What Is Tibetan Medicine?

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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2020
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Tibetan medicine is an ancient medical practice known as gso-wa rig-pa, which means "the knowledge of healing." It is rooted in the philosophy of Buddhism. This alternative healing system doesn’t view illness in the same way that western medicine does. Where an allopathic doctor sees illness, the practitioner of Tibetan medicine sees disharmony. This system of medicine is holistic and treats body, mind, and spirit.

Treatment utilizes medicine, meditation, and mantras or words of power. Five elements are the building blocks of the universe according to the philosophy behind Tibetan medicine. These five elements are wind, fire, water, earth, and space. Each of these elements is responsible for different parts of the body.

Wind governs the lungs and breath, the sense of touch, and the skin. The eyes, sense of sight, skin tone, and body temperature are influenced by the element of fire. Water controls the tongue, sense of taste, blood, and other body fluids. Earth is responsible for the bones, sense of smell, nose, and muscles, while space influences the sense of hearing, ears, and the cavities in the body.


A doctor of Tibetan medicine relies on interrogation, touch, and visual inspection to arrive at a diagnosis. One of the first things a doctor of Tibetan medicine will do when seeing a new patient will be to ask questions about the client’s diet and lifestyle. Treatment will be different for a patient who smokes, doesn’t exercise, and eats a lot of junk food than it will be for a nonsmoker who exercises regularly and eats healthy foods. For example, each patient may be given different medicines and different mantras to recite. The goal of Tibetan medicine is to find the root cause of the imbalance and eliminate it, not just to suppress symptoms.

The doctor will observe the complexion of the patient’s skin, condition of the nails, and inspect the urine, blood, and stools. He or she will also take readings of the pulse by placing three fingers on the pulse points of different arteries. The Tibetan medicine practitioner will first see if a change in lifestyle and/or diet will restore the patient to a state of balance.

If the problem isn’t corrected by dietary and lifestyle changes, medicines will be prescribed. Medicines can be in the form of powders, pills, and decoctions, and herbs are common components. The efficacy of various herbs to treat physical and emotional maladies has been established through centuries of use.


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