Conventional medicine resulted from
knowledge, chemical expertise and
technological invention which
coincided with the Industrial
Homeostasis is the body’s ability to
internal or external stresses. It is
maintained by the immune, endocrine
and nervous systems.
Prof. Rashid Bhikha and Dr. John Glynn
There are a number of important differences between natural and conventional medicine. Not only do the two have
differing views on the cause of diseases, but also on the way they should be treated. Much of this is linked to their
contrasting notions of the way the body operates. Another difference is their acceptance (or not) of the concept of
inner, or self, healing. How much involved is the body in its response to disease? Is it an active player, or a passive
observer? Natural medicine, to which Tibb belongs, accepts the principle that healing comes from within, and that
medical care should aim to support, protect and boost this ʻinner doctorʼ. In Tibb, this power is called Physis.
Conventional medicine, on the other hand, favours the idea that maintaining health and treating disease is best
achieved by intervention from outside, with the patient merely a carrier of the ailment. Self-healing as such is ignored
or rejected as being non-scientific or old-fashioned.
Until about 150 years ago, virtually all medicine was considered natural. The existence of Physis was well-
recognised, and its power in dealing with disease accepted without question. When treating a patient, the healer
sought ways of supporting and boosting Physis. By doing so, the
patient was helped in his or her recovery, and strengthened in avoiding
similar illnesses in the future.
Tibb, as with other natural medicine systems, sees good health as the
normal, natural state of the body. It results from a harmonious balance
between (a) a personʼs nature, or constitution (b) the physical and
emotional environment he or she lives in, and (c) the general lifestyle, or behaviour, adopted.
This harmony – homeostasis – is governed and regulated by Physis. One of its major roles is directing our bodiesʼ
many healing processes to keep us in good health, activating and supporting them when we succumb to a disease,
and helping us convalesce. It ensures that all the living cells in our bodies, the tissues they form, and the internal
organs function properly.
Conventional medicine has a different view of health and disease. It holds that disease arises as a consequence of
(a) our bodies being invaded by alien microbes – parasites,
bacteria, fungi, viruses or prions; (b) metabolic disturbances within
the body; (c) genetic aberrations; (d) structural changes to tissues
and organs. The emphasis in treatment is therefore based on
Nature heals, and the physician is
Physis operates in all dimensions of
health: at the physical, the
emotional, the spiritual, and even
the social levels.
attacking and neutralising the invaders, or redressing the metabolic disturbances, or compensating for the genetic
aberrations, or reversing the structural changes. In most cases this involves the extensive use of pharmacological
agents, or drugs, which are often synthetic, new-to-nature chemicals or derivatives of substances derived from plants
In Tibb, the condition of the personʼs internal environment, or terrain, is more important than the infecting organism.
The pathogen is but one component of the environment; the susceptibility of the person to infection is more important
than the germ. This means that we should focus on enhancing the bodyʼs own defences, rather than mounting an
attack on the alien microbe. If this fails, because Physis is weak, or is overwhelmed by an alien microbe, then
measures to reduce the number of pathogens can be considered.
In conventional medicine, the body has at different times been compared to a ʻbag of enzymesʼ, or to a machine
made of meat, or to a clockwork mechanism, or to a computer, with parts which can be changed or modified to ensure
smooth, efficient operation. From the Tibb perspective, this is grossly simplistic. As we learn more and more about the
workings of the body, we realise how infinitely and exquisitely complex it is in its structure and organisation, and how
little we know, for instance, of its intrinsic workings, and the nature of our awareness and consciousness. The
activities of its astonishing self-protection systems, its integration with time and the environment, and especially of its
self-healing potential still largely elude us. Physis not only has a physical dimension, but also emotional and spiritual
ones too, which act together holistically to achieve optimum health.
