inner life






Four Temperaments: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water

Nearly all the classical systems of medicine and healing used a system of four or five elements. The common denominator of the different interpretations of the elements is that the elements are the substance out of which the form world is built. So, just as we are discovering that humans and other species have DNA that is 98% identical, the ancients believed that we are made of fire, earth, air, and water. The differences between substances are due to variations in the proportions of the elements and how they are aggregated by the force of love or separated by hate. Ether was the matrix in which the dense elements are shaped. The elemental theory was associated with the humors and hence also with psychosomatic theories of illness and astrology. It thus became unfashionable during the reign of the germ theory of disease, but its tenets were preserved by traditional cultures such found to this day in India, Tibet, China, and Native American traditions; but the theory had been upheld in the West since Greek times when Empedocles, c. 490-430 BC, described them as the substance out of which the world is built.

Metaphysicians, such as Rudolf Steiner, kept alive the theories and added their own interpretations to the phenomena associated with the elements, but with the increasing acceptance of acupuncture, the concepts are sneaking back into medicine, albeit usually through such esoteric branches of medicine as psychoneuroimmunology and other disciplines in which the effects of meditation and other practices are studied with the idea that chi, prayer, and bliss may actually play a role in the health or lack thereof in patients.

The crux of the elemental theory is that for health to exist, the elements must be in balance or adequately managed. Imbalance leads to symptoms, usually minor at first but serious over time.

Many reputable psychologists have been interested in the elements and/or types. Carl G. Jung, a profound student of astrology, described four basic types and William Sheldon (1898-1977) had a system of three somatotypes. Ayurveda teaches that each person is born with a basic constitutional type, called prakriti, which is then modified by everything we eat, think, and do. When the harmony of the elements is disturbed, "faults" arise. These are called doshas and they can be determined from the pulse or deduced from the medical history and observations of the patient.

Individual Types

Based, I believe, mainly on the Moon at birth, I have found that each person has a tendency to prefer a particular element and to suffer from the excitement or depression of that element. In most cases, it "feels" good when one's favorite element is active; and it feels "bad" when that element is unsupported or suppressed. Moreover, the areas of experience associated with other elements do not give rise to the same level of fulfillment as one's "own" element.

Fire types thrive on enthusiasm and suffer when that enthusiasm is dampened by detractors who want to point out the shortcomings of half-baked notions. Ayurveda teaches that one should do nothing to polarize a fire type because his/her natural tendency is to defend itself so this energy will be directed at the healer or "other enemy" if fire is agitated by unsympathetic approaches. When such happens, the symptoms worsen because the fire is elevated by opposition and calmed by concurrence. In short, the idea that opposites attract was not conceived by a fire type.

Earth types need a high measure of certainty and predictability in order to function well. Even when gambles may work out in the long run, risk taking is stressful and therefore physically and psychological harmful to these types. Earth types want facts and a large measure of control over what is being done to them in the name of cure; but they can be very compliant and responsible if they are given the tools to direct their own processes.

Air types need information and communication. They become nervous when a doctor says, "hum" and leaves the room. They want to be recognized first as human beings and only secondarily as patients. Generally, they do not like being left alone nor treated as unintelligent or unequal. Most important is that therapists should avoid saying and doing anything that would raise the level of pain or anxiety or uncertainty.

Water types usually lack discipline and need to be guided through their processes with a sort of parental firmness. They need to feel nurtured and protected and become quite hysterical if they feel unsafe. They are often rather psychic so saying something encouraging while thinking something more drastic is generally ineffective. It is therefore better to trust that these people have the inner resources to handle bad news if it is the truth.

The Elements: Constitutional Type and Temperament
The Elements:
Constitutional Types and Temperament

I discuss these issues in great deal on my audio tape set. Here, it might suffice to say that each person receives and heals in a different way; however, every patient's feelings need validation, acceptance, and healing.

Four 90-minute audio cassettes, $



Ingrid Naiman
9 April 2006




left up right

Emotions: Table of Contents

The Inner Child
Venus and Mars: the Pacifist and the Warrior
Ho'oponopono: Removing the Obstacles to Cure
Disease as Sin Versus the Germ Theory



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Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2001, 2006, and 2014


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