There is a timeless problem in medicine, we shall always need a conceptual model of the body which informs how we treat. Whether we base our models upon dissection and anatomical precision – Modern Industrial Medicine – or the idea of broad functional ‘organs’ based upon observed patterns – Chinese, Greco-Arab and Ayurvedic –, or an energetic proposition based upon observed patterns – Chinese, Greco-Arab, Ayurvedic. Whatsoever we choose we need a model. That model sits upon some assumptions about the nature of reality and the assumptions sit within a framework of a cosmological understanding, some of which are examined rationally and some of which we are unaware of, since we must think from a standpoint. The ground which we accept, without which we are unable to begin our thinking, and our sciences are essentially history because our standpoint is based upon what we inherit historically.
Since medicine aims to restore or maintain health, whatever our model it must be understandable to the people who are treated by it and use it to maintain and restore their health. If it is not understood we create an arcane priesthood who speak in jargon incomprehensible to the people they treat and by the inaccessibility of their methods and language wield an unhealthy degree of power; they become a priesthood with all the social difficulties this always entails. The language of medicine (at least in the clinic) must be understandable to the people it treats. This allows the therapist and the patient to communicate in terms they both may understand and allows the patient to be active in their therapy, since they know more intimately than anyone else the experience of their own illness and health and it is the patient and those around them who shall administer the remedies and the non specialised application of the therapy.
This short essay explores my current understanding of the model of the body which is rooted in the Greco-Arab tradition but is also informed by Modern Industrial Medicine and Chinese Medicine.
The Fundamental Level
Traditional Greek medicine sees the body as four bodies patterned upon the four elements and performing clear functions. I see the Four elements as energetic patterns to which the body corresponds. The Four bodies are: The Water Body, The Air Body, The Fire Body and The Earth Body. It allows us to hold a conceptual picture of the broad processes and functions of life. These bodies allow us to understand the body as an integrated, energetic whole. The four elements is a way of seeing, it allows us to understand the seasons, history and all phenomena, in a consistent and unified way.
The Water Body
The Water Body refers to body fluids and their movements. Blood, lymphatic fluid, intercellular fluids, any other type of body fluids and the supporting organs or organic functions are included in the water body. The Water Body provides the medium for connection, transport and communication and facilitates by this nutrition, excretion of fluids, excretion of toxins, endocrine communication and keeps tissue soft so that mobility is possible. The Water Body is the fluid part of ourselves and anything that corresponds to the energetic pattern of Elemental Water.
The Water Body is the connector, it binds together all function and is involved in every process. The maintenance of balanced health body fluids is the foundation upon which health must be built. In Greco-Arab medicine this is sometimes referred to as the blood. Blood generally means all body fluids as well as blood itself.
Organs: kidneys, colon, digestive tract, hormonal system, lymphatic system, blood, all body fluids, gonads, brain, liver, adrenal cortex.
The Air Body
This deals with the lungs, diffusion of gases, the nervous system and the control of metabolic function and rate. It depends very heavily upon The Water Body. The pneuma or energetic aspect of the spirit related to breath is included within the Air Body. The Air Body is related to vitality, energy and strength, as well as sensitivity, response and movement.
Organs: Blood, lungs, adrenals, thyroid, nervous system, smoothe muscles and skin.
The Fire Body
The Fire Body resides in the body fluids and controls warmth, command, integrated function and stimulation. It controls the cardiovascular system.
Organs: Heart, circulatory system, pituitary, hypothalamus, endocrine system, striped muscles, blood, liver
The Earth Body
The Earth Body refers to the structive aspects of ourselves. Tissue salts and structure and our ability to maintain structure and substance is related to the Earth Body. It provides the tissue salt gradients that allow osmosis and movement of body fluids. The bones and structure are strongly related to the Earth body.
Organs: Thymus, Spleen, lungs, bones, adrenals, connective tissue, lymphatic system, interstitial fluid system, tissue salts.
The Governing Spirits
The spirits are the soul’s differentiation of its potentialities to govern and use the body to maintain life and its purpose.
The Vegetative Spirit
The Vegetative Spirit maintains vital functions and provides the ground for the maintenance of life. It includes three spirits: The Nutritive; The Regulatory; and the Generative.
This spirit governs digestion, absorption, maintenance of the body’s integrity, excretion and reproduction. It coordinates these processes through the Four bodies using the organs to maintain life. It supplies vital energy from food, air and water to the Vital and Psychic spirits. This spirit interacts strongly with the Water Body
It is governed by the Liver and the Adrenals.
The Vital Spirit
The Vital Spirit maintains rhythmic pulsing energies, dilates blood vessels and moves subtly via the blood, body fluids, bones, body cavities and spaces. It governs, regulates and harvests energy – Qi or Pneuma. It enters the Acupuncture channels and circulates throughout the body. The spirits may be seen as manifestations of the Vital Spirit. This spirit interacts strongly with the Air and Fire Body.
It governs via the heart, kidneys, blood, circulatory system, lungs, adrenals and bones.
The Psychic Spirit
The Psychic Spirit governs, experientially locating us in the world, the intellect, envisioning and imagination and regulatory functions. The psychic spirit draws upon the energy of the organs to maintain itself. It allows us to see our place in the world and will hold the narrative that we build of ourselves in the world, as a projection that allows us to display a consistent personality. The breakdown of the psychic spirit is commonly referred to as insanity.
It governs the brain but interacts strongly with the kidneys, lungs and heart.
This model of the human being allows us to treat the human being as a whole understanding how illness affects the entire person. It facilitates treatment using fairly complex data in very simple and integrated ways. It provides a simple but sophisticated and understandable paradigm with which the therapist and the patient may discuss the condition being treated.