Updated: Aug 26
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:
This article is Part 5: Nine Body Compositions.
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:
Our constitution is affected by things such as
Age: our body changes as we age
Gender: men tend to have more qi, while women tend to have more blood
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
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)