In fact, the complexity is probably so vast that we are probably incapable of grasping its intricacies. For example, in
one single living cell there are around 300,000 (that we know of) metabolic reactions per second. Each of these
reactions is tightly organised in time and space, supplied by energy systems, precursor substances, delivery
operations, and a whole host of interacting metabolic sequences. Each reaction has also to occur in the correct
sequence, the designated space and at the right time, and be turned on and off as needed. This breathtaking
complexity is not chaotic, but is controlled by the governor of the body: Physis.
The meaning of Physis
Physis is also known as our Life Force. It has been described as our vital spark, and the governing principle of our
existence. It is an age-old concept, with a history going back millennia, embodied in many forms of natural medicine. It
operates not only in our own bodies, but in all living creatures. It is the healing power of Nature, inborn from the
moment of our conception, and lasts until our last breath.
It is not a force which is open to direct experience. It does not reside as
a discrete entity or structure within the body. It cannot be extracted,
purified or stored. It exists as a construct which organises and controls all aspects of daily existence. It is only evident
through its effects and qualities, especially the ability to keep the body in dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis. In
many ways it is akin to consciousness in psychology, complex numbers in mathematics, and maybe electricity in
physics: it cannot be analysed, but its effects are evident.
From a non-physical perspective, Physis is the basic intelligence of our health and vitality, managing our ability to
reinforce good health and ward off disease. It is what distinguishes living flesh and blood from a corpse. In practical
terms, Physis is a force for good, which should be encouraged and supported for optimal health, and insulated from
outside influences which can over-ride it, weaken it, or render it
Physis as a concept explains a number of natural healing phenomena which have so far eluded conventional
considered untreatable by conventional medicine, such as aggressive cancers and crippling injuries. It also offers a
reasonable interpretation of the placebo effect. It also explains why children recover much quicker from most ailments
than do adults; why certain people fall victim to particular illnesses, but not others; and why some people recovery
unexpectedly faster than do their fellow patients.
The concept of inner harmony was revived by the great scientist, Claude Bernard, in the 19
Century. He considered
he thought, can operate relatively independently of the outside environment, as it is protected by many mechanisms
which adjust and regulate the inner environment. This later led to the term homeostasis. The concept was supported
by another French scientist, Le Chatelier. Briefly, he considered that all complex systems (like living tissue) tend
towards dynamic equilibrium. Any changes to this equilibrium, or homeostasis, are opposed by internal reactions
which restore a new equilibrium.
Examples of Physis in action
The human body is very well equipped to deal with the many natural and man-made toxic substances it comes into
contact with via the skin, gut and lungs. There are very efficient mechanisms which makes the toxins more soluble, so
that they can be excreted rapidly in the urine. There are also mechanisms which direct the toxins to the skin, or lungs,
or gut for rapid removal in sweat, expired air or faeces. Drugs are a relatively new form of toxin, as most of them are
alien chemicals, not previously experienced by the body. These too are rapidly removed from the body. If not,
detrimental side effects and metabolic changes would develop. All these processes are under the control of Physis.
Proteins are major building blocks for cells and tissues. They make up enzymes, some hormones, and certain cell
structures. Physically they are made up of a long chain of different amino acid links, like a long string of different
pearls. When synthesised in the cell, they are inactive, and need to fold into a specific three-dimensional shape to
work properly. If they fail to do this, the protein is inactive, or toxic, and may lead to disease. Many allergies are
caused by incorrect folding of some proteins. Also, degenerative disorders like Alzheimerʼs and Parkinsonʼs diseases
are thought to result from improper folding. Protein folding is therefore a critically important function of protein shaping,
or conformation. It has to be right every time, and for each of the millions of proteins being continually synthesised.
The chances of this being achieved randomly are billions to one. Some force must be operating to ensure this is done
perfectly at all times. This is where Physis comes in.
Most weight loss diets are a failure, as many know only too well. More than 95% of actual weight lost through diets
returns within 5 years. One reason is that Physis becomes confused by severe food restriction, and switches the body
to ʻstarvation modeʼ. When food supply is resumed, after the diet is abandoned, nutrients are rapidly and selectively
stored in case of another ʻfamineʼ as Physis views it. Body mass increases as a survival mechanism. Another reason
is that toxins from the environment and in some foods are stored in fatty tissue over the years, and when weight loss
through dieting or exercise occurs, these ʻobesogensʼ disturb the bodyʼs homeostasis. This interferes with Physis in its
weight control activities, so body mass increases despite normal diet and physical activity.
