MIND: CONSCIOUSNESS, PERCEPTION, SENSATION
What is consciousness? That question has fascinated man from the remotest antiquity up until the present, and has been the domain of not just physicians, but philosophers and metaphysicians as well. Call it Spiritus, Anima, Animal Spirits, or what you will, its essence has baffled even the best medical minds as they tried to make out its mysteries - its movement, phenomena, modus operandi, its states and permutations.
States of consciousness are ultimately real only for their experiencer; that is the philosophical doctrine known as solipsism. When it comes to the state of the patient's mind and consciousness, even the most astute physician must remain an observer on the outside looking in, carefully noting its effects in the patient's outward behavior, signs and symptoms, and by what the patient tells the physician that he/she senses or feels.
A key precept in Greek Medicine and other holistic healing systems is this: Illness or disease starts the moment the patient feels or senses that something is out of order, amiss, or not quite right.
"It's all in the mind" is not a valid excuse to avoid due treatment of the patient, because mind and body are interconnected, and essentially one. The whole human being exists and functions on many levels - spiritual, energetic, emotional, subtle, as well as physical. And all these levels interface, interpenetrate and influence each other.
When it comes to mind, consciousness, and the subtle side of man, Greek Medicine differentiates between disorders that are organic in origin, having a physical or structural basis, and that which is:
ephemeral - originating in or pertaining to the vital or energetic functions;
hysterical - originating from mental or emotional agitation or disorder.
The subtle or energetic levels of reality coexist and interpenetrate with the physical. The Four Humors are not just physical entities, but also exist on a subtle level as semi-gaseous vapors. Similarly, the natural medicinal substances used in Greek Medicine also have their subtle energetic effects and influences. Physical medicines can be used to treat subtle energetic disorders of the mind and spirit as well.
A case in point is globus hystericus, or the feeling of something being stuck in the throat when, in fact, no such physical object exists. According to Greek Medicine, it's a subtle, energetic obstruction caused by a conglomeration of hysterical, agitated vital energy and subtle phlegm stuck in the throat. Although the obstruction exists on a subtle, energetic level, it can be treated by physical medicines and remedies with strong subtle energetic effects that work in the right way to disperse the blockage.
Another case in point is epilepsy and other convulsive disorders involving seizures and loss of consciousness. According to Greek Medicine, most involve subtle forms of phlegm obstructing the ventricles in the brain for the flow of consciousness, as well as the subtle orifices of the heart. Dramatic improvements in such conditions can often be made with medicines that are able to dissolve or disperse this subtle phlegm.
Many of the medicinal substances that dissolve subtle phlegm in and open the subtle channels and orifices of the brain and heart are strongly aromatic in nature, since the volatile nature of such aromatics penetrates into the subtle realms. Smelling salts will revive consciousness in fainting and syncope. Other such super-aromatics include Camphor and Borneol, Benzoin, Musk and Castoreum. Musk comes from the scent glands of the Musk Deer; Castoreum comes from the scent glands of a beaver.
Another medicinal herb that's not aromatic, but which nevertheless has a strong special potency on the subtle energetic level is European Mistletoe, or Viscum album. In 19th century England, it was used successfully as a treatment for epilepsy, or the Falling Sickness; it's also a very powerful hypotensive medicine in high blood pressure.
European Mistletoe is a very potent medicine, and an overdose can be fatal; therefore, professional supervision is advised as to the proper administration and dosage.
Yes, Greek Medicine has a healthy respect for the subtle, energetic side of life in its therapies and treatments. Even though we can't see it, we know that this subtle dimension is there because we can feel and observe its effects.
Galen: Pioneer in the Medicine of Consciousness
Claudius Galenus, or Galen, was the greatest physician of the Roman Empire and lived, wrote and practiced in the second century AD. Among his countless other illustrious achievements, Galen was a great pioneer in the medical understanding of the mind and consciousness, and in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and nervous system disorders. Many of his findings and observations in this field are still accepted as being true and valid today, and form the basis for our current medical understanding of these conditions.
