Hippocrates: The Original Naturopath

hippocrates-food-medicineFirst in Physiology, First in Holistic Health, First in Accountability

Hippocrates of Cos, (5th Century B.C.E.), the Greek “Father of Medicine”, is also the father of Holistic Healing, although many may not realize this.  Hippocrates was the first physician to closely study the human body’s functions to diagnose and treat disease.  He was also the first to turn away from what in his day was considered ‘mainstream medicine’—prayers and sacrifices to the Gods and Goddess for relief and cure of the ailment.

During the birth of conventional medicine in late 19th to early 20th centuries, that concept was considered to be an extreme departure from ‘modern’ medicine.  With that in mind, it is interesting to note that today’s ‘alternative medicine’ is, in a way, a return to the mainstream of Hippocrates’ day:  appeals to spirituality and faith as a part of the healing process.

In this ‘new age’ of the 21st century, recognition of the power of the mind and spirit to heal the body is becoming more acceptable.  In the news, we hear about people conquering cancer, diabetes, heart disease and immune disorders through ‘positive thinking’, a change in diet and a return to nature.

Hippocrates’ most famous lesson was, “Let food be thy medicine and  thy medicine be food”.  Another of his lessons is:  “Neither repletion, nor fasting, nor anything else, is good when more than natural.”  What is ‘natural’ differs among everyone—some have lower tolerance to viruses, some have higher metabolism, while others may fluctuate between the highs and lows.

The trick is in balancing the repletion, the fasting, and the ‘anything else’ between too little and too much.  Hippocrates was the first proponent of balance and moderation in maintaining health, and probably the first ‘diet doctor’ when he wrote: “Persons who are naturally very fat are apt to die earlier than those who are slender.”

He was also the first to observe the mind/body connection:  “Persons who have a painful affection in any part of the body, and are in a great measure sensible of the pain, are disordered in intellect”, and “In every disease it is a good sign when the patient’s intellect is sound, and he is disposed to take whatever food is offered to him; but the contrary is bad.”

One concept put forward by Hippocrates especially deserves our attention today:  the concept of ‘environmental influences’ on health—that is, weather, the seasons, and the climate in which a person lives.  Hippocrates believed:  “Of natures, some are well—or ill-adapted for summer, and some for winter.” and “In autumn, diseases are most acute, and most mortal, on the whole. The spring is most healthy, and least mortal”, and also “If the summer be dry and northerly and the autumn rainy and southerly, headaches occur in winter, with coughs, hoarsenesses, coryzae, and in some cases consumptions.”

Barometric pressure plays a large role in the way we feel throughout the year, as does too much damp or too much dry, too little sun or too much rain.  Of course today, we have other environmental issues unknown in 5th century Greece:  pollution, global warming, radiation, toxic metals, electro-magnetic frequencies, microwave radiation, pesticides and a host of other problems.)  What Would Hippocrates Do?

That’s just the outdoors.  We really spend a great deal of time indoors, so sometimes our worst environmental enemy can be a ‘sick building’.  In our homes, schools and workplaces, we have rampant bacteria and viruses being spun through forced air systems while the windows remain securely sealed. The majority of our exposure to light comes from fluorescent tubes, not sunlight.

Therefore, it is readily apparent that a healthy environment is a very important factor in our health, in addition to a healthy body, mind and spirit.  Hippocrates’ writings devote a great deal of space to environmental factors which also include a person’s locale: “We must consider, also, in which cases food is to be given once or twice a day, and in greater or smaller quantities, and at intervals. Something must be conceded to habit, to season, to country, and to age.”

Hippocrates wrote his Aphorisms as a legacy to be passed down to all those wishing to become knowledgeable in the healing arts.  Granted some of his techniques, such as bloodletting, are no longer considered standard procedures today (fortunately!); however, most of what Hippocrates has handed down is still applicable.  He addresses the spiritual part of the mind/body/spirit triad in his Oath, which opens with, “I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses…”  He later promises, “In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.”

Though the Aphorisms make little mention of the influences of spirituality upon health, his Oath obviously shows thought given to the influences of integrity, honesty and purity on the part of the physician.  Although it isn’t documented, it may be that Hippocrates knew about ‘transference’—the ability of the healer to transmit either positive or negative influences to the patient, thus affecting his/her treatment for better or worse.  In this view, it is much better for the physician to put forth a positive attitude.

The primary tenet of the Hippocratic Oath is “to do no harm”.   It is commonly believed that taking the Oath is a requirement for graduation from medical school, however, that is not the case.  A student can choose to include the Oath in the ceremony only if he/she wishes but it is not mandated.  It’s a sad statement, and a reflection on our times that healers can choose to disregard the Oath.

Dr. Jack Kervorkian comes to mind as one who bears the title ‘Dr.’ yet flaunts the part of the Oath that states “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan…”  Another hot topic in health care, patient privacy was addressed by Hippocrates as well: “Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, whether in connection with my professional practice or not, which ought not to be spoken of outside, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private.” Who would have thought that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was originally conceived of in the 5th century?  I guess today we could call this the “HIPAAcratic Oath.”  LOL.   😉

It is safe to say that the overwhelming popularity of alternative medicine and natural healing can be traced to the desire to return to simpler times–before the days of outrageously-priced invasive surgeries, prescription medications and HMO’s.   It may also be safe to say that the next big ‘shake-up’ for the health care industry will be the masses of people either flocking to naturopathic practitioners or simply staying home and treating themselves.

