Special Events and Intensive Workshops

Energetics in the Western Herbal Tradition:
Elements, Humours and Temperaments
with jim mcDonald
3 full days: Friday-Sunday, March 10-12th, 2017
$325 / $295 Members / $250 VCIH students

Join us for this intensive exploration of the temperaments, a Western constitutional system that jim is working to revive and enliven in modern herbal practice.

jim is a fantastic, fun, and accessible teacher and this is his first time teaching in Vermont. This intensive will be appropriate for beginners and practitioners, alike. We hope you’ll join us!

Beginning with the context the temperaments arise from, we see that they correlate to the elements of earth, air, fire and water. The elements in turn give rise to humours and the energetic principles of heat and cold, dampness and dryness, tension and laxity. Understanding these patterns, and how temperaments and energetic qualities work together, gives an important framework for using the temperaments in a practical manner for ourselves and others we work with. We’ll also look at how historical and social themes have affected our understanding of temperaments, adapting, refining and misrepresenting them over time.

We’ll go on to explore each of the four temperaments in depth, looking at how they incline one towards physical, behavioral and emotional predispositions. How do these inclinations present in a balanced state? When in excess or deficiency? When overtly blocked? How do these inclinations manifest in the body, and what herbs can be used to exacerbate and balance them?

Just as the color brown cannot be reduced down to one of the primary colors it is made up of, understanding single temperaments isn’t enough to make use of this constitutional model: we have to consider combinations. We have to see how an individual manifests each of their humours, which are in balance and which are not, and consider how their environment and experience has affected the expression of their temperament.

The instructor:

jim mcdonald is an herbalist in southeast Michigan (that cool state that looks like a mitten you can see from space) where he teaches, sees clients, wildharvests, and concocts herbal formulas. His approach to herbalism is a blend of traditional folk and indigenous influences mixed up with a bit of 19th century eclectic and physiomedical vitalism, which he tries to blend with a bit of humor and discretionary irreverence so as not to appear to be too serious about life. jim hosts the website www.herbcraft.org which lists his offerings and conveys his thoughts of plants and herbalism.

3-Day Intensive Daily Overview

Friday | In order to understand temperaments, we have to understand the context they arose from. The temperaments correlate to the elements of earth, air, fire and water, and these elements give rise to humours and the energetic principles of heat and cold, dampness and dryness, tension and laxity. Understanding these patterns, and how temperaments and a contemporary understanding of energetics based on the 6 tissue states work together gives an important framework for using the temperaments in a practical manner.

Saturday | We’ll spend the day exploring the melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic temperaments in depth, looking at how they incline one towards physical, behavioral and emotional predispositions. How do these inclinations present in a balanced state? When in excess or deficiency? When overtly blocked? How do these inclinations manifest in the body, and what herbs can be used to exacerbate and balance them?

Sunday | We’ll continue looking deeply at the temperaments, this time focusing on the sanguine. Afterwards, we’ll explore the importance of understanding the ways in which the four temperaments blend together to create a unique whole.
Just as the color brown cannot be reduced down to one of the primary colors it is made up of, understanding single temperaments isn’t enough to make good use of this constitutional model. We have to see how an individual manifests each of their humours, which are in balance and which are not, and consider how their environment and experience has affected the expression of their temperament.

For a little more of jim’s perspective on the temperaments and a glimpse at his teaching style:

Q.) What’s the difference between energetics and temperament? Is it just kind of another way of covering the same information?

O*.) There’s a lot of overlap. If we look at humoural theory, well see that it’s based on the elements of fire, air, water and earth. These elements were then deemed to carry the qualities of heat, coldness, dryness and moisture.

The elements make up all that is, but in living bodies they give rise to “fluids” (more allegorical than physical) called humours: blood, phlegm, (yellow) bile and black bile. These humours are not the same as the actual physical body fluids, though… so, physical blood is not the same as humoural blood, but the association is made because physical blood has the most humoural blood in it, and therefore is the most representative. These humours carry with them the energetic qualities of the elements they arise from.

Each person has a unique optimal mixture of humours, referred to as their temperament. Depending on how the humours are presented, their unique energetic temperament may incline them to being more or less hot, cold, damp or dry. But temperament also extends beyond the physical form and includes a person’s disposition and “character”… we not only see a physical presentation of warm or coldness (perhaps in circulation), but also correlations in cognition and emotional inclinations (as in being emotionally warmer or cooler). With temperament, inclinations and character gain more importance, and we must integrate them with our consideration of tissues and organs.

Understanding temperament allows us to recognize and understand ourselves better… we see the patterns and behaviors we’re inclined towards, as well as the physical imbalances. Humoural theory tells us that we can be balanced “in temperament”, or we can fall out of balance into “dystemperament”. Imbalances can arise from any number of things, places, weather, food choices, behaviors… kind of everything. We can shift back in temperament through the use of physical actions, behavior, foods, herbs… whatever brings us back to balance within our unique temperament (contrary to assumption, “being in balance” ~doesn’t~ mean having equal presentation of each element/humour… that state just means you’re equally susceptible to the imbalances of each humours, as opposed to being more susceptible to some more than others).

I feel that temperaments gives us a “bigger picture” than just solely looking at energetic states (although quite a few herbalists include what I consider temperamental expressions as energetics). In some cases it’s merely semantic. But having a more refined model to explore these issues has, for me at least, really helped me increase my understanding of certain patterns people display. “Energetics” doesn’t necessarily help you not pathologize your melancholic friend. “Energetics” may not make you realize how wrong headed it is to tell your phlegmatic family member “stop being so sensitive”. My understanding of temperaments is foundational not only in my practice of herbalism, but how I navigate the world and all my relationships.

Like: irritated because you went to a conference and the teacher you really wanted to take a class with presented so much more slowly than your preferred pace of taking in information? Bothered by that other teacher that keeps going off on tangents, or just turned off by someone teaching a meticulous outline and not telling any stories? These interactions and feelings about them are ~temperamental~ in nature. The slower teacher wouldn’t be better if they talked faster, the tangential teacher wouldn’t be better if they stayed on topic, the meticulously structured teacher wouldn’t be better if they wung it**… when we want these things, we’re wanting other people to match out temperament, and judging them ill if they don’t. We might, if privy to how temperaments affect interactions, slow ~ourselves~ down a bit to another’s pace, or listen without frustration to see if those tangents aren’t actually a different means of teaching, or recognize the beautiful intricacy of a structure well laid out. We can make the changes in ourselves that we see might help us better handle a situation, rather than judge the situation itself as flawed because it doesn’t fit comfortably into out temperament’s preferences.

(we might also recognize that these skills are even way more useful when applied to our partners and families and friends than they are to herb teachers!)

So these are some of the thoughts I have when considering this question, and I hope to have the opportunity to sit on one of the upcoming classes with you and flesh them out even more…

* Q & O? What the hell is Q & O? Question and Opinion.
** Yeah, there’s probably some instances when some teachers (including me) could speed up, slow down, read their power point less, and lay off the tangents just a little bit.