Galen is probably the most famous for the advances he made in the understanding and treatment of epilepsy, or the Falling Sickness. Previously, it had superstitiously been called the Divine Disease, since its seizures seemed to be the result of possession by supernatural entities.
Galen's most famous epileptic patient was a young boy who complained that, before he had a seizure, he felt that a cold wind was rushing through his body. From this case, Galen coined the term Aura, or literally, "Air", which is the premonitory initial phase of the epileptic seizure. He found that, if treated promptly in this initial Aura phase, a seizure could often be stopped or prevented. The symptoms of the Aura, Galen observed, were often projected out onto the abdominal viscera as giddiness, nausea, or a gastric complaint.
When it came to epileptic seizures, Galen distinguished two types: tonic seizures, characterized by rigidity and a greatly increased muscle tone of the body and limbs; and clonic seizures, characterized by rhythmic motions and twitchings, salivation, foaming at the mouth, and tongue biting. Galen felt that epileptic seizures were caused by an intensive irritation of the brain and an obstruction of its channels and ventricles by a very subtle form of phlegm.
Seizures and convulsions can be broadly differentiated into two basic types:
The Yang or Sympathetic dominant type, often called the Closed Syndrome: tense, rigid muscle tone, clenched teeth, deviated tongue and mouth, eyes open and staring with eyeballs rolled downwards, retention of excreta.
The Yin or Parasympathetic dominant type, often called the Open Syndrome, or Collapse: loss of all muscle tone, open mouth, closed eyes, loss of control and escape from bowel, bladder and excreta.
Syncope, or loss of consciousness Galen felt was primarily due to a loss of the integrative vital functioning between the heart, brain and lungs.
Coma was a deeper loss of consciousness, which Galen divided into two major types:
Sleeping Coma - a deep unconsciousness, with the eyes closed.
Sleepless Coma - a deep unconsciousness, but with the eyes open.
Catalepsy, Galen noted, was a semi-comatose condition in which the facial features twisted into a quizzical expression with the eyes open, the body was seized with muscular stiffness and a titanic or hysterical rigidity. Febrile delirium and tremors are also possible.
Delirium, Galen noted, was of two types: Paraphrosyne, or delirium without fever, characterized by hallucinations, erroneous reasoning of the paranoid type, and behavioral disturbances; and Phrenitis, in which the delirium was caused by irritation of the brain by the toxins of a fever. Phrenitis was always associated with a fever.
Galen also observed that dementia, or mental deterioration, is of several different types and levels of severity. From mildest to most severe, these are:
Lethargos, from where we get the word lethargy, is a mild clouding and deterioration of the mind and its functions of memory, learning and cognition.
Morosis, related to the word morose, is a mild form of dementia characterized by a general deterioration of mental activities. True dementia is distinguished by a serious impairment of memory and a loss of judgement.
Karos is a deep sleep, with eyes closed, characterized by a loss of intellectual functions. Unlike apoplexy, or loss of consciousness due to stroke, there can be complete recovery from Karos.
Galen advocated many different modalities in the treatment of mental and psychological disorders. He used sedatives, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, heat packs and sunbathing. He prescribed psychotherapy and counseling to heighten the reasoning abilities of the patient and increase his/her powers of self control. For mild psychological disorders, he recommended occupational therapy, lectures, educational, creative and recreational activities and travel. He advised physicians to be kind to, and not be critical of, patients with depression. Many of Galen's methods and therapies are still followed today.
For the information presented in this section on Galen, I am deeply indebted to the following web page, which I would recommend reading: www.encephalos.gr/42-1-01e.htm
Element and Temperament in Sensory Function and Dysfunction
Greek Medicine has certain basic notions regarding the physiology of the sensory organs and how they work, and also about their basic nature and temperament. The element, nature and temperament of each sense and its organ becomes the basis for understanding not only how it functions properly in health, but also in understanding its prime vulnerabilities and how it dysfunctions in disease.
