Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC
Fundamental to Ayurveda's theory of medicine is the assessment and treatment of disease using biocharacteristics (hot, cold, wetness, dryness, fluid thickness, thinness, etc.) Under this system, diseases, imbalances, food, lifestyle, and herbs are each classified according to their qualitative effects on your biology (increasing heat or coldness, for example).
Generally, remedies used will have opposite biocharacteristics to the disease. For example, a cooling herb used to treat a hot fever.
The biocharacteristic theory of medicine was the dominant medical model for nearly 1,800 years lasting until the 1600s A.D when it was abruptly abandoned due to advancements in biochemistry. It was adopted in different forms by nearly all silk road cultures from Europe to China.
The biocharacteristic theory of medicine offers a rich, but user-friendly system of wellness for physicians & lay people to alleviate disease, improve quality of life, and harmonize their body using natural substances from their environment.
The goal of the biocharacteristic theory of medicine is to improve health & wellness by calibrating diet & lifestyle to balancing the biocharacteristics of the client. Here are the main components:
Assessment of Imbalance Using Biocharacteristics
- Assessment of the ideal measure (quantity) of key therapeutic biocharacteristics natural to the individual's constitution. The characteristic measured differs from western medicine in that it is a quality of being, not a substance. Examples of characteristics include heavy, light, hot, cold, sharp, dull, wet, and dry.
- Assessment of characteristics that have become disordered, by increase or decrease in their intensity (quantity), or by corruption (vitiation in quality or displacement).
Temper the above imbalances back to the ideal by
- Removing ill-suited habits (causes of excess or deficiency, or of vitiation or displacement)
- Removing unnatural matter & characteristics (cleansing). This step can also include remedies to dislodge the unnatural matter & characteristics for elimination.
- Introducing habits & materials that reduce excess (with opposites)
- Introducing habits & materials that support deficiency (with similars)
How This Method Improves Health
This method works by
- Reducing stressors on the body, specifically stressors to homeostasis
- Supporting the individual's unique bodily character
- Opposing the characteristics of a disease (i.e. using characteristics to create an inhospitable environment for the disease to thrive)
- Palliative / Quality of Life - Supporting the body reduces the severity of many symptoms.
- Convalescence - Biocharacteristic theory greatly speeds the recovery rate.
- Strengthens overall health and wellness.
Some factors cannot be cured by simply recalibrating a person's characteristics. In these cases, biocharacteristic therapy can be palliative. For example:
- Diseases of discontinuity or degeneration - A broken bone or severed nerve is not simply a change in organ function.
- Allergies, Auto-immune - Biocharacteristic theory can temper the immune response, but may not completely eliminate it.
- Infection - Biocharacteristics can aid the body to eliminate the infection, but the use of an antimicrobial is fundamentally not an application of biocharacteristic theory, but of a germ theory of medicine.
- Genetic Disorders - Biocharacteristic theory is an aid, but cannot change the DNA.
List of Fundamental (Simple) Biocharacteristics
Here is a list of most common biocharacteristics recognized across various medical traditions:
- Weight (Light/Heavy)
- Penetration (Sharp/Dull)
- Temperature (Hot/Cold)
- Moisture (Dry/Wet)
- Density (Thin/Thick)
- Continuity (Degeneration/Intact)
- Tension (Hard/Soft)
- Solvency (Dissolved/Precipitated)
- Mobility (Mobile/Still)
- Size (Small/Large)
- Manifestation (Subtle/Gross)
- Opacity (Clear/Cloudy)
List of Complex (Derived) Biocharacteristics
The above simple biocharacteristics often appear in various predictable combinations. The combinations form complex biocharacteristics. Here are some examples:
- Ether - a Combination of Light, Sharp, Soft, Dissolved, Subtle, Clear, etc.
- Air - Light, Mobile, Cold, Dry, Subtle, Clear, etc.
- Fire - Sharp, Hot, Light, Dry, Spreading, Clear
- Water - Heavy, Dull, Cold, Wet, Cloudy
- Earth - Heavy, Thick, Hard, Precipitated, Still, Large, Gross
- Doshas (in Ayurveda)
- Vata - Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile
- Pitta - Oily, sharp, hot, light, sour, spreading, thin
- Kapha - Oily, Cold, Heavy, Dull, Soft, Still
- Temperaments (in Unani Tibb)
- Sanguine (Blood) - Hot & wet
- Yellow Bile - Hot & dry
- Phlegmatic - Cold & wet
- Black Bile - Cold & Dry
There are a large number of possible combinations, and therefore derived biocharacteristics. It is possible for practitioners to recognize new combinations especially when considering the various patterns and pathogenesis of specific diseases.
History of the Biocharacteristic Theory of Medicine
Exploring Your Biocharacteristics
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About the Author
John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a
healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda.
His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful.
John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda
, which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition.
John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia.
John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion.
John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing.
In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots,
and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church.
Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick.
That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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