TCM: Nine Body Constitutions

Updated: Jul 17

Welcome to this article series on Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM). The aim of this series is to provide you with foundational and practical knowledge of TCM that you can use to improve your own health at home in daily life. The recommendations in this series are simple, accessible, and mostly free. After all, good health should be something that is accessible to everyone!


Here is a clickable table of contents for this series:

  1. Introduction and Foundation

  2. The Five Elements Profiles

  3. Food and Cooking

  4. The Five Major Organs

  5. The Nine Body Constitutions

  6. The Body Clock

  7. Common Treatments from a Practitioner

  8. My Experience with TCM

This article is Part 5: Nine Body Compositions.

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Previously in article 2, we looked at how everyone is born with an elemental profile. Then in article 3 and 4, we looked at how to balance our element to maintain health via lifestyle, food, and acupoints. This article builds on the previous ones by talking about common patterns of illness based on people’s body constitution.


In TCM, everyone has a body composition. Your elemental profile contributes to your constitution, but your constitution can change over time due to many factors. For example, even if you’re born with the fire element profile, which has lots of yang, you could still become yang deficient due to lifestyle choices, such as eating too many cold-natured foods long-term.


Knowing your body constitution is important because Chinese medicine advice is highly tailored to your constitution. TCM wouldn’t say one particular herb or food is good for everyone. It always depends on your body’s qualities and if it matches the food’s qualities. That’s why your friend might do great on a raw foods diet while you get digestive problems on it; your constitutions are different. Or your friend drinks lots of coffee with no problem, while you get all jittery. It all comes down to your body’s constitution.


According to TCM, there are nine major body constitutions:

  1. Neutral (Well-Balanced)

  2. Qi Deficient

  3. Yang Deficient

  4. Yin Deficient

  5. Damp Phlegm

  6. Damp Heat

  7. Blood Stagnation

  8. Qi Stagnation

  9. Special Constitution

Image Source


Our constitution is affected by things such as

  1. Age: our body changes as we age

  2. Gender: men tend to have more qi, while women tend to have more blood

  3. Mental state and emotions: Our emotions affect our organs, which then affect the body constitution; healthy emotions bring us to balance, while unhealthy emotions create problems

  4. Living environment: Different geographic areas have different climates, diet, and living habits


In reality, people are usually a mix of more than one composition, but usually we have one dominant composition. Common combinations include yin-deficiency and damp-heat, qi deficiency and dampness, and qi stagnation and blood stagnation. Also remember that your composition can change due to factors such as living environment, mental state, diet, daily activities, and disease. It’s important to manage these factors to bring our constitution closer to balance.


You can find out your body constitution by doing this online quiz, or by reading on and seeing which one fits you. Then we’ll talk about how to balance that constitution via food, lifestyle, and acupoints. For a quick review, here’s the chart on TCM foods:


And here’s the chart on the five major TCM organs:



If you need to review TCM foundational knowledge, go read the articles on food and acupoints again. The credits for the acupoints for each constitution go to Yin Yang House. When you figure out your constitution, you will probably want to try massing the acupoints related to balancing your constitution. You can simply google the name of those acupoints, which are provided in this article, to find out their locations.


Constitution 1: Neutral (Well-Balanced)


Body: A neutral or well-balanced constitution is ideal constitution and very rare in society. This type of body typically has good skin complexion, good appetite, and normal bowel movements. The person feels energetic, sleeps well, and is able to adapt to different environments. From the picture, we can see the person looks very healthy.


Personality: The person is usually emotionally stable and has a happy outlook on life.


Balancing Diet: This person is already doing a great job.


Lifestyle Tips: After meals, take a short walk; do exercises suitable for your age; maintain a positive attitude


Constitution 2: Qi Deficient


Body: Qi deficient people would have shortness of breath, have a weak voice, feel tired easily, sweat randomly, and easily catch colds and flus. They might also have a poor appetite, loose stools, and a pale face. Their tongue would be pale, and their pulse would be empty. From the picture, we can see the person looks weak and tired.


Personality: The person is likely timid and introverted.


Contributing Factors: A person can become qi deficient due to factors such as poor diet, over work, stress, and old age


Balancing Diet: This person should eat foods that nourish the digestive organs (spleen and stomach) because they create qi. That means eating foods in the sweet category, which would be mainly grains, hearty vegetables, and some fruits. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it’s important to eat them cooked and warm to prevent furthering hurting the digestive organs.


Lifestyle Tips: Get adequate sleep, keep warm at all times, do mild exercises regularly, and avoid windy areas and strenuous exercises.


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the spleen, kidneys, lungs, and heart:

  • ST 36: Zu San Li (足三里)

  • SP 6: San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

  • KD 3: Tai Xi (太溪)

  • LU 9: Tai Yuan (太渊)


Constitution 3: Yang Deficient (too much Yin)


Body: A yang deficient person would feel cold in the hands and feet, dislike cold weather and wind, and easily catch colds and flus. This person may have poor sleep, loose stools, spontaneous sweating, and excess clear urine. The tongue would be pale with a white coating on top, and the pulse would be slow, deep, and weak. From the picture, we can see the person is very cold and shivering.


