I count myself very privileged to have studied Tibetan Medicine with the late Khenpo Troru Tsenam over a five year period at the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Scotland. Although I later qualified in Western herbal medicine, Tibetan medicine has remained my core discipline and a hugely influential part of my practice.
I love the fact that Tibetan medicine considers the elemental basis of both a health problem and the herbs which will be used to cure it. Every person has their own balance of the three humours rlung (air), tripa (fire) and péken (water/earth) in varying proportions. Lifestyle factors which throw the humours out of balance create ill health and treatment with herbs of opposing qualities will bring a person back into balance.
People with a predominance of one or another of the humours will display characteristic traits that give their constitutions away.
Rlung is the movement principle in the body and mind, dominated by the air element. It is associated with hyper function and dryness in the body. The rlung person finds it hard to focus on one specific project, often having several on the go at once. They find it difficult to pace themselves, throwing themselves heart and soul into a new project only to become too exhausted and burnt out to see it through to the end. A rlung dominant patient will respond much better to treatment if they have the support of a loving partner or supportive friends. Rlung people need people.
Since rlung is aggravated by a diet high in raw foods I see many people who wonder why they have become anxious when they try to increase the amount of salads and raw fruits in their diet. Rlung people need nutritious foods containing plenty of essential fatty acids in order to cultivate emotional stability. Another thing which is very difficult for rlung people is lack of stability, so moving house or jobs can be especially stressful for them. Lack of sleep aggravates things further and their health can spiral quickly out of control. If anxiety has struck then the situation can be helped with calming and earthing herbs such as Valeriana officinalis (valerian) and Avena sativa (oats) but in the long term the patient needs to watch their diet and lifestyle carefully to achieve sustainable balance.
Tripa is the heat principle in the body, dominated by the element of fire. Tripa people are focused and ambitious, they get things done. They can be competitive and too much competition can push their health off balance. They are often drawn to competitive sports but they would really be better off doing Tai Chi. If things don’t go their way, tripa people can be easily irritated, in line with their tendency to stagnation in the liver.
I once had a patient who described himself as ‘Mr Angry’. His constitution was pure tripa and he aggravated it by drinking plenty of beer and coffee and being quite competitive. He was just as distressed by his angry outbursts as he was by his lack of energy and his blood sugar imbalances. Lifestyle changes in conjunction with bitter liver herbs such as Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) and Peumus boldo (boldo) made ‘Mr Angry’ disappear and he became ‘Mr Niceguy’. His wife rang me to express her heartfelt gratitude!
Péken is all about stability and structure. A person with a predominant péken humour will be steady going and not easily flustered. On the downside they can find it hard to get motivated and may be inclined to be quite sedentary. This aggravates their tendency to put on weight more easily than the other humoral types.
Péken people need to get moving, both internally and externally. Their circulation is often sluggish so they respond well to circulatory stimulants, especially the warming ones. If you treat a péken person with herbs to help warm and stimulate their system their energy levels tend to increase quite quickly and they start to become more motivated. I suppose I should not have been at all surprised when a péken type patient in her mid 60’s decided to try motor racing after a lifetime of not getting round to it.
It is of course rare to come across people who have one humour so strongly dominant. Most of us display a mixture of different humoral traits which ebb and flow according to our lifestyle and circumstances. We need to get to know the humours, make friends with them and notice when they are moving out of balance.
Good health is all about maintaining balance. If we understand the different humours and their elemental basis we can intuitively counteract imbalances by making appropriate changes to our diet and lifestyle as well as taking herbs when we need to.
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