Anthroposophical Medicine



The History of Anthroposophical Medicine

Anthroposophical medicine dates to October of 1922 when a group of medical doctors approached Dr. Rudolf Steiner and asked for a course on medicine based on his spiritual scientific research of the human being.

Dr. Steiner’s conception of the human being is based on his research in spiritual realms, and is closely tied to the physical, observable phenomena of the human body as a soul imbued, spirit directed being. The human being is seen as a cosmic being, which experiences repeated earth lives, and experiences both life between physical birth and death, and life between death and rebirth.

Anthroposophical medicine is practiced today by physicians across the globe, and requires an extra training taken by western trained physicians. It is seen as an extension of the art of healing.

Offering a simple explanation of the human body, and specifically the heart, from the view of Anthroposophical medicine will require a blend of gentle exploration, and the rational tolerance of the reader. Without a cosmological treatise offering a background to the ideas of anthroposophy, one must approach this ground of exploration with the premise that much stands behind the ideas that cannot be summed up in a few hundred words, and without some amount of personal transformation through the effort of reflection of the reader. Dr. Steiner had great respect for human freedom, and asked that none believe what he said, but to test and verify it for themselves.


Relationship of Anthroposophical Medicine to Ancient Knowledge

 Viewing human development as a journey from the spiritual worlds to the corporeal incarnation into the physical world, anthroposophy recognizes that ancient knowledge and conceptions of the human body were viewed with a consciousness different that our modern perception. Rather than dismissing these views as erroneous or lacking understanding, anthroposophy sees them in the light of a developing human earthly consciousness.

Moving ever toward individualism, the human being has left the realm of direct comprehension of the spiritual world, and has been developing the capacities to know for her/himself. In the course of this development, the times when the human being could perceive the spiritual realms have been “forgotten” by many, and in developed civilizations these truths have been left to fairy tales, stories for children, or religious teachings. Modern western medicine is tied closely to empirical scientific investigation, which “sees” only the elements of the physical world. Many non-traditional, non-western medicine therapies ignore, or diminish the progress of modern western medicine. As an integrated practice of medicine, Anthroposophical medicine values the wisdom of the past, and the new discoveries and treatments of the present day.

“In those earlier times, man had a non-scientific (in our sense) conception of the supersensible world. Medicine, too, was permeated with supersensible conceptions, with conceptions of the human being that did not originate, as in the case of today, from empirical research. We need only to go back to the age shortly before that of Galen, and if we are open-minded enough we shall find everywhere spiritual conceptions of a being of man on which medical thought, too, was based. …According to our modern empirical way of thinking, there were no grounds for connecting anything supersensible with the nature and constitution of the human being, but in those older conceptions the supersensible was a much a part of human nature as colours, forms, and inorganic forces now seem to us bound up with the objects in the outer world. Only a person with preconceptions will speak of theses earlier stages in the development of medicine as if its ideas were merely childish, compared to those that have evolved today. …On the other hand, an individual concerned with any branch of knowledge today must never overlook all that natural science has accomplished for humanity in this age. And, …when a spiritual way of considering the human being in sickness and health wished to be active today, it must work with, and not against natural scientific research.”

  1. Steiner, Fundamentals of Anthroposophical Medicine


The Human Being

The Anthroposophical conception of the human being encompasses. at minimum*, a threefold and fourfold nature:

Body   Soul    Spirit

Physical Body                       Etheric Body              Astral Body                Ego

*for a further elaboration the reader may wish to explore An Outline of Occult Science. R.Steiner, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY 1922


The Four-Fold Constituent Elements of the Human Being

The Mineral World/Physical Body

When we attempt to understand life through a study of the mineral kingdom we can find ourselves at a loss, as the physical and chemical processes of the mineral world have a tendency toward decay and destruction, and are not able to maintain or create life. For example, with heat, cold, electrical shock, or chemical substances, we can kill a plant, but we cannot bring a mineral to life with those same means. When we dissect a corpse – which is not returning to the mineral kingdom, we cannot see, and not often even infer, the living processes of the human body.

Anthroposophy asks that we stand far back and look at vital processes as a whole, and offers that then one can see that life always appears to be in opposition to the physical-chemical processes of the mineral world.

