The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci
Greek Medicine is based on certain universal principles of natural healing which serve as its philosophical foundation. A clear understanding of these principles is necessary to properly appreciate and apply the finer points and doctrines of Greek Medicine in holistic healing. These basic principles are:
The microcosm of the human body is a reflection of the universal macrocosm of Nature. The healthy individual lives in a harmonious, integrated relationship with the natural environment that surrounds him. Disease and dysfunction result from a disruption or disordering of this harmony and integration. To restore the health of the patient, the holistic healer seeks to restore this lost harmony and wholeness and bring all the disparate parts back into balance.
Nature is always striving to achieve, maintain, or return to a state of balance. To remain vital and healthy, the human body is always striving to achieve and maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium, or homeostasis, both within itself and in relation to its environment. All the faculties and organ systems of the body have inherent regulatory mechanisms that serve to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is a balance or set point between pairs of opposite yet complementary states or qualities.
The human body is much more than a machine, or a mere aggregate of disparate parts. It is animated and held together by a Life Force, or vital energy. Greek Medicine calls this Vital Force Pneuma, or the Breath of Life. In yoga and Ayurveda, it is known as Prana; Chinese Medicine calls it Qi.
All traditional healing systems are vitalistic, in that they have some concept of a Vital Force that transcends the physical structure and function of the body. Also inherent in this Vital Force are biological intelligence and protective immunity. When the Vital Force in the body declines, we get old, ill or infirm; when it finally withdraws from the body or is extinguished altogether, we die.
Physis means the human organism as a whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Physis also denotes the workings of Nature in the human body, which is integrated, whole, harmonious, spontaneous, and in balance with itself. The physis of each individual is a sovereign whole, unique to him or her, with its own particular, distinctive balance or makeup of humors, qualities and temperaments that defines its self identity and its behavior and reactions to its environment. The physis includes not just the physical body but the mind and spirit as well. All medical models can only approximate but never duplicate this core reality of physis.
The human physis experiences health as a whole; it also gets sick as a whole. All true recovery from disease must proceed from the physis as it reestablishes its innate wholeness.
Greek Medicine is essentially a system of physioligy, or the study of physis - the living human organism in its totality as it responds to its environment. The true physician has a deep understanding of physis - how the healthy organism functions as a whole, and how its various parts may be brought back into balance when afflicted by dysfunction and disease.
The Healing Power of Nature
Mother Nature is a healing goddess. Given enough time, and the right conditions, Nature can heal all ills.
The human body is a miracle of Nature, designed by Nature's Creator to be self-maintaining, self-sustaining, self-regenerating and self-healing. It's only when the natural self-healing mechanisms of the body break down that we start to experience illness and disease.
Even disease itself is a natural process, and usually the result of violating Nature's laws of health and healing. The signs and symptoms of a disease are a natural result of the body's fight against the disease process in its efforts to reestablish healing and homeostasis.
Digestion, or Pepsis
Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates made an important and far-reaching observation: that all living organisms maintain themselves by feeding off their environment and digesting and assimilating its elements into themselves. That's the doctrine of pepsis. Because we all live and survive through the process of pepsis, every living creature is absolutely dependent on its environment.
The process of pepsis is a chain reaction with five basic links: ingestion, digestion, assimilation, metabolism, and elimination. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if any of these steps is faulty or incomplete, the whole process of pepsis will suffer.
The process of digestion or pepsis is something like a refiner's or smelter's fire. It consumes the food, or raw ore; refines, distills, and extracts the pure metal, or usable nutrients; and separates out and casts off the dross, or waste. The process of pepsis is occurring all throughout the organism, all the way down to the cellular level. The final elimination of waste products like urine or feces from the body is the final step in a long chain of metabolic events
In healthy, balanced, complete pepsis Hippocrates saw the origin and foundation of all good health and wellness. In faulty or incomplete pepsis he saw the origin of most diseases, especially the chronic degenerative diseases that now plague modern man. Deficient or incomplete pepsis is apepsis; faulty, deranged or unbalanced pepsis is pepasmos. A dysfunction of pepsis is dyspepsia.
Digestion or pepsis doesn't just happen on a gross physical level; it also happens in the mind on a subtle psychic or energetic level. Overwhelming or traumatic experiences that the individual is unable to assimilate or process properly are the cause of most mental disorders.