The basic correspondences of the sense organs to the Four Elements and their temperaments in Greek Medicine are as follows:
WATER - COLD and WET - EYES - Visual Faculty
EARTH - COLD and DRY - EARS - Auditory Faculty
AIR - HOT and WET - TONGUE - Gustatory Faculty
FIRE - HOT and DRY - NOSE - Olfactory Faculty
TOUCH - SKIN - Tactile Faculty - an equal blend of all elements and temperaments
The Cold elements, Water and Earth, are Yin in nature - receptive, or reflective. Although it can be said that receptivity is the basic nature of sensation itself and the sensory organs in general, The Eyes and Ears, or Sight and Hearing, are especially so. The eyes receive light and visual images as the Moon is reflected on a clear mountain lake. The ears receive and reflect sound waves and channel them to the brain just like an ethereal echo is bounced off a mountain peak.
The Hot elements, Air and Fire, are Yang in nature - expansive, penetrating, stirring things up. Their associated senses and sense organs function better with heat, and need a certain amount of heat to function properly. The tastes and flavors of a hot meal are much more vivid and robust than those of a cold one. Smells and aromas diffuse and spread faster in hot weather, and with heat, than with cold.
The senses of the cold elements, sight and hearing, are much more clear, linear and objective; they are the mediums for receiving and processing huge amounts of information and data about the outer world. The senses of the hot elements, taste and smell, tend to be more vague, nebulous and subjective; they could also be called more primitive and instinctual.
The sense of Touch, the fifth sense, cannot be assigned to a single element or temperament because it encompasses them all. This is particularly true when one considers the sheer variety of sensory impressions received through our primary tactile organ, the skin. Also, each of the other sense organs - the eyes, ears, nose and tongue - have a sense of touch inherent in them. Even the internal organs have a certain rudimentary sense of touch, for they can feel heat or inflammation, as well as pain, pressure and distension.
When it comes to pathology and dysfunction, each sense organ is most vulnerable to conditions and pathogenic factors of its own inherent temperament, as well as those whose nature and temperament run contrary to it. For example, the eyes are most vulnerable to moist, congestive Phlegmatic conditions, as well as contrary Choleric conditions of heat and inflammation, and so on. However, each sense organ is by no means immune to conditions of other natures and temperaments as well.
Since the first four sense organs, whose natures are more specialized, are each located in various cranial orifices, their condition will always be strongly influenced by, and reflective of, conditions of humor and temperament prevailing in the brain, which is adjacent to them. Their relationship to the brain is a two way street: ingoing as sensory portals of the brain, and outgoing as diagnostic indicators of brain condition.
Each of the sense organs is an exquisitely sensitive conglomeration of nerve endings, which give them various nervous reflex relationships to other organs and parts of the body. These reflex relationships generally follow connections of anatomical structure, or even similarities of form and appearance. This gives many of the sense organs great usefulness as diagnostic indicators.
EYES: The Visual Faculty (Water)
The eyes, receiving the visual images created by fiery light, belong to the opposite yet complementary Water element. The eyes are like placid pools of water reflecting the moon in the night sky. The eyeballs are filled with the clear, watery vitreous and aqueous humors, which serve to channel light and focus visual images onto the retina.
The eyes cleanse themselves by secreting tears, a clear Phlegmatic fluid whose watery Expulsive Virtue helps to flush out toxins, debris and irritants from the eyeballs and their sockets. If there are debris or irritants present, tearing is a natural protective response of the eyes to cleanse themselves, and should be encouraged, and not suppressed.
However, eyes that tear too easily, constantly, or at the slightest provocation generally indicate excesses of the watery Phlegmatic humor in the head, brain and cranial area. In simple Phlegmatic plethoras of the head and cranium, cold weather and chills will provoke excessive tearing, but in more complex or allergic conditions like hay fever, pollen and other allergens are the key offenders.
The eyeballs in their sockets or settings present us with a series of concentric rings, circles or mandalas. Along the outer rim of the orbital sockets are the eyebrows; within them, framing the eyes themselves, are the eyelids. Then, there's the sclera, or the whites of the eyeballs. Inside the sclera, the corneal layer is glassy and transparent, revealing the iris, colored blue or brown, or some other related color; and the innermost pupil and lens, which is the actual portal for receiving light and visual images.