A mineral is more subject to gravity that the vegetable kingdom; it has downward motion whereas the plant grows upward, in opposition to gravity. The sap of a plant rises in opposition to osmosis. One can see in the mineral kingdom that energy is released when the elements of the mineral kingdom are mixed together – releasing energy and then descending to a deeper level of energy after the release. Plants, on the other hand, have a much higher energy than at the beginning – something is being built up, rather than dissolving or being worn away.

The physical body can be weighed and measured by anatomy, pathology and physiology. Without being penetrated by an animating principle to direct its growth, development and regeneration, it would be a lifeless object.

The physical body of the human being is related to the mineral kingdom.

The Plant Kingdom/Etheric Body

Victor Bott mentions in his book Anthroposophical Medicine, that when Newton intuitively discovered gravity when seeing the apple fall, he failed to ask the question of how the apple was able to grow on the end of a little, skinny branch to begin with. When the apple falls from the tree, it has left the realm of the laws of life, and is subject to the laws of the physical world, which gravity is a part of. Thus, when the apple is part of the apple tree it belongs to the forces of life – which include cosmic, solar, lunar, and other cosmic forces, that work in opposition to gravity. These life forces are selective, formative, regenerative, and organize growth and development in relation to a plan observable to each species. These forces are called etheric forces in anthroposophy, and are not the same as the hypothetical vital forces known in nineteenth century science, nor the ether of the world of physics. The etheric forces create a second body for everything that is alive, and it is intimately connected to the physical body – it animates the physical body.

When we watch a thing grow, or heal, we are seeing the activity of the etheric body. The etheric body is the animating force in the human body, which one does not encounter in the mineral kingdom.


If we can’t see it, how do we know it is true?


The scientific procedure of sensitive crystallization, which Dr. Steiner suggested to E. Pfeiffer, is a qualitative method of demonstrating the etheric body. It is similar to the way that one can demonstrate an electro-magnetic force by placing iron filings on top of a sheet of paper and then placing them over a magnet., thus producing a picture of the magnetic field. By letting a salt solution crystallize out after having added to it some drops of an extract from a living plant or tissue, the crystals arrange themselves and offer an image of the etheric forces of the living substance that is being studied.

The sensitive crystallization process is similar, and yet entirely different from the electro-magnetic example, because whereas each iron filing picture created with a magnet will be the same, the pictures created by the sensitive crystallization process produce an endless array of pictures. Experienced observers of this method can tell what species the solution belongs to, and if it is a plant, what part of the plant- root, stem or leaf has been used. The pictures vary according to the quality of the substance used, and how it was cultivated. When used with human blood, this method is able to offer diagnostic insight, allowing certain diseases to be distinguished, and may show which organs are involved.

The medium of the etheric forces is water; when a plant is denied water it dries up and dies. A dry seed can lie dormant for years- water is added and it springs to life. A human being can live without food for a long time, but only a few days without water. It is through water that substances from the mineral world are taken up and are transformed, and then take on new properties related to the vegetable kingdom.


The Animal Kingdom/Astra Body


Where the plant has found partial freedom from gravity, animals have attained an ability of independent movement that the plant kingdom does not have. This facility of movement is closely related to the other distinguishing feature of the animal kingdom – the ability to feel. Feeling may arise from desire of fear, and the whole expanse in between these two poles. Within anthroposophy, these two poles of feeling are given the terms antipathy for the fear aspect, and sympathy for the desire aspect.

The instinctual life is also held within the astral body, as well as the life of soul. Whereas animals have a group soul related to their particular species, human beings have both a folk soul quality related to their ethnicity and heredity, plus an individual soul quality unique to them.

In the plant, the exterior is involved with movement, as in the process of respiration of leaves. In the animal, this movement is internalized as the exchange of gases in the lungs, and the digestion of foods in the intestines. The etheric growth forces that are predominant in the plant are restrained by the astral body in the animal kingdom. Here they are internalized from the outward movement processes of the plant, to the internal capacity of movement within the animal kingdom, which leads to the capacity of movement in the outside world.

This body of feeling and movement is called the astral body in anthroposophy. The word astral is related to the starry skies, and one can think of the vast panorama of celestial bodies that comprise the zodiac, which are in constant motion around the earth. The astral body brings to the human being the ability for independent, outer movement, and the life of fears and desires – the feeling poles of antipathy and sympathy.