Personality: This person is likely quiet and introverted.


Contributing Factors: A person can become yang deficient for the same reasons as qi deficiency: poor diet, over work, stress, and old age


Balancing Diet: Eat more yang foods, which are sweet and pungent in flavor. The sweet foods build qi, while the pungent foods add heat to the body. A majority of your diet should be naturally sweet foods (not artificially sweet foods) such as whole grains, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrot, and peas. Use the spicy foods as condiments, such as onion, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and chili peppers. Eat less of foods that are raw and cold-energy, such as many fruits and foods with bitter or salty flavors.


Lifestyle Tips: Keep the feet, back, and lower abdomen warm; do mild exercises, such as jogging, yoga, and tai chi; avoid being in air-conditioned rooms for long periods; use saunas; do activities that lift your spirit and relieve anxiety, such as journaling, meditation, art, and writing.


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the spleen, kidneys, and heart:

  • ST 36: Zu San Li (足三里)

  • SP 3: Tai Bai (太白)

  • KD 3: Tai Xi (太溪)

  • CV 4: Guan Yuan (关元)

  • CV 6: Qi Hai (气海)

  • GV 4: Ming Men (命门)

  • UB 23: Shen Shu (肾俞)


Constitution 4: Yin Deficient (too much Yang)


Body: A yin deficient person feels hot in the hands and feet, dislikes hot and dry weather, and usually has a thin physique. They might also experience dry mouth and nose, constipation, and insomnia. They are more vulnerable to sore throat and fever. Their tongue would be red with little or no coating, and their pulse would be thin and rapid. We can see from the picture that the person is very hot (hence wearing little clothes), hot has limbs, and is thin.


Personality: outgoing, impatient


Contributing factors: A person can become yin deficient due to excess stress, overthinking, alcohol, or spicy foods.


Balancing Diet: Eat more yin foods, which have the bitter, sour, or salty taste (see food chart above) Eat less of hot-energy foods such as onion, garlic, chili peppers, and heavy animal proteins.


Lifestyle Tips: Do mild to moderate exercise, such as tai chi, yoga, and swimming; avoid caffeine; don’t stay up late; build inner peace through activities like meditation


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the stomach, kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs:

  • SP 6: San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

  • KD 6: Zhao Hai (照海)

  • CV 4: Guan Yuan (关元)

  • PC: 7: Da Ling (大陵)


Constitution 5: Damp Phlegm


Body: A person of damp phlegm constitution tends to be overweight, feels heavy or sluggish, have an oily face, sweats a lot, have excess throat secretions to spit, and dislikes rain and damp environments. Their tongue would have a sticky coating, and their pulse would be slow and slippery. We can see from the picture that the person is overweight, sweats a lot, and is spitting out throat phlegm (mucus).


Personality: This person likely has a mild, steady, and patient personality.


Contributing Factors: A person can get damp phlegm due to poor diet particularly with too much cold and raw foods, dairy, over work, and living in a damp environment.


Balancing Diet: Eat more foods that have the bitter, pungent/spicy, sour, and salty flavors (see food chart above). Eat less of sweet foods (especially artificially sweet foods) and fatty foods such as dairy, pastries, and meat. If you’re not sure what phlegm is, you can think of ice cream as frozen phlegm.


Lifestyle Tips: Refrain from a sedentary lifestyle; exercise at a pace you can sustain over the long-term; avoid outdoor activities during cold and humid weather; avoid extreme emotions; build calmness through activities like meditation, tai chi, and yoga.


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the spleen, stomach, and lungs:

  • ST 36: Zu San Li (足三里)

  • ST 40: Feng Long (丰隆)

  • SP 6: San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

  • SP 9: Yin Ling Quan (阴陵泉)

  • ST 8: Tou Wei (头维)


Constitution 6: Damp Heat


Body: A person with damp heat constitution likely has oily skin, acne, bad breath, bitter taste in mouth, dry stools, yellow urine, and yellow tongue coating. They dislike damp and hot environments. Their tongue would have a sticky yellow coating, and their pulse would be rapid and slippery. We can see from the picture that the person feels hot and has bad skin with acne.


Personality: This person is likely to be irritable and short-tempered.


Contributing Factors: A person can get dampness due to too much cold and raw foods, dairy, over work, and living in a damp environment. The heat aspect might come from too much fried foods, alcohol, spicy foods, and psychological stress.


Balancing Diet: Eat more foods that remove dampness and heat, such as red beans (adzuki beans), water chestnut, and dandelion tea. Bitter foods also help, such as celery, bitter melon, and broccoli. Eat less of pungent foods like garlic, onion, and chili peppers. Also avoid greasy foods.


