The four bodily humors are based on the bodily fluids of blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. The bodily humors seek balance. When the bodily humors are out of balance, our health and temperament suffer.
The four bodily humors are the foundation of humoral theory, a medical doctrine practiced by ancient Greek and Roman physicians. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is credited with first applying this theory to the practice of medicine.
Humoral medicine was a holistic and highly individualist approach to health and wellness. It was holistic because the bodily humors were believed to influence both physical and mental or spiritual disposition. The practice of humoral medicine required an individual approach, since the ideal state – or balance, of the four bodily humors could be different for each individual.
Hildegard of Bingen believed the spirit determines the health of our body and mind. When the spirit, mind, and body are equally strong, the four life “juices” are balanced and the result is good health. Just as the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth are interrelated in a cycle that seeks balance, our bodies mirror this relationship.
Balancing Bodily Humors
Hildegard applied the humoral theory of ancient medicine in her beliefs and practices. In Causes and Cures, Hildegard discusses a relationship of the body’s significant fluids that correspond with the four qualities of hot, cold, wet, and dry. She associated the bodily humors of the traditional four fluids of blood, phlegm, bile, and melancholia with those qualities.
She also believed that the essence or “juice” of anything, especially the medicinal juice of plants, followed a similar relationship based on the qualities of the bodily humors being dry, wet, tepid, and foamy. She believed that disease emerged from the wrong proportion of the bodily humors.
Humors Bring Harmony
Hildegard’s understanding of the bodily humors was a unifying perspective in which the four juices existed within the body, but also within the natural world. She saw the four bodily humors as a microcosm of the fundamental organizing system of the universe. In her view, each juice existed to temper the other – just as the universe is made of the four elements and four seasons operating in harmony.
When harmony exists in us, we are in accord with all that exists. Because of our connectivity with the universe, Hildegard believed the soul to be the source of everything and thus essential in achieving harmony. She held four basic rules in the pursuit of harmony.
Rule 1: Strengthen the spirit
Hildegard believed that all problems and ailments in the body are ultimately rooted in our spirit. She believed that by strengthening and healing the soul, the body and its systems would then follow. Hildegard’s path to harmony flows from the spirit, to the mind, and the body. The power of health and wellness is within us. It is our duty to strengthen our soul such that this power will manifest.
Strengthening the soul can be achieved through meditation, encouraging and practicing talents and virtues, and working against vices and weakness. The key is to identify and prioritize your values and determine whether or not you are practicing your values in your day-to-day life.
Rule 2: Cleanse the Body
Hildegard was a proponent of regular detoxification and spiritual fasting. Cleansing through fasting, wormwood wine cures, and herbal treatments and elixirs. Hildegard’s fasting guidelines show that fasting needn’t be suffering or absolute deprivation. Fasting can merely be a dedicated period of time to allow your body to purge toxins, rest, and rejuvenate.
There are many products incorporating the methods recommended by Hildegard. Comprehensive fasting and cleansing packages are available to assist you with your seasonal or occasional fasting program.
Rule 3: Moderation
Moderation was a central theme of Hildegard’s beliefs and teachings. Hildegard believed that we should strive to bring moderation into our behaviors, thoughts, and actions. Her notion of moderation was about more than just eating and drinking nutritious foods. For Hildegard, moderation was closely tied to her beliefs that balance in spirit, mind, and body was essential in living a healthy life.
Modern living often seems to be designed to keep us off-balance. The flow of our daily lives is full of situations that seem to ask us to step out of balance in order to accomplish what needs to get done. Our awareness of balance and putting our desire for balance into practice are what will ultimately lead to a healthier state of being.
As such, avoiding processed foods, awareness of what we are eating and drinking, and limiting our indulgences will help keep us on the right path.
Hildegard’s Medieval Diet, based on natural foods enjoyed in moderation and balance, is a great reference for some specific tips.
Rule 4: Sharpen the Senses
Live your life on purpose; set healthy goals; don’t allow life to “happen to you”. Contentment is something that can be maintained through cultivating a positive demeanor; it’s a choice we make many times, every day.
Live your values with optimism and personal responsibility. Love your life. If you can’t love your life the way it is now, identify what you don’t love about it and change it. Some of the most profound changes begin with the smallest turns of the dial.