Man shouting fire

Support the body through the elements

In Health and Nutrition by gabriella.sanelliLeave a Comment

Making diet and lifestyle choices to get us through winter using Traditional Tibetan medicine (TTM).


During winter we seem to catch cold after cold, taking multiple courses of antibiotics in an attempt to achieve (a perception of) health – but is this approach really helping us?

Tibetan medicine has important wisdoms which tell us otherwise. Ancient teachings of Traditional Tibetan medicine (TTM) date back some 4000 years. ‘Sowa rigpa’ is the indigenous name for TTM, the healing science of Tibet.

Sowa rigpa

When we think of an illness or disease we immediately try to determine the pathological issues and pre-determined symptoms. However, Dr Nida Chenagstang, a Tibetan-born sowa rigpa physician and ngakpa (lay monk) explains, “We should not merely look at the symptoms because illness relates to both the body and the mind.”

The relationship between the body and mind is expressed by the five elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. In their purest form they’re represented as the colours blue, green, red, white and yellow respectively.

These elements break down even further to three constitutions which are wind, fire and water/earth.

According to sowa rigpa, the three constitutions help us know diet and lifestyle options, which will boost the immune system and help navigate bumpy roads (and hailstorms) to unwavering good health.

Let’s take a closer look.

  • Wind types tend to be thin, talkative with an active (moving) mind, prone to anxiety and insomnia.
  • Fire types have a standard toned physique, are strong-minded, with a sharp mind and razor sharp tongue to match!
  • Water/earth types are stable, of solid build, calm and sleep well, and they can be lazy.

Feed your health

TTM says the fundamentals of enjoying good health and long life are a balanced diet and correct lifestyle choices according to our constitution.

Wind people should have warm, nutritious, oily foods. Try nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, cumin and mustard. From a lifestyle point of view, they’d benefit from staying in warm cosy places with pleasant smells and soft music, nourish their minds by socialising with friends and family, and should sleep around eight to nine hours. Meditation should be mind-calming and include breathing practices.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) – is not a nut but the inner kernel of a peach-like fruit. Good tonic for heart, mental disorders, anti-stress, helps sleep, clears the mind, a mood enhancer for anxiety and panic attacks, gently strengthens body heat and improves digestion. Avoid large doses as myristicin can cause nausea and hallucinations.

Fire people need fresh, cooling foods. Try saffron, clove, turmeric, mint and basil. They benefit from regular eating and sleeping, and from cool, shady places (avoid hot sun) and should aim toget seven to eight hours’ sleep. Meditation should be analytical style and include breathing practices.

Saffron (Crocus sativas) – treats excess heat in the internal organs, especially liver and gallbladder, general inflammation and stomach ulcers. Saffron threads can be soaked in water for a great liver tonic. Gives a cooling effect and best for fire types.

Water/earth people need a hot, spicy and light diet. They should try ginger, chilly and cinnamon and need regular physical activity enjoyed with friends such as brisk walking or dancing. As they tend to sleep too much, they should instead aim to get six to seven hours’ sleep. Meditation style should be mindful walking and prostrations.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale rosc) – has a hot taste and its post-digestive quality is warm. It’s especially good at assisting digestion of food, improving nutrient assimilation. Ginger is antiemetic and helps with diarrhoea and vomiting caused by indigestion. It stimulates the blood and improves circulation. The perfect tea for water/earth types is made of fresh slices of ginger in hot water. It gives heat to the body and boosts the digestion.

TTM shows us that with knowledge of the elements and energy according to our constitution, we can make wise diet and lifestyle choices to favourably support our digestion and immune system.


Since 2005, Gabriella Sanelli has studied TTM with Dr Nida Chenagtsang, and has a Ku Nye massage studio in Melbourne. She wishes to acknowledge, as a resource for this article, the TTM Journal, which is a bi-annual publication.

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