“When Physis is powerful enough to
require the aid of the physician, as in the
case of minor illnesses that are self-
Cancer cells appear regularly in our bodies, due to the effects of toxins and natural radiation on our genetic material,
or DNA. However, Physis is quite capable of eliminating these as soon as they appear, via the immune system. A
major agent of the removal is ʻProtein P53ʼ, a tumour suppressor protein. This interesting substance is tireless in
removing new cancer cells. It is also involved in signalling when cells must die, a process known as apoptosis. It has
been dubbed the ʻguardian of the genomeʼ, because it maintains stability by protecting genetic material from damage.
Reaction to pathogenic microbes
We are all familiar with our bodiesʼ reactions to pathogenic microbes. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are the
common and predictable bodyʼs responses. The viruses responsible for colds and flu also trigger a robust reaction –
runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headache, etc. Also, if we inhale or come into contact with a substance we are
allergic to, then the bodyʼs response is also typical. Narrowing of the airways, increased mucus production, and
coughing are some of the bodyʼs reactions. These are all protective and survival responses, there to prevent further
exposure to what the body considers a threatening substance. This complex protective shield employed by the body
is under the control of Physis, which uses the immune system and inflammatory processes as its agent.
The various systems in the body – circulatory, respiratory, digestion, communication and immune systems, etc. –
have their own internal organisation. However, they do not work in complete isolation; they have to be connected to
each other for the sake of homeostasis within the body, and in order to function properly. Each is aware of the
activities and problems faced by the others. In our bodies, Physis has the innate ability to orchestrate all these inter-
Physis and disease
Probably every chronic disease has aspects to it that result from disturbed Physis. As we age, or adopt a poor
lifestyle, or are exposed to a toxic environment, imbalances in homeostasis begin to appear deeper and frequently.
Physis begins to deteriorate inexorably, and inner harmony is under constant threat. This increases the risk of
developing a disease, or bringing on the physical and mental changes linked to ageing.
Chronic diseases linked to a failing Physis include cancer, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, gout, and a number of disorders
linked to dehydration. The accumulation of either internal or external toxins due to a less-effective Physis can also
lead insidiously to certain chronic inflammatory diseases.
Therapeutic measures, such as those advocated by Tibb, are therefore necessary to restore harmony by supporting
Physis. Otherwise, permanent damage to the structures, both at the cell and the whole body levels will occur. They
may be linked to a better diet, or adjustment of other Lifestyle Factors, especially improved body waste elimination.
Tibb and Physis
Tibb differs from conventional medicine by being totally committed to protecting and supporting Physis. The Tibb
physician respects Physis, and recognises its prime role in health
and disease. He or she accepts that although treatment may be
imposed from outside the personʼs body, proper healing comes
from within. It follows, therefore, that any treatment brought to bear
by the physician must support, not oppose, Physis. As Hippocrates
put it: “First, do no harm”. He meant not only physically or mentally, but also the mechanisms of self-healing.
In practice, the Tibb physician will evaluate the patientʼs lifestyle, and decide if any aspects of it are acting in
opposition to Physis. If so, the destructive feature will be reversed or minimised, so that Physis is supported instead.
The Tibb Lifestyle Factors are: proper
regular physical activity, refreshing
sleep, emotional harmony, efficient
Each patient carries his own doctor
give the doctor who resides within
each patient a chance to go to work”
To do nothing may also be
Some Tibb herbs have shown undoubted
system: Blackseed and Turmeric, for
For instance, the patientʼs diet may not be appropriate for the
presenting ailment, or he or she may not be getting enough
exercise, or there may a problematic build-up of toxins or body waste. These can be corrected by agreed changes to
the patientʼs lifestyle.
