christopher vasey naturopathe
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Temperament and Health


One and the same therapy can have very different effects. A herbal remedy has a strong effect with certain people, and affects others weakly or not at all. The same is true of acupuncture, homeopathy, water therapy, and so on. Why is a treatment effective with many patients but not all? According to research, the temperaments matter. Christopher Vasey, a complementary therapist, describes the four main groups into which people can be divided on the basis of their physical characteristics and shows how health and temperament are intertwined.

The human body is made up of four organ systems: the digestive system, nervous system, the musculo-skeletal system and the system of heart and lungs. These systems differ in strength from person to person. One system will supersede the others and in this way influences the physical constitution. The prominence of one of the systems correlates with the temperament of the person concerned: With a phlegmatic person it is digestion that predominates, with the melancholic it is the brain and nerves, with the choleric person it is the bones and muscles, and with a sanguine person it is the heart and lungs.

Yet the dominance of an organ system does not of itself determine the temperament of the one concerned. There is also a psychic component. Our body constitution and the way we do things are linked. Thus a choleric person possesses a well-developed musculo-skeletal system as well as being active, athletic and enterprising. The organs necessary for physical activity are exceptionally well developed, helping to bring him success in life, but they are at the same time also the most at risk of breakdown from the excessive strain.

In this way the temperaments make it possible to divide humans into four main groups, each having a similar physical constitution and lifestyle, also similar susceptibility to illness and reacting similarly to treatments. Each temperament has its own distinguishing characteristics. However, every one of us is something of a “hybrid”; in reality the temperaments are never found in their “pure” form. In that respect the following category descriptions overstate the case.

The sanguine type

People with a sanguine temperament in general tend to have strong heart and lungs. The chest cavity is the most developed part of the body. Sanguine types appear solid, broad, tending to stockiness, with short arms and legs. The general impression of their physique is repeated in the different parts of the body: Head and hands are broad rather than long, the cheeks are prominent, with a good complexion.

The heart and lungs, which are intended to facilitate the exchange of blood and air, are always vigorously active. The sanguine person is accordingly mobile, lively, open and sociable. A life enthusiast, who is fond of interaction, enjoys travel and is drawn to all sorts of activities which stimulate the heart and breathing. Their predilection for social contact and gastronomic pleasures can lead to excessive eating and drinking - especially of stimulating nourishment like red meat, sausage and alcohol. Health problems may well ensue with blood circulation and respiration. The blood thickens and circulates poorly. Heart and circulation illnesses may arise (varicose vein, embolism, high blood pressure, heart attack) and breathing difficulties (lung congestion, asthma).

The melancholic type

People of melancholic temperament have pronounced development of the brain and nervous system. Not being very strong in the digestive region, nor with the lungs or muscles, they are not at all “rounded”. They are tall and slim. The body is frail, the limbs are delicate and the joints may protrude. The head is broad, especially in the area of the brain.

The melancholic type is inclined to be thoughtful, to deliberate and to analyse. This makes him appear reticent, sombre … melancholic. He is nervous and sensitive, impressionable, indecisive, irascible, anxious and stressed, but also lively, with hands and feet never still. He enjoys stimulants — of a physical nature (coffee, tea, tobacco, highly seasoned dishes, and so on), or else the psychological kind, in that he leads a restless kind of life, is very outgoing, and has a flair for lively discussions.

Since the melancholic person has a weak digestive tract, he eats only little, but often and irregularly. He is inclined to abuse stimulants. Fatigue of his nerves can lead to a string of disturbances: nervousness, anxiety states such as stress, depression, neuritis, neuralgia, migraine, insomnia.

The choleric type

Cholerics have a well developed musculo-skeletal system, lending them an athletic stature, with a square face and body. The eyebrows are straight, the gaze penetrating. Voice and demeanour show solid strength.

The passionate nature leaves the choleric person continually active and on the go. He is a great athlete and loves to expend his strength in physical activity — this, for him, is pleasure and challenge. He reacts quickly and prefers action to reflection. If something is going too slowly or his activity is thwarted, he very soon becomes impatient and irate.

Choleric people have a tendency to overindulge in “strong” foods like meat, sausages, cereals, sugar, fats, and for their flagging strength they enjoy using stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, tobacco.

The tendency to over-exertion can cause torn muscles, fractures, tendinitis or trouble with the joints (dislocations, rheumatism, arthritis). The improper diet causes mainly problems with the gallbladder (liver and gallbladder blockages and infections).

