All of the material which makes up our universe is based on the qualities of 5 basic elements which are described in the ancient physics depicted in Tibetan medicine. Tibetans, as all traditional people, lived in direct contact with the natural environment. They understood through experience and study that the forces manifest in the natural environment directly correlated with and influenced the functioning of the human organism. In the theory of the five elements we see an effort to define the qualities of the basic forces which exist in nature. Once defined they are named for their most identifiable manifestations: earth, water, fire, wind and space. The characteristics (such as a substance's taste) and therefore the nature of all matter then result from the qualities of these elements individually or in combination.


Earth has qualities like firmness and stability and therefore provides the basis of physical existence and development.

Water creates moisture in all its forms and so in the body gives rise to all fluids.



Fire due to its heat creates transformation and activity and therefore is expressed as for example metabolic functions.

Wind creates movement and therefore in the body all aspects of circulation


Space provides the potential for existence to be created in the first place.

Combinations of these qualities make up the physical aspect of our bodies as well as its distinct physiological energies.


As with any medical system, understanding the various functions of the body is essential in Tibetan medicine. However, the underlying physiological principles which create and maintain those functions are of primary importance. Tibetan medicine defines three main systems which control all the body's processes.

These three systems are created at various stages of development in the womb by an interaction of our mind's developmental process and the 5 physical elements. Embryologically, the mind acts as the basis for the creation of each individual's 3 principle physical systems: translated in English as Wind, Bile, and Phlegm. These three systems create and sustain all the body's functions.

Wind, creates an enormous number of functions. The best example of these functions is circulation, such as, circulation of our blood, circulation of the nervous system's impulses, circulation of thoughts in our minds, circulation of food through our digestive tract and eliminative organs. The mind expressed as attachment, desire or our materialist world view is manifested as the system of Wind.

Bile, gives rise to and controls functions such as metabolism, liver function and vision and allows our mind to function with discriminating intellect. The mind expressed as aggression, hatred, anger or the like is manifested as the system of Bile.

Phlegm, creates the physical principle whereby energy can create function, provides our body's lubrication, creates the will and allows us to have good memory among other things. The mind expressed as ignorance or incomprehension is manifested as Phlegm.

A disturbance in one or a combination of these three principle systems results in illness. The disturbance can come from diet, behavior or environmental factors whose qualities, based on their constituent elements, act to disturb the qualities of any of the three energies. The manner in which these factors can result in illness will be more or less complex depending on the acute or chronic nature of the problem. All illnesses must be seen as individual and based on the situation of the particular patient's background.

For a Biography of the Author:
Eliot Tokar


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