Physis can also be encouraged in several other ways; by applying different forms of therapy, such as massage,
hydrotherapy, cupping, fasting and herbal therapy.
Tibbʼs support for Physis takes several forms. First, there are herbal medicines which are given to assist Physis in
dealing with ailments where Physis alone is waging a losing war, and self-healing is not working. A group of herbs
known as adaptogens produce a robust defence against stress, and help normalise the bodyʼs metabolism, so
Second, there are a number of recommended changes to a personʼs diet and other Lifestyle Factors which also
support Physis. Third, there are a number of therapies, such as therapeutic cupping, aromatherapy and acupressure,
which are known to encourage Physis
Tibb adopts an holistic approach to treatment. The personʼs ailment emerges from several negative factors
conspiring together to overcome Physis. Treatment should
therefore take a multi-factorial approach, as it is unlikely that one
remedy will deal with several negative factors. Options are various
combinations of herbal medicine, massage, dietotherapy and
therapeutic cupping. This approach is not only more likely to
remove troublesome symptoms, but also to deal with the underlying cause of the disorder.
Tibb unequivocally accepts that no treatment should interfere with the actions of Physis. It regards certain symptoms
as part of
the healing process. Diarrhoea and vomiting are considered natural Physis-driven processes which aim to
expel toxins (whether microbial, chemical or toxins present in food) from the body as quickly and effectively as
possible. Suppressing these symptoms actually frustrates Physis, to the detriment of the patient. The same attitude
applies to fever, inflammation and skin rash.
Physis and the doctorʼs role
The word ʻphysicianʼ is actually derived from the word Physis. The true role of the physician is to support Physis in
maintaining good health and assist it in the healing process. To achieve this, the
factors governing Physis must be understood and their importance accepted. This
allows the physician to plan and carry out treatment accordingly. It also indicates
when no treatment is necessary, so allowing Physis to work unimpeded. This is distinct from the conventional
approach: the doctor is trained to do something to treat; he or she is
not trained to not treat.
The physician will also appreciate the value of a Physis response.
For example, when a person has eaten something that disagrees with
him or her, then vomiting or diarrhoea is a natural reaction. The
physician should be aware of this, and assist Physis by devising
The immune system is a major part of
especially cancers and infections.
effective treatment which is in harmony with the bodyʼs healing mechanisms. Treatment comes from outside; healing
from within. As Chishti states in his famous Handbook:
“Behind every natural action of the human body is an inherent wisdom, a mechanism [Physis] that allows the
body to heal itself. In fact, no herb, food or other substance or procedure can do anything on its own to heal. It
can only assist the body in its own self-healing role. If your finger is cut, it is not the stitches or the bandage or
the iodine that causes it to heal; it is the skin itself that performs this miracle” [Chishti, 1985]
Physis and time
The role of Physis is to maintain homeostasis in the body, and restore it when disease strikes. This takes time,
partly because the equilibrium is dynamic or unstable in nature, as it involves living matter, which is constantly in a
state of flux. Chronic disorders such as high blood pressure and arthritis take years to develop, and so the restorative
processes will, understandably, also take time. Dealing with the underlying disharmony linked to the ailment cannot be
achieved overnight. Physis acts gently, but firmly, and needs time. Another reason is that diseases rarely arise from
one single cause, but are multi-factorial in nature. Restoring harmony to this situation needs more time. There is no
ʻquick fixʼ with Physis.
What Physis abhors is too-rapid changes in the personʼs lifestyle or behaviour. For example, it is upset by changes
from hot to cold in the working, social or domestic environment and this can contribute to disturbed homeostasis, so
making the person more vulnerable to microbes or metabolic changes. Physis also abhors rapid changes in food
intake, from, say, a normal to a high protein, or high fibre, or a low carbohydrate diet, or the sudden use of high dose
supplements and vitamins. These too disturb the personʼs inner harmony. Any changes to the personʼs Lifestyle
Factors should be done gradually, not explosively.
