Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Temperament and Health, Part 2

The Elements

Each temperament corresponds to one of the four elements: Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Sanguine types are mobile and free as the air, melancholic types are reticent and heavy like the earth, choleric types are lively and active like fire and phlegmatic types are peaceful and “calm as the lake.”

To correspond to an element, however, means not merely to have its characteristics, but also to have an affinity with everything of a similar kind. Thus a phlegmatic person likes being on the bank of a stream, by a lake or the open sea. Water therapies, thermal baths or similar treatments have a good effect upon him. Swimming is his favourite physical activity. He appreciates liquid forms of nutrition (soups, semi-solid puddings, sauces) and reacts better to herbal medicines in the form of teas than to dry pills. Of all the different forms of massage, lymph drainage is the most helpful. Sea products like fish, algae, etc., are good for him; the iodine they contain stimulates the thyroid gland and thereby the sluggish metabolism.

Choleric people on the other hand are ruled by fire. They are not especially keen on water, but are attracted by everything dry and warm — just like their own element. They prefer physical mobility and the ensuing warmth. As therapy, the sun, hot air (sauna) and warm compresses work well, as do extracting and stimulating applications (mustard poultices), also herbal remedies dry as pills or capsules. Choleric types prefer strongly seasoned and dry, concentrated foods (grilled meats rather than stews, bread rather than porridge). Since muscles predominate with them, massage appeals to them.

Everything connected with air is especially suited to the sanguine type: walks, hiking, changes of location on foot or by bike, activities in the fresh air. Taking in pure air in the country, in the woods or at the seaside, especially where the wind is blowing, works far better than sunbathing or water therapies. Breathing exercises are a joy. Medicinal herbs are best taken in the form of inhalation or steam baths. The sanguine type can manage on very little food, as long as he gets sufficient of the “nourishing” air from his activities, otherwise he is inclined to compensate through over-eating.

Melancholic types have an affinity with the earth element and react well to mud-baths, volcanic earth and compresses made from healing earth. Their nutrition should be rich in mineral salts. Herbal medicine is most suitable in tablet or capsule form. The nervous system being predominant, reflex zone massages are to be specially recommended, as are any and all methods of relaxation. Melancholic people need to get enough sleep. They do not care for calm and repetitive physical activity (like weight lifting), but they like any sports that stimulate with plenty of movement in variety, such as tennis and team games.

This schematic depiction naturally needs to be adapted in practice. A water therapy goes down well not only with phlegmatic people. It can be adapted for the other temperaments. Thus while total submersion in the element (like swimming in the sea) is very beneficial for the phlegmatic, the sanguine will respond better to a shower, the melancholic needs an even less watery application (for example, compresses) and the choleric prefers the hot steam of the sauna.
One further important point to watch out for in therapy is that just as like attracts like, opposites repel. One should therefore not suggest as therapy something that really belongs to the opposite temperament. For example, it would be wrong to forbid a sanguine person any social contact, to counsel a choleric person against any form of physical activity, to confront a phlegmatic type with sports or particularly strenuous massage, or to refuse a melancholic any stimulation (no reading, no amusements, no outings). That would weaken their health.

The connections between temperament, body constitution, element and lifestyle explain why not every treatment has equal appeal for all patients. Warm and dry medicinal herbs like rosemary and thyme, for instance, have a greater effect on the warm and dry temperament of the choleric person, but rather less on the damp and warm temperament of the sanguine person, and little or no effect on the cold temperament of the phlegmatic or the melancholic. Or: Depending on his affinity with the element of water, a stay at the seaside works exceptionally well for a phlegmatic person, but is less beneficial for a melancholic, who might be overly excited by the iodine. Conversely, the reduced oxygen on the mountain height is beneficial for the choleric and melancholic person, but it unsettles the phlegmatic. Sadly, the knowledge of these interconnections has been largely lost. It could be of tremendous help, though not only in therapy but also to get to know oneself better and to achieve more in life, according to one's own temperament and element.

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