If the sclera of the eyes are red and bloodshot, the presence of excess heat is indicated. If the heat is in the blood, a Sanguine condition, there will be a profusion and engorgement of the blood vessels of the sclera. With hot, Choleric vapors disturbing the head and eyes, the redness of the sclera will be more nebulous and diffuse.
The eyes have a special reflex relationship with the liver, especially in hot, toxic or bilious conditions affecting that organ. These will usually make the eyes red, sore or inflamed. Acute heat and choler in the liver will irritate and inflame the eyes. Chronic heat will lead to degenerative, aesthenic conditions of the liver, and start to consume its Radical Moisture; these often produce dryness and sensitivity in the eyes, which is a Melancholic condition. Cataracts, usually seen in the elderly, are associated with degenerative, aesthenic conditions and a depletion of the Radical Moisture of the liver and kidneys.
The conjunctiva are clear membranes extending from the eyelids to cover the exposed parts of the eyeball. They may become red and inflamed, a condition known as conjunctivitis, which usually involves excess heat, as well as excess phlegm and dampness. Involving both heat and moisture, conjunctivitis may also be caused by congestion of blood around the eyes, which may be relieved by cupping on the cephalic veins on the back of the head.
The iris is a mesh of muscular tissue, a colored ring that relaxes to dilate the pupil and let more light into the eye in dark environments, and constricts to narrow the pupil to let less light into the eye in bright light. Eye or iris color is determined largely by hereditary and genetic factors, and there are two basic colors: blue and brown. The other eye colors that are seen - grey, green or black - are variations and permutations of these two basic colors.
The iris also contains a high concentration of nerve endings, which gives it close reflex relationships to every other organ and tissue in the body. Iridology is a diagnostic art that studies these relationships and reads the patterns appearing in the iris fibers to pinpoint pathologies occurring elsewhere in the body.
Migraines are severe, one-sided headaches associated with Choleric or Melancholic aggravations of the liver and gall bladder, and often produce visual disturbances. In vehement, Choleric migraines, the disturbance is usually photophobia, or a hypersensitivity of the eyes to light. In more indolent, aesthenic Melancholic migraines, shifting visual patterns, or floaters, will often be seen.
In Greek Medicine, certain fine, ephemeral types of phlegm and Phlegmatic vapors can mist the eyes and obscure the vision, causing blurred vision or visual hallucinations. These conditions are usually associated with chronic Phlegmatic conditions of the head and cranium.
The eyes also have a close reflex relationship with the adrenal glands. Chronic stress affecting the adrenal glands is often associated with eyestrain and visual weakness, which are often aggravated by fatigue. Weak adrenals often lead to weak eyes and poor vision.
The eyes don't do well with the application of medicated oils to them, but delight in the application of eyewashes made from soothing astringent and antiinflammatory herbs like Rose petals or Eyebright. The ancient Greeks called washes and lotions applied to the eyes by the generic name of collyrium. Fine powders of healing substances like Myrrh can also be blown into the eyes through a little tube.
Also used in ancient Egypt, Greece and the Orient is kohl, a kind of black, soot-based preparation applied to the rims of the eyelids to cool and refresh the eyes and protect the vision. There are many different ways and recipes for preparing kohl, but usually some cooling herb like Sandalwood is burned into soot and mixed with some oil like Castor oil. Kohl became the basis for our modern mascara, but originally its purpose was also medicinal, and not just cosmetic.
The optic nerves are thick and tubular, and extend from the eyes directly to the brain. They were originally believed to be hollow, to allow for the passage and channeling of light to the brain in vision. Galen, and later Avicenna, noted that the optic nerves crossed at the optic chiasma; they reasoned that the composite three dimensional image taken from both eyes was inwardly focussed at this point. They also believed that this crossing enabled one of the eyes to see better and more powerfully if the other eye was closed, blind or injured.
The two eyes that see this dualistic physical world are but outer manifestations of the singular spiritual eye or Third Eye, which is the Brow Center, or chakra, the mental command center of thought, cognition and perception. So strong is this connection between thought and vision that we proclaim, "I see" when we have mentally grasped or understood something.
