The current healthcare system focuses on managing disease after it has occurred instead of preventing its onset.
Alternatively, holistic herbalism can be a wellness-first approach, emphasizing disease prevention. Through it, you can effectively address disease predispositions and correct imbalances to prevent their onset.
One of my favorite tools for this is the natal chart, which is a part of the practice of Astro-Herbalism. By shifting the focus from disease management to disease prevention, you can create a more proactive and holistic approach to healthcare.
In today’s blog post, you’ll learn
- Why being healthy and not being sick are not the same thing
- The 5 roots of health and how they correspond to the Elements
- Why understanding the constitution is a critical part of holistic herbalism
- What vitalism is and the role it plays in your health
- How to use the natal chart as a practical assessment tool
What could healthcare look like if it was oriented around wellness instead of sickness?
Understanding the difference between working with an allopathic and holistic practitioner can paint a pretty good picture as to what this would look like.
People typically see their doctors when something has gone wrong, like when new symptoms arise or there has been an increase in their intensity. In either case, the typical doctor-patient encounter lasts a few minutes and concludes with a new prescription or dosage in hand.
Managing disease is a critical part of re-establishing health, but it is only one half of the equation. The other half is preventing it from occurring in the first place. Although easier said than done, you can generate wellness by developing lifestyle habits that replenish you and improve your sense of vitality.
If there is one thing herbalism truly excels at, it is preventative medicine. Instead of orienting itself around assuaging disease, it focuses on strengthening your health by addressing disease potentials and correcting imbalances at their root to prevent its onset from occurring in the first place.
Health ≠ Not Being Sick
Something I often hear from people who live high-stress lifestyles, eat poorly, and barely sleep is, “Well, I’m not sick, so there’s nothing I need to change.” When I hear that, I feel like they missed the entire point. Not being sick does not necessarily mean you are healthy, and that is an important distinction!
Not being sick and being well are two different things entirely. So many people get caught in a loop of unhealthy habits that predispose them to disease. Some common examples include regularly drinking alcohol, sleeping for 5 hours a night and feeling chronically exhausted, or routinely eating foods their body can’t tolerate and experiencing bloating and indigestion.
Although it doesn’t happen all at once, these daily habits stack up over time and make you more susceptible to sickness and disease. Furthermore, even if you are not sick, can you imagine how much more vitality you would feel if you woke up feeling refreshed for the day, digested your food well, had regular bowel movements, and felt energized?Ultimately, this is the goal of preventive medicine. By eliminating habits that drain you of your vitality, you simultaneously prevent the onset of disease and experience improved wellness in your day-to-day life. The role of the holistic herbal practitioner is to guide you in your journey to health. Together, you can develop new habits that improve your health and resilience and ultimately make you feel better on all levels. So not just symptom free in your body, but mentally more clear and focused, emotionally more uplifted, and even feeling more spiritually connected.
The Five Roots of Holistic Medicine
When I was thinking about the primary determinants of health, I distilled them into what I consider the critical elements of a healthy lifestyle. Each of these five roots corresponds to one of the Five Elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Ether.
The Earth Element corresponds to your diet and nutrient intake. It serves as the foundation on which the rest of your health stands. Just like a plant needs healthy soil to thrive, you require adequate nutrition to be healthy.
Next, the Water Elements correspond to hydration. Your tissues and organ systems require ample hydration to function properly. When they become overly dry, patterns of hypofunctioning (atrophy) can develop. To keep your body hydrated you need both water and healthy oils.
The Air Element relates to your psychological health and sleep quality. In astrology, the Air Element governs aspects of the mind and intellect. Anything you can do to support your mental health falls under this category, and let’s face it, sleep is central here.
Like Fire itself, this Element represents movement. Exercising (in whatever form), moving your body, and stimulating the metabolic processes all involve this Element.
The last Element is Ether, which connects to your life purpose. I believe that having a sense of purpose and connecting to something larger than yourself is a quintessential part of living a truly healthy life.
By focusing on each one of these five roots, you pave the foundation for strong physical, emotional, and mental health. Nothing new here really… We all know we should eat better, exercise more, drink more water, and sleep better, but relating them back to the elements lends a deeper perspective as to why they are so critically important. And for the herbal practitioner, these can never be overlooked.
The Constitutional Key to Preventative Medicine
Something that unites Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Hippocratic medicine, and traditional Western herbalism is their usage of energetic systems to understand the constitution.
Understanding the constitution is a critical aspect of preventive medicine because it gives you insight into your client’s unique physiological tendencies, predispositions towards disease, organ system weaknesses, and how you can help them maintain their unique balance through using the 5 roots of health above, as well as gentle herbal medicines.
Some people have a cold constitution, which makes them prone to a cloudy mind, weak digestion, cold extremities, and lethargy. People with a hot constitution face the opposite. Their minds are often buzzing, sometimes they digest too fast and can’t absorb nutrients, and they tend to burn the candle from both ends and burn themselves out. These two types of people require totally different lifestyles, habits, foods, and herbs to help them maintain balance and prevent disease. The constitution shows that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventive medicine. It is unique and customized to each individual.
