Wind in the Blood: Mayan Healing and Chinese Medicine
by Hernán García, Antonio Sierra and Gilberto Balám, translated by Jeff Conant

[1999, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 283 pages, paperback.]

[Review first published in Midwifery Today Issue 86, Summer 2008, © 2008, Midwifery Today, Inc. Review by Elise Hansen.]

Wind in the Blood came into existence through the collective effort of three Mexican physicians and more than 45 curanderos (listed by name in the authors’ acknowledgements) from the Campeche and Yucatán regions of Mexico. The three physicians, involved in rural health promotion in the area, noticed a system of traditional beliefs and practices used by the curanderos surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of disease which the doctors, trained in the Western medical model, could only begin to understand when they used the “Chinese theoretical system as a lens through which to study tradition.” They then encountered concepts of the human body, of disease and health and the balance of opposing forces—ways of explaining the world—that allowed them to understand the shared information, while also allowing the Mayan healers to feel their system was understood and valued.

The book is divided into chapters that explore ideas about the cosmos, the human body, causality and illness, diagnostics and therapeutics, as well as the role of traditional health workers and the evolution of traditional medicine and its relation with the West. In each chapter, viewpoints or modalities are explained from the Mayan point of view followed by the Chinese equivalent. So, for example, the books contains sections on Mayan mythology, cosmos and gods, followed by Chinese mythology, cosmos and gods; Mayan heat/cold duality and Chinese Yin/Yang; causalities in Mayan traditional medicine and then causalities in Chinese traditional medicine; Mayan herbology, massage and acupuncture and Chinese herbology, massage and acupuncture. An attempt is made to show the similarities as well as differences in the two traditional systems. While this approach works well for the two acupunctures, for example, because actual points on the body are used; it is less helpful, naturally, for things such as herbal treatments.

Mayan disease classification warrants a delightful 80-page appendix of its own, which could easily have been amplified into another book. Each condition is described, first according to the category of either “organic/terrestrial” illness (luum kabil) or “spiritual/caused by the wind” (ik naal), then by its symptoms and causes. Treatments and preventions are given, as well as a closing paragraph showing the relation to other medical models.

The authors have succeeded in their goal of viewing traditional, ancient knowledge in a way that is not idealized, but is responsible and respectful.

Reviewer Elise Hansen has been involved in women’s health care for over 25 years, has naturally birthed four children (including a footling breech), is a proofreader for Midwifery Today, academic copyeditor, a Spanish-language medical interpreter and is currently practicing as a homebirth midwife in Oregon. She still has implicit trust in gentle, non-interventive birth.

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