EARS: The Auditory Faculty (Earth)
To the ancients, sound vibrations originated in the most subtle of all the elements, Ether, and were transmitted or carried through the Air. The auditory apparatus of the inner ear consists of hard, resilient structures like hammers, anvils and shells, or conches, which are rich in the Earth element. These resilient structures capture the sound, amplify it, and reverberate it to the brain. The gross, dense Earth element is used to reflect ethereal sound vibrations in the light, subtle Air element.
All throughout the ears and their auditory apparatus, we can see the balance and interplay between the Air and Earth elements. The eustachian tubes connect the inner ear to the throat, and serve to equalize air pressure in the head and auditory apparatus through swallowing. Inflammation, swelling or congestion can block the eustachian tubes and create earaches and ear infections.
The senses of sight and hearing are the two highest sensory faculties possessed by man, and are responsible for the processing of more information and intelligence than any of the other senses. They are also the closest to the Soul, whose main senses are also visual and auditory, to see the Light and hear the subtle vibrations of Spirit. To mystics and spiritual adepts, the spiritual vibrations and Music of the Spheres is more than just mere metaphor, but an actual experience that produces Divine Bliss.
The sense of hearing is more active and dynamic than the sense of sight; the active, creative aspect of our relationship with sound is the Faculty of Speech, centered in the tongue and throat. And so, both hearing and speech have an intimate connection with the Throat Center, or chakra; the former faculty is receptive, and the latter is emissive. Connecting these emissive and receptive faculties in the throat and ear are the eustachian tubes.
Mystics and spiritual adepts have long known that certain sounds, not just when heard, but when properly chanted or intoned, are very healing and restorative, and help to awaken certain energy centers, or chakras. The open vowel sound AH, as in father, activates the Heart Center; the vowel EE, as in see, is focused up into the Pineal gland and Brow Center, or Third Eye, to awaken the Soul. On a spiritual level, music can be an incredibly healing and transformative experience, not just for the receptive listener, but also for the creator, or musician. So felt Pythagoras, whose name is often invoked by music therapists.
Belonging as they do to the Earth element, the ears have a Melancholic nature and temperament. This makes them especially vulnerable to excesses and injuries by cold, dryness and wind, conditions which often prevail in the Fall or Autumn, but which can also be seen in other seasons, like the spring. The ears are also vulnerable to other Melancholic pathologies involving hardening, ossification, narrowing, stenosis and the deposition of excess wax and other accretions.
These pathological changes can also rob us of our sense of hearing, especially as we grow older, as their nature tends to be chronic and degenerative. Also, a gradual drying out and depletion of the Radical Moisture as we age, or in various aesthenic conditions, generally of a Melancholic nature, can lead to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. More acutely and vehemently, ringing in the ears can also be caused by aggravations of heat and choler.
Due to their Melancholic nature and temperament, the ears are easily injured by dryness, but delight in medicated oils and substances of a rich, unctuous nature, which are restorative, and can soften and dissolve accretions of wax and other substances. And so, Greek Medicine doesn't recommend ear coning, a popular treatment for removing excess wax from the ears, as it tends to be overly drying and depleting of the Radical Moisture. Much more beneficial for removing ear wax and treating earache is the application of warm medicated oils into the ear, such as Castor Oil or Saint John's Wort oil.
Earaches and ear infections can be a troublesome problem, especially in young children, whose eustachian tubes aren't angled as steeply as an adult's making it easier for throat infections to spread into the inner ear. In treating the secondary ear infection, one should also treat the primary throat or respiratory infection. Try gargling with salt water or herbal teas like Sage, Thyme or Agrimony.
Whatever is put in the ear should not be cold; it should also not be wet. If water gets trapped in the ear, you must try to get it out. First, try tilting your head towards the affected ear and jumping up and down vigorously. Then, if that doesn't work, take the hollow stem of an Anise or Fennel plant and insert a wick of oiled, spindled cotton into one end of the tube, while putting the other end in the ear. Ignite the wick and the flame will create a vacuum that will suck out the remaining fluid.