Interestingly, indirect support for Physisʼ slow but steady action can be seen in most peopleʼs medicine cabinets.
The amount of unused drugs, originally prescribed for conditions which needed a visit to the doctor, is evidence of
this. The fact that they are not actually used fully is mute testament that recovery has often been achieved through
inner healing, and that the drugs themselves have merely ʻgone along for the rideʼ.
No. It is a major, even central, feature of several natural healing systems, but known under different names.
Hippocrates described it originally as Vis Medicatrix Natura. In the Orient, it is known as Chi Energy in Chinese
Medicine, and as Prana in Ayurvedic Medicine. In the West, it is termed
Life Force in Homeopathy, Nature in
Naturopathy, and variously referred to as the Vital Force, Divine Wisdom, Mother Nature and the Hierarchical
An important part of Physis is the immune system. This distinguishes self from non-self, and protects us from the
latter by an exquisite range of defence mechanisms.
The bodyʼs immune system was designed to recognise and kill
foreign invaders like parasites, bacteria and viruses. It also has the
exquisite ability to seek out and kill renegade cancer cells that arise
in our bodies due to the malign effects of toxins, chemicals and
radiation. This happens all the time without our realising it.
We live in a hostile environment, surrounded continuously by a wide range of microbes and organic matter, some of
which can give rise to diseases. Internally, cancers are being formed regularly, often triggered by radiation,
Good health results from a dynamic and
our environment, and our lifestyle. Physis
is the intrinsic ability to preserve health;
it is the power supporting the healing
environmental chemicals or toxins, and the consumption of certain foodstuffs. The bodyʼs immune system, which is
hostile forces, outside or inside. It protects us from these harmful agents.
A fair percentage of the immune system resides in the bacterial population of the gut and skin – the so-called
microbiome. This makes up around three per-cent of our body mass. Not all bacteria are pathogenic, and many help
us to digest food and provide us with many essential nutrients to keep our inner harmony. Maintaining a healthy
population of the gut and skin bacteria is achieved by suitable diet, adequate water intake, and efficient elimination of
toxins. This is achieved in Tibb by adhering to the Lifestyle Factors, and by application of the principles of
The human body strives for optimum health by acting constantly to maintain inner dynamic harmony, or
homeostasis. It is self-healing, self-repairing and self-maintaining. Tibb regards the state of optimal health as the
norm, and the natural outcome of harmony in the body. Disease follows when disharmony prevails. Physis is the
administrator of the body, and exists to ensure this inner harmony is maintained. It acts to heal and restore the body
to full health when it is sick, and protects and regulates its development during the growing years. As the regulator for
homeostasis, it is essentially the humanʼs ʻinborn intelligence of
Tibb regards disease as the result of a disturbance to this
harmony over time. Tibb treatment therefore aims to support and
enhance the inner healing properties of Physis. This is contrary to
much of conventional or modern therapy, which often opposes or
diminishes the beneficial effects of Physis. Tibb achieves this directly by herbal therapy, dietotherapy, hands-on
treatment like massage, various exercises, and therapeutic cupping. It also supports Physis indirectly by advising on
changes to a personʼs lifestyle. These may relate to personal behaviour, improvements to the living environment, and
exposure to both natural and man-made toxins.
Awareness and support of the Lifestyle Factors which support and boost Physis, is a relatively low-cost option
and could prove to be an excellent investment. Supporting Physis makes good economic sense at a time of
diminishing financial resources.
Bhikha, R.A.H. and Haq, M.A. (2000). Tibb: Traditional Roots of Medicine in Modern Routes to Health. Mountain of Light. South
Weil, A. (1997). Spontaneous Healing. Warner Books, London.
Chishti G M. (1991) The Traditional Healerʼs Handbook. A Classic Guide to the Medicine of Avicenna. Healing Arts Press.
Leviton R. (2000) Physician. Medicine and the unsuspected Battle for human Freedom. Hampton Roads Publishing Inc. USA