The Human/Ego

The human being has unique capacities that display the presence of the Ego: upright posture, the ability to speak, to say “I”, the capacity for self reflection, and through the last two abilities and capacities, the gift of self direction – the ability to shape our own destiny. Some primates do have the ability to stand upright for given periods of time, but it takes great effort, and is usually related to training or aggressive posturing. For the human being, an upright position is natural and comfortable due to the perfect balance of head, spinal column, and musculature.

Animals do make noise, and can be taught to imitate a sound in relation to rewards. Humans also make noise in infancy – language is not present at birth, and must be learnt, just as the human must learn to stand and walk through effort.

The human ability of thinking is also learnt, and one can observe through the phases of human development how this facility develops and blossoms. Think of the gurgling new born baby, the toddler first saying “mine”, the adolescent with strong ideas of right and wrong, and the adult’s ability to see from different points of view.

The human being has its physical being in common with the mineral kingdom, etheric being in common with the plant kingdom, astral body in common with the animal kingdom, and has an ego or human spirit unique to the human kingdom.


In Summary

Ego or Human Spirit Heat-organism Fire
Soul Body or Astral Body Air-organism Air
Etheric Body Water-organism Water
Physical Body Mineral-organism Earth

Victor Bott M.D. P.29


To achieve new capacities, each kingdom must oppose the preceding one in certain ways. For example, the capacity for outer forces creating movement within the plant (photosynthesis/cell respiration) is transformed into inner movement for the animal (metabolic realm, which fuels outer movement of the limbs). Some of the instincts and impulses of the animal are resisted by the human being, who then gains the power of choice, and the potential for freedom through thinking.

The four constituent elements remain close to each other throughout the span of human life. The physical and etheric body are very closely related in space, and only separate at death, and are considered the lower, physio-etheric complex. The higher complex – the astral body and the ego, also have a close reunion with each other, yet do not have the same relationship within space (as we consider it in the material world). During sleep the higher complex separates from the lower, leaving behind a plant like consciousness – the sleeping/unconscious human. This separation is not complete – a residual impulse of the higher complex is left in the etheric body during sleep. In time, the separation between the lower and higher complex becomes too weak, and the astral and ego incarnate again and the person wakes up.

The capacity for consciousness is due to the presence of the astral body and ego, just as the presence of the etheric body brings to life the physical body. When death has occurred, and the etheric body detaches (taking usually about three days) the physical body returns quickly to the mineral kingdom, and the astral and spiritual bodies return to the spiritual world.

(further information available through R. Steiner’s book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and How to Attain It)


The Three-Fold Human Being

Within the human being there is a dynamic of organ systems, which make up a three-fold nature. They are respectively called the Nerve Sense system, the Metabolic-Limb system, and the Rhythmical system.


              The Nerve Sense System

Located primarily in the head, the effects of this system via the nervous and sensory function are spread throughout the body. This system bears human consciousness and the foundation for thinking. The tissues of the nerve sense system are fragile, of low vitality and take a long time to heal when injured. Light, sound, air, and nourishment enter through this system.


The Metabolic-Limb System

This system is located primarily in the organs of digestion, elimination, reproduction, and movement; its nourishing functions extend into all other parts of the body. When this system is healthy it functions unconsciously (we do not feel it). The tissues of this system are vital and repair themselves quickly when injured.


The Rhythmic System

This system is comprised of the organs of circulation and respiration, and serves as a harmonizing force for the two other systems. Through the dynamic activity of in-breath and out-breath, systole, and diastole, the tension between the two other systems is regulated. When this system loses its harmonizing activity, and one of the other systems overcomes the other, illness occurs.


A polarity exists between the nerve sense system and the metabolic-limb system. This polarity can be observed by looking at the spherical shape of the skull, and the separate radiating aspects of the limbs. Whereas the bones of the skull are compromised of a solid envelope that encloses the soft parts, in the limbs the hard parts are in the center and are surrounded by muscles. The middle realm of the rhythmic system unites these two poles, specifically through the thorax. The thorax cage encloses the soft organs, is both fixed and mobile, and is supported by a strong system of muscles surrounding it.

These three systems can be seen as separate, and each of the systems can be found within each individual system, as well as in each separate aspect of the human body, For example, each rib bone has a head (like the skull) and a radiating protraction (like a limb). The spinal column, when viewed as a whole, can be seen as an extended structure surrounded by muscles – like a limb. When one looks at each vertebra, one can see a small skull that encloses the soft parts of the spinal cord.