The ear is drained and detoxified by the submandibular lymph nodes lying behind the jaw and under the ear lobe. First, massage them well with Swedish Bitters, or Mentholatum balm, and then with Castor oil, to deobstruct and draw out toxins. In ear infections, these lymph nodes will often be swollen or tender.
The ear, even externally, is richly innervated with nerve endings; in terms of reflex relationships, the ear is a microcosm of the whole body. Within the structure of the outer ear is portrayed the whole body, in inverted foetal position. Ear reflexology is the art of using the micro-trigger points on the outer ear, both diagnostically and therapeutically.
NOSE: Olfactory Faculty (Fire)
The nose is much more than just a simple sense organ. It is also a gateway to the mind and spirit, since its openings, sinuses and inner passages lie directly underneath the center of the brain.
The sense of smell is quite primitive and instinctual, and many fragrances evoke strong mental, emotional and spiritual responses in the mind via the brain. These responses can also be strongly colored, conditioned or programmed by previous life experiences, even early childhood impressions that we have long ago forgotten.
The art of using fragrances therapeutically, usually by bringing about beneficial changes and reactions in the mind and spirit, is the art of aromatherapy. Certain common fragrances can be used to heal or balance aggravations of the humors and temperaments:
Choleric: Rose, Jasmine, Sandalwood - cooling and sedating
Sanguine: Basil, Peppermint, Fennel - gently soothing and dispersing
Melancholic: Jatamansi, Patchouly, Vetivert - calming and sedating
Phlegmatic: Clove, Cinnamon, Allspice - stimulating, invigorating
The nose is the upper end of the respiratory tract, and has a strong relationship with the lungs. The sinuses inside the nose are very strongly influenced by the air we breathe - its temperature, pressure, humidity and purity. The nasal passages and sinuses are very vulnerable to pollutants in the air, both gaseous and particulate, which can produce inflammation, catarrh and allergic reactions.
The sinuses, both frontal and maxillary, have a strong reflex relationship with the stomach. If the stomach is chronically irritated or upset, there can be chronic nasal allergies, rhinitis and sinusitis by reflex action. Toxicity in the colon can lead to swelling and inflammation, or pustules in the nares, or sides of the nose lateral to the nostrils.
The inherent temperament of the nose and its sense of smell is fiery and Choleric. Choleric residues in the blood help keep the sinuses and nasal passages open, and the Innate Heat of the nose warms the incoming air as the sinuses and nasal passages filter it.
Yet the nose is also vulnerable to Phlegmatic conditions of catarrh and congestion because of its proximity to the brain, a Phlegmatic organ. Phlegmatic excess and congestion can be provoked either by exogenous factors like cold, damp weather, or by endogenous factors, like Phlegmatic distillations from the head and brain, or from the lungs and respiratory tract.
The health of the nose and its delicate mucosa result from a delicate balance of the Choleric and Phlegmatic humors. Enough phlegm is needed to keep the nasal mucosa moist enough to adequately moisten, filter and condition the incoming air, which exerts a drying influence. Enough Choleric residues are needed to keep the nasal passages open and free of clogging or congestion.
Too much heat and choler in the nose and the nasal mucosa will get too hot, dry and irritable. With excessive heat and choler in the cranial blood, there can be nosebleeds. Nosebleeds can also result from dry, cracked or ruptured nasal mucosa.
If there is Sanguine congestion in the nose, its tip will swell and get bloodshot, with spider angiomas from engorged capillaries clearly visible. This is often associated with alcoholism, or with angina and heart problems caused by blood congestion around the heart. Nosebleeeds can also be caused by excess blood being let off through the nose - a spontaneous form of bloodletting.
Of all the senses, the sense of smell is probably the most subject to attenuation. In other words, when we smell certain odors constantly, or on a regular basis, we quickly grow used to them. The sense of smell also strengthens and enhances the sense of taste. If our nose is blocked and congested and we're not able to smell our food, we usually won't be able to taste it so well, either.