Prevention is an ugly word in the world of corporately-owned health care–it implies a decrease in visits and therefore revenue.  Natural and herbal remedies are anathema to the pharmaceutical industry.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than fighting it, the health care industry could embrace the wave and allow itself to return to simpler times and milder treatment.  How could it get any simpler than ancient Greece?



Hippocrates of Cos (1849) Works:  Aphorisms.  (F. Adams, Trans.).   London:  University of Adelaide Library E-books Program.  (Original work published 5th century B. C. E.).  Retrieved February 19, 2006. http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/h/hippocrates/h7w/aphorism.html

National Institute of Health.  (2000)  Greek Medicine.  (M. North, Trans.)  National Library of Medicine:  History of Medicine Division.  Retrieved February 19, 2006.  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html

Simple Fitness & Wellness Practices


We’re going to start the Fitness & Wellness section by posting a nice visual for you to meditate on. The quote is from one of my ‘gurus’, K’ung Fu, or Confucius as he was called by the Romans, once they had discovered his teachings.  My friends in the Northern U. S. near the Canadian border will especially appreciate this image and may want to take a little virtual canoe-trip right now.

Think of a river you’ve visited or would like to. Picture yourself in the canoe, working your upper body muscles as you dip your paddle to give movement to your craft.

This is the flow of movement; the movement of your arms, guiding the paddle to move the canoe with the flow of the river. If the body does not move, energy does not flow. And neither does your canoe. However, the river never stops–it continues to flow endlessly on to the lake or sea.

Are you the river or are you the stagnated body, the beached canoe?

The Chinese were very, very well versed in anatomy and physiology. They knew how the heart worked, how blood circulated and the importance of the lungs and liver in keeping the system cleansed and balanced. They were the inventors of the motion exercises known as Tai Chi (tie-chee) and Qi Gong (chee-kung), and from these arose the many styles of martial arts such as karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, and tai kwon do, just to name a few.

Now, don’t laugh, but my life-long interest in the study of Asian philosophical and medical traditions began when I discovered the Kung Fu TV series starring the late David Carradine. I was in my teens and beginning to get interested in world cultures and traditions.  They just don’t make shows like this anymore, which is sad when you think of how positively they can work to teach kids about different cultures. But that’s a topic for another post.

bullbrdrainbowfitnesswellnessSo–our studies of Fitness & Wellness will include ventures into not only Asian but the traditions of many world cultures, covering physical fitness, body care, and natural health remedies and treatments.

Popular trends in Fitness over the past few years also include dance forms from around the world–salsa, belly-dancing, ballet, country line dancing, swing dancing, ballroom dancing, flash dancing, hip-hop, sweatin’ to the oldies–there’s a style out there for pretty much everyone.

Dancing is one of my personal favorite forms of exercise and one thing I would like to do more of is check out the many different ‘dancercise’ programs available.

My personal program consists of just putting on my favorite oldies and cleaning the house. Pick up the rag, step, step, reach-up-and-wipe, boogie down to the dryer, put the laundry in the basket and step, step, turn-and-bend-and-lift-and-carry. Place the basket on the floor in the bedroom and bend-and-lift-the shirt-turn-and-step-step-and-hang then turn-and-bend-and-lift-again. Keep a steady rhythm with your chosen music. You get the picture. But when you go to do the floors, its best to dance with the broom and not the mop–mops drip on your toes. Why not start your own ‘housekeeping aerobics’ program this weekend?

The second part of our topic–Wellness–covers some of the things that come after the Fitness regimen, like massage, water therapies, herbalism and aromatherapy. There are also earth- and plant-based therapies like mud packs or leaf wraps, which are treatments used in many parts of the world. I have soaked in mud pits dug near lakes and rivers in my hometown area and I have to say it is very relaxing and therapeutic. You would not believe how soft and refreshed your skin feels after a soak in the mud and a splash in slightly cool, clear water. I really recommend trying this. Maybe when you take that canoe trip we talked about earlier, you could pull up on a nice sandy shoreline and make yourself a soaking pit.

Water Therapy or Hydrotherapy (hi-dro-THAIR-a-pee) plays a big part in the DIY Healthy Lifestyles Wellness Plan. This includes things like hot tub soaking, saunas, heat/ice packs, mud packs, and another big word, thalassotherapy (thaw-LASSO-thair-a-pee) or bath soaks using therapeutic salts. I like to use essential oils with the salts also, which does amazing things for sore muscles, stiff joints, and general body achiness. It can also clear up stuffy sinuses and help fight colds.

Herbalism and aromatherapy are two other therapies that we’ll be exploring. Aromatherapy is the study of how scent affects physical and mental wellbeing. Aromatherapy has become big business for the makers of home cleaning products, most of which use synthesized, chemical-based scents that can irritate the respiratory system.

The aromatherapy we’ll be studying is based on naturally growing herbs, florals, spices, and other sources. Essential oils come from the extraction of saps, resins, or ‘juices’ from the stems, petals, flowers, or roots of plants. Inhaling the scent is the best known way of using aromatherapy. Essential oils can also be applied topically (on the skin) by themselves or in a lotion and can be absorbed through the skin in bath oils or salts. Some can be used in food and drinks, like spices, flavoring oils, or teas. You really would be amazed at the many ways you can use essentials oils and aromatherapy to support your health and wellness.

So, this has been an overview of some of things we’ll be doing in the Fitness & Wellness centers and I hope you have found something of interest. Post your comment below to let me know what it was, or if there are other topics in Fitness & Wellness you’d like to learn more about.

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