Understanding a Dynamic Three Fold System

Requires Mobile Thinking

 As each system is also present in each of the other in both form and function – even within the smallest component of the human body once can find the threefold gesture of the human being – anthroposophy asks one to maintain an active way of thinking in order to adequately understand the human being. If this information is approached in a systematic manner – using dry, immobile intellectual thinking, one will not be capable of understanding the dynamic relationship of these systems to each other, and the complexity that is the whole human being.

To illustrate, one can examine the human foot and the hand. In the foot one finds the heel, whose form is a round boney structure, as we find in the head/nerve sense pole. In contrast the toes radiate out, with bones in the middle surrounded by tissue and muscle, like limbs. In function, the heel hits the earth with movement similar to the conscious will of the metabolic-limb system, whereas the toes become instruments of the nerve sense pole through the richness of their nerve fibres, and their sense feeling ability.

In a similar way, the form of the hand, when curled into a fist, is reminiscent of the head, and can have the function of the metabolic-limb system through its gesture. When opened up to touch the world, it becomes predominately a part of the nerve sense pole, yet the form is that of the metabolic-limb system. Thus there are paradoxes between form and function within the human being that are related to the aspects of thinking, feeling and willing, which belong to each of the three systems of the human being.

Nerve System                                   Thinking

Metabolic-Limb System                 Willing

Rhythmic System                            Feeling

In thinking the human being receives information reflected to it via the nerve sense system.

In willing the human being experiences movement through space via the metabolic-limb system.

In feeling the nerve sense and metabolic-limb system unite and are harmonized via the rhythmic system of circulation and respiration.

[insert triangle image]


Health = Balance

Physical, emotional/psychological and spiritual health in the human being are related to the balance between the lower physio-etheric complex and the higher astral-spiritual complex. This relationship is mediated by the rhythmic system – the circulation and respiratory system of the human being. If either the lower physio-etheric or the higher astral-spiritual system becomes too strong or weak in the human body, the rhythmic system must mediate and restore balance.


The Stages of Human Development: Seven Year Cycles of Growth

The development of the human being is seen as progressing in seven-year cycles. These cycles correspond with the seven-year periods necessary for a complete renewal of the human organism. (Anthr Med P 8)


Birth to Seven:

At birth, the human being is seen as working with hereditary components given by the birth parents. Each person’s spiritual kernel is present within this body, given via hereditary streams, and is in a way in opposition to the forces of heredity and will determine the unique expression of the person.

During this time the head is very large in comparison to the rest of the body, and is in fact offering growth forces to the rest of the body for proper development. Although it is big and well formed, it is not ready to be used as an organ of thinking. The developing human being learns during this phase entirely through imitation of the people and environments she is surrounded by. It is now common knowledge that this development stage is of paramount importance, as it impacts the development of the human being for the rest of their life. What occurs in the first seven years of human life cannot be undone, or reversed in later life. The imprint is stronger that at any other point in life.

The first developmental cycle is focused on the Will. The child will learn more in these first years that at any other time: to crawl, walk, run, speak, feed themselves, have bowel control – develop from total dependence to independence. Unlike animals, these aspects of human development are learnt through effort, not instinct.

Just as the physical body of the infant was united with the body of the mother before birth, the etheric body of the child is fully united with the physical body up to the age of approximately seven (the arrival the child’s permanent teeth). Now the etheric body is “birthed”, freed from the physical body. Now the forces of the etheric body will be available for memory and cognition, while some will stay connected to the physical body to support growth and regeneration. When the developing child is asked to perform intellectual tasks before the change of dentition, they can do so, but will use up etheric forces that should be contributing to the healthy and strong development of the physical body. Physical weakness as a result of the early intellectual stimulation of the young child can be seen in the middle life of an adult, manifesting often as weak organ functioning.

At about the age of 2 ½ to 3, an even occurs that every parent will remember; the child begins to say “I”. This is an expression of the child’s incarnating ego connecting with their nerve sense system.


