The Tibetan medical system is one of the world's oldest, having developed throughout many centuries. Tibetan medicine consists of philosophy, science, and healing practices, to help create and maintain a healthy mind and body. The Tibetan name for this holistic healing system is Sowa Rigp, which means “the science of healing”.
Sowa Rigpa, the knowledge of healing, stands alongside Chinese Traditional Medicine, Indian Ayurveda, ancient Greek, Persian, and Central Asian medicine, although it is not reducible to a ´branch´ or ´subset´ of any. In this system, the most important factor for physical health is a healthy relationship between the body and mind.
Like Indian Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine also holds the view that all phenomena in existence are composed of five elements: Space, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth. These elements compose the external environment, as well as our bodies and the qualities of our mind. Each element has particular energetic qualities.
In our external environment, the elements appear as soil, fire, rivers, winds and the atmosphere. The inner elements compose our bodies: the earth element is our muscles and bones; the water element is the liquids in our body; the fire element is our inner temperature, metabolism and chemical reactions; the wind element is the breath; and the firing of neurons and the flow of thoughts and space is what keeps everything in its proper place.
When the three energies are in a state of balance, one is considered healthy. Everything in the world is derived from the five elements, which constitute and therefore influence the physical body as well as the mind. The mind is considered to underlie good health, but when it is disturbed, it leads to disease.
The primary texts on Tibetan Medicine are called “The Four Tantras”. These are the Root Tantra, Explanatory Tantra, Oral Transmission Tantra, and the Last Tantra. They go into great detail about the functioning of the body, the diagnosis of disease through the analysis of pulse and urine, and the treatment of disease through herbal medicines and specific modalities such as moxibustion and cupping.
Tibetan medical procedures mainly involve interviewing the patient, urinalysis, and pulse reading. A doctor first speaks to the patient and finds out their medical record. The nature of the illness is confirmed by examining the colour and odour of the urine specimen, after vigorously stirring it. Reading the pulse is a crucial factor for diagnosis; the doctor checks it to further define the illness. Herbal and mineral medicines are the main treatments. Other physical therapies, such as acupuncture and phlebotomy, may also be used once the illness is clearly diagnosed.
The health of the body depends on the mind, so it is important that we take care of our happiness. When we are ignorant, we continue to cause problems for ourselves and others. We perpetuate the cycle of suffering and we become sick. We need wisdom, because wisdom tells us how to care for our bodies and minds.