Lesson from History: Ancient cultures, philosophers and medical practices

I haven’t had much time to blog recently due to my inability to manage time as efficiently as I would like to. So I am jumping on the opportunity to shoot two birds with one bullet by utilizing my homework assignment as another informative blog post. This one is for the first week of this online course I just started taking titled, “History of Human Nutrition.” 

The first week focused on ancient cultures like the Egyptian, Islamic, Greek and Chinese cultures, their famous philosophers and polymaths and ancient medical practices and dietary philosophies. The following is a discussion post on Yellowdig I wrote about this week’s module.

“This first module was really interesting and in many ways, a history lesson about ancient philosophers and their medical practices.

I enjoyed learning about the different cultures and their approach to medicine and healing and it is fascinating that ancient cultures discovered and already knew so much about health and medicine that many people today still don’t.

Through the readings and videos, I learnt that many traditional medical practices were heavily influenced by religion and superstitious beliefs. I think that the lack of knowledge in those times caused people to believe in their imaginations and often, their fear of the unknown. Human nature is such that when we are struck with something unfortunate, such as a disease or disaster, the first explanation we may think of is that we have done something wrong and the unfortunate incident is a result of some divine punishment. Hence the belief that we have evil spirits inside us and we need to purge them out through means such as trepanation.

After watching the video on blackboard, my view of Islamic culture and religion has been elevated. I marveled at their generous and nondiscriminatory treatment of sick individuals and how they were integrated in society and even offered special treatment at their hospitals or bimaristans, built by the wealthy. If only such a tradition was continued today where the wealthy in our society cared so dearly for the less fortunate, think of the millions of people who can benefit from this!

My other greatest takeaway from this module is the philosophies of the Greek philosophers like Hippocrates, Galen and Plato. They all seemed to share the view that moderation and wise choices of food and lifestyle is key to health.

As Hippocrates puts it:

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Another thing I learnt is that the reason the Greek and Mediterranean diets are known as some of the best diets in the world is because these diets include a wide variety of healthy, whole and natural foods eaten in moderation and balanced in nutrients and minerals.

Here is another great video about ancient healthcare and how it relates to our modern lifestyles and well being.

The most memorable lesson I learnt from this video is about Galen’s 6 ‘Necessary Activities’ to achieve optimal health:

1. Breathing – people should learn to breathe correctly and consciously according to the needs of their bodies and physical exertion.
2. Eating & Drinking – A balanced diet, not too much meat, not too little vegetables.
3. Exercise & Rest – People should exercise as our bodies need it and incorporate the idea of exercise into our daily lives and habits as well as rest sufficiently.
4. Sleep – not too little, not too much. Encouraged to reflect on the day’s activities b4 bed to avoid too much worry or anxiety when one should be sleeping peacefully.
5. State of mind – tranquility of the mind is as important as the health of the body. The body should be in balance with the mind. Mental well-being is deeply integrated with the well-being of the body.
6. Balance – overall balance of the body. All 5 activities mentioned above should be integrated and balanced together for the well-being of the individual.
It should be noted that Galen said that these 6 activities are interconnected and intimately linked. Just performing one or two without the others would achieve some results but not the optimal state of health and performance.
Enjoy! 🙂
I am really glad to have taken this course and look forward to the rest of it!
Additional video:

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