Seven to Fourteen

The birth of the etheric body allows the body more freedom of movement, which is necessary for the next stage, which is the development of the life of feeling – which lives in the astral body. The emerging life of soul is experienced as moving between two poles of feeling: sympathy and antipathy. Whereas the younger child is barely aware of the environment, and can be kind or cruel due to the lack of awareness of the feelings of others, the seven to fourteen year old is involved in a dance between what is experiences on the outside via the sensory system, and what they express through their limbs. This rhythmic pulsing between “I like that, I don’t like that” is a mirror of the respiratory system, which will complete its development during this developmental phase. Musical activities are healthy for this phase, as they harmonize the life of thinking and willing. There is a relationship between the proportions of the limbs and musical intervals, and musical and artistic activities are harmonizing activities for this reason. (Anthro Med P 99) Physical health is usually vibrant during this time, due to the health giving properties of the rhythmic system. At about the age of nine an event occurs that can remind one of their child first saying “I”; in this case, the ego unites more closely with the child’s metabolic-limb system. The symptoms of this is a growing awareness in the child of death; whereas before death was not seen or noticed, now the child realizes that one day their parents will die. Their sense of life is altered; physical life has a beginning and an end. This is also the most prevalent time for juvenile diabetes to emerge, which can occur if the ego is not able to penetrate deep enough into the metabolic realm, and the nerve sense pole gets the upper hand in the child’s body.

With more consciousness streaming into the metabolic-limb system, the developing child becomes evermore clumsy in their movements. What was effortless in the young child, becomes awkward in the eleven to twelve year-old, and then developes into a new gracefulness.

As was noted earlier, the astral body is involved in a process of internalization of the outer world. If there is an imbalance in constitution during this phase the first signs of depression may show themselves. Left unchecked, these can change into addictive habits in the teen years as the individual looks for relief from the depression.

The effects of the astral body on the developing human being can be seen through the maturation culminating in puberty. There are changes in the voice, the shape of the body, which show differences in the female and the male, which display the differing levels of ego penetration into the bodily organization. Females generally stay rounder, and their voices only drop a tone, whereas in males, voices drop an octave, and the body stays more angular. This is the effect of the ego penetrating more deeply in the males that the females. The birth of the astral body occurs with the culmination of puberty. All of the forces that were being used primarily for the development of the feeling life, and the rhythmic system (picture how the rib cage grows during this period of development) are now freed up for the next stage of development.


Fourteen to Twenty-One

The forces that have been freed up through the birth of the astral body are now available to the adolescent. These astral forces are now able to energize the activity of abstract thinking. With the blossoming of puberty one can imagine a vaporous substance being released from the sexual glands, that rise up to the head to ignite cognition in a more deep and free way that in the preadolescent. Learning to harness the astral energy by thinking about the world, new ideas, themselves, each other, and what they have a natural passion for, the growing adolescent harnesses a power that will not be duplicated again in life. It is also at this time that the brain is growing rapidly, the only time that it grew this much was from two to five years old! The adolescent has enormous capacity for work, both physically and mentally, when this work is meaningful, presented with authenticity and love. Forcing and demanding of adolescents may appear to have affect in the moment, but can have lasting damage on their development as free thinking human beings.

There are ongoing general differences that one can see in the incarnation process between males and females:

Girls are less incarnated than boys during the early part of this phase, and thus tend to be more superficial than boys. They experiment with their new energies, noting the effect that they have on their environment, and can tend to push to the extreme for effect. If these astral energies are not tempered by the ego, girls can tend toward hysteria – an out of control emotional life that can manifest in compulsive behaviours such as eating disorders. Developing an appreciation for the outer world via beauty through the arts is a key note for the healthy development of girls during this phase.

Boys have taken in the astral forces more deeply, which can lead to feelings of embarrassment, or self-consciousness that can express as grumpiness, or at times open hostility. If the astral energies are not tempered by the ego boys can tend toward machoism, with an unhealthy focus on their physical body, and the material world in general. In extreme cases these uncontrolled energies can lead to schizophrenia in boys.

Being of service is the key note for healthy development in boys during this age.

Note: of course girls can also develop schizophrenia, and boys can become hysterical, it is just much less common. It is also interesting to note that the traditional leaning of the advice for the two genders – was their wisdom in this that we have labeled sexism? In 2006 these differences can also be tempered by offering both genders the experience of developing appreciation for beauty, and for service in the world.


There is a fourth birth at the end of this developmental stage – the birth of the ego. Just as with the previous three births: physical, etheric, and astral, the birth of the ego heralds a time when the human being has access to new abilities. During the previous seven-year cycle thought was still very much coloured by the feelings of life. Now that the ego is free, one has the ability to observe and control compulsive view points and reactions, and truly begin to be objective.