Lifestyle Tips: Make your living environment well-ventilated; maintain regular and adequate sleep; can do high-intensity exercises; avoid outdoor activities during hot and humid weather


Balancing Acupoints: In addition to the acupoints mentioned for dampness, this person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the liver and stomach:

  • LV 3: Tai Chong (太冲)

  • ST 31: Jie Xi (解溪)

  • SP 10: Xue Hai (血海)

  • KD 6: Zhao Hai (照海)


Constitution 7: Blood Stagnation


Body: A person with the blood stagnation constitution likely has dull and grayish skin, purple lips and nails, spots on face, dark circles under eyes, and body pains. It’s easy for them to get bruises and bleed, and they feel uncomfortable in cold and windy weather. Their tongue would be purple, and their pulse would be wiry and choppy. We can see in the picture that the person has dull skin, spots on her face, dark eye circles, and bruises on the body.


Personality: This person is likely to be impatient, short tempered, and forgetful


Contributing Factors: A person can get blood stagnation due to factors such as physical trauma, long term qi and blood deficiencies, excess of hot or cold, excess fatty foods such as meat and dairy.


Balancing Diet: The heart is in charge of blood circulation, which bitter foods help. Salty foods also help the kidneys resolve blood stagnation and nourishes the blood. Blood stagnation often comes with qi stagnation, so it’s usually helpful to support the lungs, which are in charge of qi circulation, with pungent foods. See food chart above for examples.


Lifestyle Tips: Do activities that promote blood circulation, such as tai chi, dance, and running; avoid being to sedentary; massage; calm the emotions through activities like meditation


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the liver, stomach, large intestine, and heart:

  • ST 36: Zu San Li (足三里)

  • SP 6: San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

  • SP 10: Xue Hai (血海)

  • UB 40: Wei Zhong (委中)

  • UB 17: Ge Shu (膈俞)


Constitution 8: Qi Stagnation


Body: A person with the qi stagnation constitution likely has a thinner physique, heart palpitations, and insomnia. Their tongue would be purple, and their pulse would be wiry. They dislike autumn, winter, and rain.


Personality: This person is emotionally unstable, experiencing many negative emotions such as melancholy, anxiety, depression, and suspicion of others. They are usually timid. We can see from the picture that the person looks very melancholic and timid.


Contributing Factors: A person can develop qi stagnation due to physical trauma, poor diet, and opportunistic infections from external pathogens.


Balancing Diet: Eat more qi nourishing foods, which are mainly sweet in flavor. The liver play a large role in qi circulation, so also add sour flavors to support the liver. Warm-energy foods also help, such as onion, garlic, and ginger. Also eat more salty foods such as sea vegetables to dissolve stagnation. Avoid caffeine, which makes the emotions more unstable.


Lifestyle Tips: Have a quiet environment; sleep at regular times; can do vigorous exercises such as swimming and martial arts; engage in group exercises and games, such as dance, chess, sports, etc. to enhance social life


Balancing Acupoints: This person can massage some acupoints that strengthen the liver:

  • LI 4: He Gu (合谷)

  • LV 3: Tai Chong (太沖)

  • ST 36: Zu San Li (足三里)

  • GB 20: Feng Chi (风池)


Constitution 9: Special Constitution


Body: A person with a special constitution has inborn sensitivities to certain foods, drugs, smells, pollen, or other environmental allergens. They often develop symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy skin, coughing, and the like. These symptoms change by the season, as we can see in the picture.


Contributing Factors: Dairy is one of the leading contributors to allergies. Dairy promotes the production of mucus, which is irritating to the immune system and weakens it. If you have allergies, try drinking some milk and then see if our nose starts to run soon afterwards.


Balancing Diet: Eat a balanced diet with primary sweet-flavored foods and vegetables. Eat less of pungent/spicy foods. Be cautious with dairy.


Lifestyle Tips: Have a clean and well-ventilated living environment; maintain cleanliness and hygiene; keep warm; exercise regularly to increase immunity


Helpful Acupoints: Here are some commonly used acupoints for allergy relief:

  • UB 2: Zan Zu (攒竹); useful for sinus congestion and red watery eyes

  • LI 20: Ying Xiang (迎香); useful for sinus issues

  • LU 7: Lie Que (列缺); useful for cold symptoms like sneezing, chills, runny nose, and sore throat

  • LI 4: He Gu (合谷); useful for headaches at the front of the head, pain anywhere, and cold symptoms. But don’t use this point if you are pregnant.


TCM Doctor Chad Dupuis explains, “A useful acupressure for allergies protocol would be to hold, UB 2 on both sides, then LI 20 on both sides, then LU 7 on the left side, LI 4 on the left side, then LU 7 and LI 4 on the right (avoiding LI 4 if you are pregnant). Each point should be held for 30-60 seconds and you can repeat the sequence or individual points 2-3 times a day when experiencing allergy symptoms.


Conclusion

In TCM, there are 9 main body constitutions that are associated with different patterns of illness. Our constitution is affected by our elemental profile that we were born with, as well as our age, gender, emotions, and living environment. In other words, our constitution can change with time.


Here is a summary of the nine constitutions:

(In case you were wondering, yes it did take a very long time to add in all those emojis!)


Once we know our constitution, we can take simple actions to balance our constitution via food, lifestyle, and acupoints. In the next article, we'll look at the TCM Body Clock and how different times of the day are suited for different activities.



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