The nose is also a convenient orifice for the administration of medicines in the form of nose drops or snuffs. Although alcoholic tinctures or extracts may be administered nasally, fluid extracts or medicated oils are preferable to use as nose drops. Nose drops may be used as nasal decongestants, or to affect the mind and spirit, as well as the head and cranium.
TONGUE: The Gustatory Faculty (Air)
The sense of taste, centered on the tongue, is Sanguine in nature and temperament, and belongs to the Air element. The Sanguine Attractive Virtue is inherent in the sense of taste; when we're attracted to something, we say that we have a taste for it.
The sense of taste probably evolved as a survival mechanism, to enable the body to test or sample a substance before ingesting it fully. If something elicits a revulsive response from the tongue, chances are that it's poisonous, noxious, or not that wholesome to eat. Conversely, something that tastes truly wholesome and delicious is probably nutritious and good to eat.
The sense of taste samples the biochemistry and nutritive content of the food being eaten and signals this information to the digestive organs, so they know what kinds of digestive juices and enzymes to secrete, and how much. If the tongue tastes butter, for example, it will signal to the gall bladder to release a lot of bile to digest the fats.
Because of the signaling between the tongue and its sense of taste and the digestive organs, there exist numerous close reflex relationships between the tongue and the internal organs, principally the digestive organs. And so, the condition and appearance of the tongue reflect the prevailing conditions in the digestive organs. The conditions affecting the internal and digestive organs can be read through the tongue, which is the art of tongue diagnosis.
The Sanguine sense of attraction is the sense of taste, and no taste is more appealing, embodying the Sanguine Attractive Virtue, than the sweet taste. To begin digestion of the sweet taste, saliva is secreted. Saliva's nature and temperament is Sanguine, with its wetness dissolving or semi-liquefying the food, and its heat being present in the enzymatic activity of the ptyalin it contains. The carbohydrates and sugar that saliva begins to digest and absorb into the body is the basic fuel for cellular metabolism, which is the chief concern of the Sanguine Vital Faculty.
Various traditional medical systems have systems of taste nomenclature and differentiation that fit in with their basic theoretical structures and concepts. Since Greek Medicine has Four Temperaments, it has eight tastes - two for each temperament. The Aristotelian philosopher and natural historian Theophrastus designated eight tastes: Sweet, Unctuous, Pungent, Acrid, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Astringent. Each taste has its own particular alchemy, initiating certain chemical reactions on the tongue and its taste buds, and certain biochemical and metabolic reactions and processes throughout the organism.
The two Sanguine tastes are Sweet and Unctuous. These two tastes are the most nutritive and anabolic in nature.
The Sweet taste is the most desirable and loved, embodying the Sanguine Attractive Virtue. It is the most nourishing, signifying the presence of carbohydrates and sugar, which is the basic fuel for cellular metabolism, which is the chief concern of the Vital Faculty. Complex carbohydrates that provide deep, balanced, sustained nutrition to the organism are mildly sweet or bittersweet. Refined sugars that are strongly sweet are unduly stimulating and unbalancing to the metabolism and the body's energy economy, somewhat like throwing gasoline on a fire. Overconsumption of sweets is like stifling the body's metabolic fire with too much fuel, which allows the sweet taste to build up to morbid levels in the organism, as in diabetes. The sweet taste has a soothing, relaxing, mollifying nature; sweet herbs and substances make bitter or unpleasant medicines more palatable, or smooth out any harsh or undesirable effects.
The Unctuous taste is also sometimes called rich, oily or fatty. It is very nutritive and anabolic, and hence Sanguine. Perhaps the foods that best embody the unctuous taste are meats, or viands. Being Sanguine in nature and taste, unctuous meat breeds abundant blood, but consumed to excess, can lead to excessively thick, stagnant or toxic blood, or to metabolic excesses of the blood - uremia, gout and high cholesterol. The richer and more unctuous the meat, especially red meat, the greater is its propensity to cause these metabolic imbalances. Rich, creamy desserts and sauces also embody the unctuous taste.
The two heating Choleric tastes are Pungent and Acrid. Actually, these two tastes are quite similar.