There are further seven-year cycles considered by anthroposophy, but for our purposes within Anthroposophical medicine, these first three are the most important to consider.

resources: Bott, Victor M.D. 1978. Anthroposophical Medicine. London, Rudolf Steiner Press.


The Anthroposophical View of the Heart

The Beginnings of Human Life

The best starting place to develop a ground for understanding of the Anthroposophical view of the heart is embryology – the first stages of growth of human life.

The female human supplies an egg (ovum) – from a fixed number that are present from birth, and the male supplies the sperm – which are continuously produced in great numbers throughout life. One can notice the polarity: the larger ovum, coming from a diminishing number, to the tiny, numerous sperm that are continually being produced. With the right timing and a willing environment, there can be a bio/chemical response between the sperm and egg, and the potential for human like is created. 

In the first week of development proceeding from fertilization there is little vitality in the growth process of the zygote (fertilized ovum). There is not growth through addition, but a process of subdivision in cells. The zygote transforms into the morula, a cluster of twelve to sixteen cells, which within the first few days “dissolves” into an outer and inner mantle, now called the blastula. the outer mantle of the blastula is called the trophoblast (which will become the placenta and membranes) and the inner is called the embryoblast (which will develop into the embryo). At this stage of development it is possible to freeze the embryo to preserve it, much the same as other mammals who enter embryopause, waiting for weeks or months for the implantation of the embryo. The peripheral body of the trophoblast and the inner body of the embryoblast have grown from the same substance, from the union of the ovum and sperm. The outer mantle is not a creation of the mother’s body, but has grown out of the developing human being. This is important to note because the human being will remain intimately connected to the periphery of life throughout its existence. The picture of the beginning of human life as a central body coming from a periphery, shows a process of emancipation towards independency and autonomy – “what was a one, gradually differentiates and separates into a twofold”. (PB)

resource: Highlights of a Phenomenological Embryology, Jaap van der Wal & Guus van der Bie. March 2004 http://home.uni-one/walembryp/ephighlights2.htm

With implantation of the trophoblast in the womb (uterus) a great burst of growth occurs, and the embryonic disc forms. This embryonic disc has three germ layers; and endoderm, a mesoderm, and an ectoderm.

Endoderm – out of this layer the primitive gut and the main part of the digestive organs                          will develop.

Mesoderm – out of this middle layer the main part of the circulatory system will                                        develop.

Ectoderm – out of this layer the receptors and the nervous system will develop.

This embryonic disc is the first physical body out of which will develop the three systems of the human being; the rhythmic system, the metabolic-limb system, and the nerve sense system. In relationship to these three systems we have the grounding of the three activities of the human being; thinking, willing, and feeling.

Within these three systems it is the heart that stands out as the primary organ mediating in a rhythmical way between what is “up” in man; the sense and nervous system, and what is “down” in man; our digestive system. (P3)

The Heart

For the next stage of development to occur, a stream of nourishment from the outer mantle must reach the growing inner body. This stream of nutrition determines if the embryo will continue to develop; the successful connection of this outer stream of nourishment to the inner body heralds the earliest beginnings of the human heart.

When we go back to the origin of the blood and the heart in embryonic development, it is not simple matter to say what came first. Early in its development the heart begins to form looks that redirect blood flow. But before the heart has developed walls (septa) separating the four chambers from each other, the blood already flows into two distinct “currents” through the heart. The blood flowing through the right and left sides of the heart does not mix, but streams and loops past each other, just as two currents in a body of water. In the “still zone” between the two currents, the septum dividing the two chambers forms. Thus the movement of the blood shapes the heart, just as the looping heart redirects the flow of blood.  (Dynamic Heart P 4 & 5)

The form of the heart appears to have been created by its function. Most of the heart is made up of intricately woven muscle fibres, which are joined in bands. With muscle consisting of 75% water, and the spiralling and looping form of the heart muscles, one can see a picture of fluid movement caught in the structure of the organ of the heart.

[insert heart pic]

The circulation system comes first, and creates the heart through its movement. By the twenty-first day of development, the young human being has a functioning heart, with a discernible heartbeat.

Heart Function 

The direction of the blood is radically changed by the activity of the heart. The right side of the heart brings vertically flowing blood into the horizontal, and the left side brings in horizontally flowing blood into the vertical. This change in direction can be seen in the gesture of the cross, created by the caval veins and the pulmonary veins.

