.