Understanding your client’s constitution informs you of what they need to achieve balance. Someone with underlying patterns of cold would benefit from warming spices, exercising, and eating well-cooked foods. Alternatively, a client with a hot constitution may need cooling herbs, gentle exercise, and lots of rest.
Constitution also explains why the same herbs do not work equally well for all of your clients. For example, if you have five clients with a cough, each one may need a different herbal remedy depending on the underlying energetics of the cough, such as whether it’s damp, dry, hot, cold, etc. By choosing an herbal formula based on your client’s unique constitution and underlying energetics, you can see more consistency in your results.
As you can see, the type of herbs you use, along with dietary and exercise suggestions, will all differ depending on the underlying constitutional energetics of your client. Instead of recommending the same one-size-fits-all approach to diet, exercise, rest, and sleep to everyone, A constitutional perspective recognizes that people have very different needs. Instead of trying to shape them to fit the world, you shape their environment to fit their needs.
Your body is telling you something. Are you listening?
So often, when people get sick, their first response is to suppress it. This may be taking an antacid when you have heartburn, an NSAID for a headache, or Pepto-Bismol for nausea. Over-the-counter drugs have their place, but before you reach for them, ask yourself why you are not feeling well.
If you are an herbal practitioner, use the time during your client intake to understand potential underlying factors that lead to your client’s imbalance and symptoms or disease. Through effective intake, you should be able to find a pattern that weaves them together and suggest an herbal remedy that addresses it at its root.
In the vitalist approach to healing, each symptom is a message that clues you into a larger pattern of imbalance. Listening to these vitalist signals is an excellent way to discover what isn’t working for you.
Every time you eat fried food you get heartburn? That’s a clue. Spend time with a specific circle of friends and your blood pressure goes up? That’s another clue. Your body is on your side, and by learning to listen to it and work with it instead of against it, you can experience miracles in your health.
Astrology: A Snapshot of Your Health
One of the ways you can better understand your client’s constitution and unique disease potentials is with medical astrology.
Within this approach is the natal chart, which is a practical tool that provides a detailed snapshot of the planetary and archetypal forces present during your client’s birth. With this information, you can extrapolate their constitution, disease potentials, and organ system strengths and weaknesses, and a whole lot more.
For example, if your client has Saturn in Leo in the sixth house, you can interpret this in a few ways. Because Saturn is the planetary force of constriction, you already have a clue that there is a stagnation or restriction in the flow of vitality. Saturn also is cold and dry energetically. Next is Leo, which is the zodiac sign that rules the heart and circulatory system. Leo also loves to be at the center of attention and express themselves. Lastly, you have the sixth house, which rules health and daily life.
One way to interpret this is that there is a predisposition to possible cardiovascular issues. This could be constriction of blood flow into the heart, cold circulation, a tense or anxious heart, and even potential predisposition for a myocardial infarction. Of course, one would have to be very careful with this information and how they approach their clients so as not to put fear into them or diagnose without a license. With this information, you could focus on a formula that strengthens the heart and vasculature. In this case, you might suggest Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) to strengthen the heart and vasculature, Linden (Tilia × europaea) or Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) to relax tension in the cardiovascular system, and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) or Cayenne Capsicum annuum) to support healthy circulation of the blood.
Alternatively, these placements can indicate that your client is feeling stuck (Saturn) in their creative self expression (Leo). Although the former is clearly more serious, remember that supporting the emotional heart benefits the entire physical cardiovascular system. This is because according to the medical astrology tradition, as well as medical alchemy, an issue in the spirit, mind, or emotions can eventually trickle down and affect the physical body.
Health constitutes physical, psychological, and spiritual health. If any one of these aspects is neglected, then you are not fully well. Medical astrology helps you understand your client holistically and weaves these components together so you can formulate an herbal remedy that addresses them all.
Another way you can use the natal chart in medical astrology is to help you identify points of excess or deficiency. If your client exhibits excess activity or inflammation in an organ system, you can use herbs to help tamp it down. Alternatively, you can increase activity and vitality in a system you see requires extra help.
However you incorporate the natal chart as an assessment tool into your practice, medical astrology as a whole gives you a holistic map of the entire body and informs you of how you can use plants to prevent disease from ever happening.
Health isn’t merely about not being sick. It describes your physical vitality and capacity to feel energized and alive. When you are healthy, your mind is clear, your heart is open, and you feel at peace. When you live in accordance with your true purpose, you strengthen your health. When you live out of alignment with who you are and what you need, you become depleted.
Preventative medicine is about getting to know you. It means understanding your unique disease predispositions, organ system strengths and weaknesses, and lifestyle habits that contribute to your well-being or take away from it.
One of the main systems for this is medical astrology. With the help of the natal chart, you can discover your core innate patterns and start to live a lifestyle that improves your health. It is my hope that the future of herbalism and general medicine moves from reactive to preventative. By living day to day in a way that supports your physical, emotional, and mental health, you have the key to prevent disease from ever making its onset.