(insert second heart pic)

The blood that streams into the right atrium from the superior and inferior caval veins do not collide, they create a vortex by turning forward and rotating clockwise. The blood streaming in from the left atrium forms a vortex that turns counter clockwise. When the valves open to let the blood stream into the relaxed ventricles, it rotates again, and forms vortexes that redirect the flow of blood. There is a pause then, when the blood ceases to flow, and then the valves open and the blood streams into the pulmonary artery and aorta.

 It is the form of the heart, with its coiling and looping fibres that contract, that mirror the movement of the blood that is unique to each chamber of the heart. During systole the heart contracts and moves downward, oscillating slightly to the sides, and rotates on its own axis. Then it relaxes during diastole and moves upward, rotating back in the opposite direction. This complex motion is unique to the heart in the human body, and is only possible due to the construct of the heart – the interwoven, spiralling muscle fibres. Blood flow and the form of the heart are intimately connected.

 As the center of the circulatory system, the heart connects the upper and lower part of the human being, as well as the outer environment (air) with the inner via the respiratory system. The heart must continually adapt its activity to the needs of the person as a whole, whether generated from outer exertion or inner emotional states.

The heart will expand more in the diastole phase when there is a greater need for blood flow, such as in strenuous activity. The heart beat rate rises, the lungs begin to take up more oxygen due to the dilation of both lung alveoli (where diffusion happens) and the dilation of the lung capillaries, and the blood vessels in the muscles actively dilate. The heart is not pushing more blood through the body – the whole system is involved.

If there us ongoing strenuous activity, the heart will grow more blood vessels to accommodate the need. This is a picture of how the impulse to change and adapt comes from the periphery to the center.

As the blood moves through the body it is continually changing. It passes through the intestines and picks up nutrients, enters the liver which then takes out nutrients and cleans the blood. Each organ interacts with the blood in a unique way. The brain takes in large amounts of sugar and oxygen, the kidneys remove waste and water, and offer hormones that regulate the production of red blood cells. The blood is continually changing as it moves through the body; it brings the information it has gathered from its travels around the body to the heart.

In Anthroposophical medicine, the heart is seen as a perceptive center for the body via the circulation. Through the nervous system, hormones, heart, and blood vessel sensory receptors, the heart monitors the pressure, viscosity, warmth and biochemical composition of the blood. It then responds to the information, not only by circulating more or less blood, but also by secreting hormones that act as messengers to the organs of the body to adjust their functioning. For example, if the blood is too thick the heart will secrete a hormone to the kidneys via the blood, telling them to secrete more water into the blood.


Warmth of Heart

The human being, along with other warm-blooded mammals and birds, has a four-chambered heart. Having four chambers in the heart is necessary for an organism to maintain a constant body temperature, even though the inner and outer temperatures of the body and environment may fluctuate. The beating heart muscle itself creates warmth, and the circulatory system that journeys to the periphery of the body is able to contract or expand as needed to release or contain warmth. This element of warmth is also related to the soul qualities of the heart.


The Heart of the Matter – The Soul

 Expressions of the Heart

hearty      heartless     heartache       heartfelt     close to my hear   hard-hearted      soft-hearted   heart-to-heart  fainthearted  heavy-hearted   warmhearted  wholehearted    sick at heart       cold-hearted heart-full     taken to heart     searching ones heart      brokenhearted      strong-hearted          heart rendering        the heart of a matter    wear your heart on your sleeve      have a heart  put your heart into it heartless        heartening     listen to your heart   what does your heart say

People search their hearts for answers, and find work and activities that connect to their heart. The root of the word courage means heart – when we are afraid, our hearts turn cold; yet when courage rises up it is with a flame that leads to action. When we have a heartfelt concern for another person, warmth streams out from us as we reach out to them with care and concern for their wellbeing. In contrast, when our hearts turn cold towards someone we contract and distance ourselves from them.

