Tibetan 'wind' and 'wind' illnesses: towards a multicultural approach to health and illness.

Author: Yoeli-Tlalim R.
Wellcome Trust University Award Holder, Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW.
Conference/Journal: Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci.
Date published: 2010 Dec
Other: Volume ID: 41 , Issue ID: 4 , Pages: 318-24 , Word Count: 257

This article discusses the Tibetan notion of rlung, usually translated as: 'wind', but perhaps better understood as a close equivalent of pneuma in the Greek tradition, or qi in the Chinese tradition. The article focuses on the way rlung provides a useful prism through which concepts of health, illness and disease may be observed in a cross-cultural perspective. An analysis of syndromes linked with rlung in a Tibetan cultural context illuminates some of the ways in which culture determines particular syndromes. The article raises a number of questions which are relevant for a more general multicultural approach to concepts of health, illness and disease. The article argues that notions of rlung/pneuma/wind/ qi constitute a particularly interesting area for an exploration of culture-bound syndromes, as they reside in the meeting point between material and non-material, physical and mental, as well as the psychological, spiritual and religious. They are hence fundamental for a more cross-cultural approach to the mind-body problem. The article also deals with the significance of history of medicine, particularly histories of medicine, which attempt to widen the scope of the traditional Eurocentric narrative of the history of medicine, in dealing with questions such as concepts of health and illness. Allowing alternative narratives-whether narratives of patients, other cultures or historical ones-can enhance our understanding of what health, illness and disease are. Discussing perceptions of the body as culturally defined is not only important from a philosophical or historical point of view, but also has important practical ramifications, which are particularly crucial in our global age.