China’s Other Medical Systems: Recognizing Uyghur, Tibetan, and Mongolian Traditional Medicines

Yu, E., & Amri, H. (2016). China’s Other Medical Systems: Recognizing Uyghur, Tibetan, and Mongolian Traditional Medicines. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 5(1), 79-86. [Link]

So I found a pretty interesting article that compares and contrasts Uyghur, Mongolian, and Tibetan traditional medicine. It is interesting to see a scientific analysis of the terms and practices our parents apply at home when “mijezim yoq”. Interestingly, “mijez” means feeling/mood/temperement – “mijezim yoq” means “I’m not feeling well”. “Mizaj” on the other hand is the traditional medicinal term for nature/character of a person. How confusing!

It is interesting how Uyghur medicine includes the brain as a major organ – the article says that the predecessor to Uyghur medicine was one of the first to include the brain as a controlling organ.

Background:

Traditional Chinese medicine, as it is understood and adopted by those with a growing interest in complementary and alternative practices to biomedicine, is often used as an umbrella term for traditional medical practices from regions within and bordering the People’s Republic of China. However, there are multiple distinct medical traditions in China, including that of the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Mongolians.

Excerpt on Uyghur medicine:

The central concept in Uyghur Medicine is that of mizagyi (derived from the Arabic and Urdu word mizaj) or temperament. An individual’s mizagyi is expressed in facial appearance, skin color, body shape, personality, habits, and mental state. Temperament is determined by a balance between the 4 properties of heat, moisture, coldness, and dryness that correspond to qualities of the tot mizaj (4 elements) of fire, air, water, and earth (or soil). Mizagyi follows the idea that these elements are in a constant struggle for dominance and are affected by climate, geographical location, heredity, seasons, food, herbs, fluids, and air. The 4 temperaments can be combined into a total of 8 conditions: heat, coldness, moisture, dryness, dry heat, moist heat, moist coldness, and dry coldness. When these properties are unbalanced with some in excess and others insufficient, people fall ill.

Temperament can be used to characterize each organ as well as the whole individual. The Uyghurs subscribe to the notion that each organ has its particular temperament that is related to its function (Table 1). This is the foundation of azha (derived from the Arabic word A’ada’) theory or organ theory. Organs are categorized as controlling, dominant, and controlled according to their function. They are organized in a hierarchical manner based on a system of control (Figure 3). The 3 controlling organs are the brain, heart, and liver, which correspond to an individual’s vitality, spirit, and natural force. Vitality manifests as survival and reproductive ability, spirit refers to control over mental and physical activities, and natural force manifests as regulation, enrichment, and control of other organs. The controlling organs directly affect the 6 dominant organs. They in turn affect the remaining controlled organs. All other organs are considered controlled organs. It is important to note that Unani medicine, the origin of Uyghur medicine, was the first to report the brain as a major controlling organ.

In the same way the 4 temperaments correspond to the 4 elements (fire, air, water, and earth), Uyghur medicine’s 4 bodily fluids correspond to the 4 elements (Table 2). This is described by teliti theory or body fluid theory. The 4 hilits (fluids)—bile (or yellow bile), blood, phlegm, and atrabiliary (or black bile)—are created by the liver and help the body maintain a balanced state of health. Each individual is born with an inherent balance of his or her hilits, and this balance can be affected by food, climate, season, and medication. Any change in quantity or quality of these hilits will contribute to a state of disease.

Similar to Unani medicine, there exist 6 principles in Uyghur medicine that can aid an individual in maintaining health. These sayat (conditions) are as follows:

  1. people struggle in order to live
  2. foods that one eats should be taken in balance of quantity and quality
  3. rest and activity must be kept in balance
  4. a good mood is important to long life
  5. the body must be kept clean
  6. energetic characteristics of body fluid deserve special tracking after age 60

To diagnose illness, Uyghur physicians, called beletibabets, use their senses of smell, sound, sight, and touch to examine a patient. Once they determine the cause of illness, they will prescribe a combination of herbal medicines and treatments, such as massage, hydrotherapy, the external application of animal products, or smoking animal bones, hooves, and horns. In some cases, the calendar is consulted to determine the best day to apply the treatment or perform a treatment ritual. Treatment rituals can involve prayers or readings from the Quran. While most Uyghur are Muslim and the Quran is used in many healing prayer rituals, it is important to note that Uyghur medicine is not based on Islam the way Tibetan medicine and Mongolian medicine were based on Buddhist teachings.

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