The physical heart moves between rhythmic poles of contraction and expansion, which is reflected in the circulatory system as it moves and mediates between the outer environment and the inner environment, always balancing between extremes. Blood gathers in the center of the heart, flows out to the periphery, changing and exchanging with the periphery, and then coming back to the center of the heart. So too our feeling life pulses between contraction and expansion. Our joy connects us to the world, we reach out, connect, and give to the world and those around us. Fear and anger draws us back into ourselves; we close our hearts to others or the world around us. A healthy feeling/soul life has a pulsing of gathering up from the outside, transforming on the inside, and then moving back out into the world. When we stay in extreme rapture or binding anger or fear, we experience a disturbance of a healthy oscillation between inner and outer, and illness ensues.

resource: Talbott, Steve. 2002. On Being Whole Hearted, Notes concerning The Dynamic Heart and Circulation, edited by Craig Holdridge, translations by Katherine Creefer, Fair Oaks CA: AWSNA, 2002


In Anthroposophic medicine the heart is the center of the circulatory system, and the center of the soul activity of feeling. We can see the affects of our feeling life in terms of the state of health of our heart; stress eventually harms the functioning of the heart, ongoing depression leads to a sluggish heart rate, anxiousness leads to a racing pulse and hypertension. A healthy lifestyle, of movement, nourishment, and rest , are related to both the health of the heart as an organ, and the heart as the seat of the soul.

In the Anthroposophical view we are not fully awake in our feeling life – the life oc our soul. It is akin to a dream state, whereas we can be fully awake in our thinking, and are deeply asleep in our life of will.

 Feeling: dreamy consciousness. Our feeling life is connected to the here and now, and draws us back into the confines of our own existence.

 Thinking: awake consciousness. Through the reflective process of thinking we can find and make meaning of the outer world. Our thinking is related to the past.

 Willing: sleep consciousness. We are not conscious of the action of moving our limbs, the actions of our bodily systems, or of our motives for movements in our life – the decisions that we make. We often find ourselves doing something without realizing why. In time we see how it has made sense, or fits into a larger pattern of our life. Our will comes out the future, and leads us into the future.


We can view the relationship between thinking, feeling and willing as:


Thinking – the past, reflection, an inner experience, a contraction

Feeling – the present experience, a pause

Willing – the future, an expansion into life

 It is in the center place of the feeling life, in the region of the heart, that we bring in the outer world into our inner experience.

We can see this picture as: (insert pic)


Basic Tenets of Anthroposophical Medicine

            “Anthroposophically extended medicine is a holistic and human-centered approach to medicine. It recognizes and uses the vast information acquired by modern medicine in the fields of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and diagnosis. Then it goes one step further, adding a knowledge of the laws of the living organism, of the psyche and the spirit derived from a spiritual scientific methodology, to that which is known by conventional scientific means. This requires – besides the ongoing professional, personal, and moral development – the active inner participation in spiritual scientific studies outlined by Rudolf Steiner.

The result is an integrated image of the whole human being in illness and in health. This makes it possible to have a holistic but also rational approach to physiology, pathology, and therapy.”

Physician’s Association for Anthroposophical Medicine


The Seven Principles of Anthroposophical Medicine

  1. Spirit manifests both within the human organism and outside of it in the substances of the kingdoms of nature. Knowledge of this had been cultivated for centuries within the Western esoteric stream: Monastics, Alchymists, Rosicrucians, Paracelsus, Hahnemann. Anthrophosophical Spiritual Science is a modern continuation of these traditions.
  2. The wisdom that created nature is also at work within the human being. Every substance and process in the nature kingdoms relates correspondingly to a substance or process within the human being. Man is a summary of nature and nature represents the forces and substances within the human being.
  3. Anthroposophical Medicine is a leading holistic health movement throughout Europe and has been on the cutting edge of preserving therapeutic freedom in the public and legal realm.
  4. Man has a divinely guided individual destiny, which includes individual freedom with the potential for error and illness. Overriding principles, like the seven-year cycle, govern the evolution of an individual over a lifetime. Illnesses are also opportunities for personal growth and overcoming of unfruitful conflicts in the patient’s life.
  5. Art is an indispensible part of human life. Skillful artistic therapies subtly but strongly affect disease processes and help people grow through their illness. Out of Anthroposophical Medicine, specialized disciplines of therapeutic Eurythmy, Rhythmical Massage, clay modeling, painting, and music therapy have evolved.
  6. Remedies are derived from substances of the mineral, plant, or animal kingdom. They can be prepared homeopathically, alchemically, or as a whole substance. They can be given orally, by injection, or through external application.
  7. Every Treatment aims to enhance the life force of the patient as a basis for improved health and deepened self-knowledge.

                                             The Physicians Association for Anthroposophical Medicine

resource: The Physicians Association for Anthroposophical Medicine