The phlegmatic type

A predominant digestive tract gives the person of phlegmatic temperament a long and solid body. He enjoys eating, but his life has little in the way of mobility, is on the slow side and he does not burn off very well what he consumes. He tends toward overweight, and especially because he very easily stores fat. His body seems voluminous, fat and soft; the limbs, however, are more lengthy, but solid and thick, because the muscles are surrounded by fat. The lymphatic system is likewise strongly developed. The lymph abundance adds to the body volume and sponginess of the tissues. Just as the sanguine type derives a reddish tint from his “blood surplus”, so does the lymph give the phlegmatic a pale tint. The phlegmatic type is calm, peaceful and patient, does not readily commit himself to physical activity, but prefers the indoor, sedate life.

Phlegmatic types enjoy eating, with quantity more important than quality. Rich foods and sauces, stodgy puddings and heavy meals, are favourites. The excess does, however, lead to an exhaustion of the digestive glands (insufficiency of the liver and pancreas) and the digestive organs are enlarged (stomach, gallbladder, intestine — constipation). Problems of the lymphatic system such as glandular inflammation, angina, cellulitis also frequently beset the phlegmatic.

The Elements

Each temperament corresponds to one of the four elements: Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Sanguine types are mobile and free as the air, melancholic types are reticent and heavy like the earth, choleric types are lively and active like fire and phlegmatic types are peaceful and “calm as the lake.”

To correspond to an element, however, means not merely to have its characteristics, but also to have an affinity with everything of a similar kind. Thus a phlegmatic person likes being on the bank of a stream, by a lake or the open sea. Water therapies, thermal baths or similar treatments have a good effect upon him. Swimming is his favourite physical activity. He appreciates liquid forms of nutrition (soups, semi-solid puddings, sauces) and reacts better to herbal medicines in the form of teas than to dry pills. Of all the different forms of massage, lymph drainage is the most helpful. Sea products like fish, algae, etc., are good for him; the iodine they contain stimulates the thyroid gland and thereby the sluggish metabolism.

Choleric people on the other hand are ruled by fire. They are not especially keen on water, but are attracted by everything dry and warm — just like their own element. They prefer physical mobility and the ensuing warmth. As therapy, the sun, hot air (sauna) and warm compresses work well, as do extracting and stimulating applications (mustard poultices), also herbal remedies dry as pills or capsules. Choleric types prefer strongly seasoned and dry, concentrated foods (grilled meats rather than stews, bread rather than porridge). Since muscles predominate with them, massage appeals to them.

Everything connected with air is especially suited to the sanguine type: walks, hiking, changes of location on foot or by bike, activities in the fresh air. Taking in pure air in the country, in the woods or at the seaside, especially where the wind is blowing, works far better than sunbathing or water therapies. Breathing exercises are a joy. Medicinal herbs are best taken in the form of inhalation or steam baths. The sanguine type can manage on very little food, as long as he gets sufficient of the “nourishing” air from his activities, otherwise he is inclined to compensate through over-eating.

Melancholic types have an affinity with the earth element and react well to mud-baths, volcanic earth and compresses made from healing earth. Their nutrition should be rich in mineral salts. Herbal medicine is most suitable in tablet or capsule form. The nervous system being predominant, reflex zone massages are to be specially recommended, as are any and all methods of relaxation. Melancholic people need to get enough sleep. They do not care for calm and repetitive physical activity (like weight lifting), but they like any sports that stimulate with plenty of movement in variety, such as tennis and team games.

This schematic depiction naturally needs to be adapted in practice. A water therapy goes down well not only with phlegmatic people. It can be adapted for the other temperaments. Thus while total submersion in the element (like swimming in the sea) is very beneficial for the phlegmatic, the sanguine will respond better to a shower, the melancholic needs an even less watery application (for example, compresses) and the choleric prefers the hot steam of the sauna.

One further important point to watch out for in therapy is that just as like attracts like, opposites repel. One should therefore not suggest as therapy something that really belongs to the opposite temperament. For example, it would be wrong to forbid a sanguine person any social contact, to counsel a choleric person against any form of physical activity, to confront a phlegmatic type with sports or particularly strenuous massage, or to refuse a melancholic any stimulation (no reading, no amusements, no outings). That would weaken their health.

The connections between temperament, body constitution, element and lifestyle explain why not every treatment has equal appeal for all patients. Warm and dry medicinal herbs like rosemary and thyme, for instance, have a greater effect on the warm and dry temperament of the choleric person, but rather less on the damp and warm temperament of the sanguine person, and little or no effect on the cold temperament of the phlegmatic or the melancholic. Or: Depending on his affinity with the element of water, a stay at the seaside works exceptionally well for a phlegmatic person, but is less beneficial for a melancholic, who might be overly excited by the iodine. Conversely, the reduced oxygen on the mountain height is beneficial for the choleric and melancholic person, but it unsettles the phlegmatic. Sadly, the knowledge of these interconnections has been largely lost. It could be of tremendous help, though not only in therapy but also to get to know oneself better and to achieve more in life, according to one's own temperament and element.

Christopher Vasey

Article based on the knowledge of the Grail Message