Pungent, also called piquant or spicy, is the hottest, most Choleric taste. It stimulates the Innate Heat of metabolism, increases circulation and digestion, and disperses blockages. The pungent taste is also drying in nature, and tends to dry up or dissolve excess phlegm, moisture and dampness. In excess, the Pungent taste can aggravate not only heat but also dryness, which can lead to not only Choleric excess, but aggravations of Melancholy as well. Excessive consumption of hot, spicy foods can cause undue irritation and irritability of the stomach and bowels.
Aromatic or fragrant is simply a milder version of pungent. Instead of being strongly heating and dispersing, aromatic substances are mildly warming and invigorating. Many common cooking spices like Oregano, Basil or Cardamom are aromatic.
Acrid, the other heating Choleric taste, is actually another variation on Pungent. Acrid, also called harsh, is rough and sharp, incorporating a tangy, biting edge. The Acrid taste is also heating and drying like Pungent, but more drying and less heating. It can also be irritating if consumed to excess. Bamboo shoots or green potatoes have an acrid taste.
The two tastes associated with the Phlegmatic humor and temperament are Sour and Salty. They have profound effects on the fluid metabolism of the body.
Salty indicates the presence of mineral salts, which act as an osmotic magnet to attract and hold fluids in the body; and so, the salty taste is wet or moistening. The salty taste, however, is also heating and stimulating to anabolic activity; strongly salty substances can also be irritating, as in rubbing salt on a wound. Excessive salt consumption aggravates heat and choler in the liver and congests it with bile and toxins; also, the functioning of the kidneys, which control body fluid metabolism, is impaired. Excess salt consumption also causes excessive thirst, which in turn leads to excessive fluid consumption and water retention and edema. Arthritic and rheumatic conditions can also be aggravated by excessive salt consumption.
Sour is wet and Phlegmatic in nature because its immediate effect is to increase various fluid secretions like saliva, phlegm and stomach acids. In excess, however, sour can aggravate acidity and the Choleric humor and temperament. The sour taste also has a cutting, thinning, attenuating effect that can cut through thick, tough, obstinate obstructions of phlegm and other humors. In excess, Sour's acidity can also be corrosive, aggravating dental sensitivity and the like.
The Bitter and Astringent tastes are both cooling, drying and Melancholic in temperament. Yet despite this general similarity, their alchemy on the tongue and in the body are actually quite different.
The Bitter taste is sedating, anti-inflammatory and detoxifying. Many bitter herbs, also called aperitifs, or bitter tonics, are cholagogues that stimulate the secretion of bile, and also improve appetite and digestion. By decongesting and detoxifying the organism, bitter tonics correct a faulty digestion and metabolism. In general, the bitter taste enhances the cleansing and detoxifying processes of the organism, and is therefore the least nutritive and anabolic of all the tastes. Used to excess, the bitter taste can aggravate nervousness and melancholy, causing giddiness, nausea, a depressed appetite and a generalized wasting away of the flesh, as well as a loss of libido. Bitter, being contrary to Sweet, is the least desirable taste, and therefore tends to be avoided or underconsumed. Nevertheless, a healthy balance of all the tastes in the diet is necessary for optimum health.
The Astringent taste is binding, in that it tightens up and improves the tone of the organs, muscles and tissues of the body. Astringent's binding action is also consolidating, enhancing the Melancholic Retentive Virtue to hold in and prevent the undue leakage or escape of various secretions or excretions from the body, like sweat, blood, urine, feces (diarrhea), and semen (ejaculation). the Astringent taste is also rough and drying, and will dry up and absorb any excessive fluids. The excessive use or abuse of the Astringent taste can aggravate melancholy, causing intestinal colic, griping, constipation, stiffness, tension and a wasting away of the flesh. Astringent foods and medicines should be used lightly, or with great care in those of a Melancholic temperament, or with aggravated melancholy.
The tongue sends taste signals to the whole organism, and the body responds by reflex action. The tastes of natural herbs and medicines are part of their energetic signature, which initiates healing responses from the organism.