Hygiene is the art of self healing, or health maintenance and disease prevention. The art of hygiene involves diet, exercise and a balanced, healthy regimen and lifestyle. Proper hygiene practices build good health; faulty or improper hygiene breeds suffering and disease.
The art of hygiene has two sides. First, you have to give your body all the good, wholesome things it needs: a healthy, nutritious diet, adequate exercise and activity, sufficient regenerative sleep and rest, and a healthy constructive lifestyle. The other side involves eliminating all the undesirable impurities, residues and superfluities from the body by keeping the body clean, both inwardly and outwardly. Disease flourishes where filth and impurities accumulate.
Most traditional healing systems are built upon the art of proper hygiene. At its core, Greek medicine is essentially a very elaborate and sophisticated system of hygiene.
"Sometimes it's more important to know what kind of person has a disease than what kind of disease a person has." When Hippocrates coined this aphorism, he was probably referring to considerations of individual constitution and temperament in the practice of medicine.
Modern medicine bases its standards of health and normalcy on statistical averages tabulated by sex and age group. But the perfectly normal, average person is an arbitrary fiction, a myth of modern medicine. A quick glance around at the great diversity of individuals in a crowd is enough to tell the perceptive individual that the perfectly average person doesn't exist.
Physically, but more importantly functionally, metabolically and biochemically, we're all unique individuals. The ancient Greeks recognized this fact, and the truth of biochemical individuality long before it became a buzzword of modern holistic medicine.To account for this fact, they devised a system of constitutional typology based on Four Grand Temperaments, or basic bodymind types: Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic and Phlegmatic.
Because of innate constitutional differences, no two individuals will react in exactly the same way to any given stress or pathogenic factor; nor will they respond in exactly the same way to any given food, medication or treatment. Knowing one's constitutional nature and temperament enables the individual to eat, live and medicate themselves in accordance with it for optimum health maintenance and disease prevention. Knowing the patient's constitutional nature and temperament enables the physician to adjust his treatment strategy accordingly for optimum efficacy, and to treat the whole person, not just the disease.
The manifestation of any disease or pathology always involves the coming together of two complementary factors: an innate individual constitutional predisposition or vulnerability and exogenous pathogenic factors sufficient to provoke the predisposition and trigger the disease. This explains why not all individuals exposed to the same pathogenic factors to the same degree for the same duration of time will develop the same illness or disease.
Here again, the ancient Greeks were practicing mind-body medicine long before it became fashionable in modern holistic medicine. Being a holistic medical system, Greek Medicine recognizes that the mind and body are essentially one, and interconnected.
Greek Medicine explains the body's influence on the mind, and the mind's influence on the body, through the twin doctrines of humor and temperament and the mutual interaction between the Psychic, Vital and Natural faculties of the organism. The Four Temperaments pertain equally to inherent tendencies and predispositions of of body and physiology as well as those of mind, spirit and psychology.
Recognizing that the health of body, mind and spirit are all intimately connected, Greek Medicine offers a wide variety of therapies aimed at correcting disharmonies and imbalances on the physiological, psychological and spiritual levels. And so, Greek Medicine heals the whole person, not just isolated signs and symptoms.
The Physician as Servant and Facilitator of Nature
Since the human body was designed by Nature's Creator to be self-healing and self-regenerating, most illnesses tend to be temporary and self-limiting. This makes the role of the physician essentially quite limited.
Hippocrates saw the basic role of the physician as being the servant and facilitator of Nature. The basic and most important purpose of medical intervention should be to strengthen the innate constitutional vitality and resistance of the organism to disease with timely preventive measures and to assist the recuperative powers of the organism to speed up and facilitate its recovery from disease. Instead of invasive intervention or suppressing the signs and symptoms of an illness, preference should be given by the physician to assisting the organism in the catharsis, healing and regeneration that it is naturally trying to accomplish. In Greek Medicine, the physician works with Nature, not against it.
Nature moves and works in accordance with certain definite cycles and rhythms. In Nature, nothing happens before the time is ripe - or after. The physician, as a natural healer, should know these cycles and rhythms and work in accordance with them to coordinate his interventions in a timely, appropriate and efficacious manner.
The physician is merely the servant and facilitator of Nature. Where Nature Herself is unwilling or unable to respond, all the physician's efforts will be in vain.