Healthcare providers who specialise in Western medicine have long held to the belief that differences in behaviour and thinking shape the various classification theories. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), meanwhile, states that each person is born with distinct body types.
A constitution generally affects how you feel and behave and your body’s response to the pathogens of illness. Here’s a guide to the nine body types and ways to correct specific imbalances.
Understanding the 9 Different TCM Body Types
It’s worth noting that certain people may also have a combination of two body types. This may give rise to several health disorders, especially if your body experiences disharmony.
1. Neutral constitution
This body constitution indicates good internal health that reflects outwards. For instance, you may be energetic and have a radiant complexion. Your body will also find it easier to assimilate to different environments.
The consumption of a moderate but balanced diet can help maintain a neutral body constitution. In addition, you should avoid foods that are too oily or spicy. It’s also advisable for you to have a positive attitude and engage in physical activity.
2. Qi-deficient constitution
SYMPTOMS: Breathlessness, fatigue and spontaneous sweating are common constitutional symptoms of qi (vital energy) deficiency. It may also increase your susceptibility to catching a cold. Due to relatively weak immune functioning, it usually takes longer to recover from illnesses.
TCM TREATMENT: To remedy a lack of qi, consume foods like chicken and soybeans. The use of essence of chicken and herbal ingredients like Radix astragalus (Huangqi), white atractylodes (Baizhu) and Codonopsis root (Dangshen) can also help to achieve a similar effect of invigorating qi. You should also refrain from eating cold and cooling foods if you have a qi deficiency. This is because it can weaken the spleen, thus compromising the digestive system.
WESTERN REMEDY: Get adequate sleep and do gentle yet vigorous exercises like power walking regularly. Also, ensure that you keep warm at all times and avoid cold, windy environments after a strenuous workout. This body constitution should limit dairy product consumption, raw vegetables and salads, frozen foods, and juices. Slowing down one’s lifestyle is recommended. Avoid overworking and try to cultivate open-mindedness and optimism in life.
3. Yin-deficient constitution
SYMPTOMS: Having a yin (passive energy) deficiency can make it difficult for you to adapt to areas with hot and dry weather. This is evident through symptoms like hot flushes and red cheeks. It’s also likely to cause irritation, warm palms and soles, often thirsty or vulnerability to a fever or sore throat. Individuals usually have a thin physique, outgoing, and can be very impatient.
TREATMENT: Food that replenishes bodily fluids and is cooling and moisturising in nature are recommended. For example, celery, duck meat, and black or white fungus. You should also refrain from overeating foods that are “drying” or warming, such as mutton or onions.
WESTERN REMEDY: Limit your caffeine intake, reduce the consumption of spicy and fried foods, and avoid staying up late. The sauna should be out of bounds if you have very dry skin. It’s also important for you to remain calm by listening to relaxing music and doing mild to moderate exercises like walking and swimming. Meditation can also help relax the mind and calm the nervous system.
4. Yang-deficient constitution
SYMPTOMS: A yang (active energy) deficiency leads to sensitivity towards cold weather and cool types of food. Your limbs can appear cold, and your risk of falling ill due to cold or dampness will be higher. Most of the individuals with this body type have weak muscles.
TCM TREATMENT: Eat warm and qi-beneficial foods, including garlic and beef. Foods that are raw or cooling in nature should be avoided. Gentle exercises like Taichi or Qigong are also helpful.
WESTERN REMEDY: Keep your body — back, feet and lower abdomen — warm at all times. Do this by spending some time in a sauna or hot spring. Steer clear of spending too much time in an air-conditioned space. Enjoyable exercises like a jog, cycle, or swim can also be good for uplifting your spirits and relieving anxiety. Quality sleep can balance yang energy as well.
5. Blood stasis constitution
SYMPTOMS: This body type usually presents with changes in skin appearance. For instance, you may have frequent skin bruising or dry, coarse and sometimes painful skin. Dark circles under your eyes or a dull or pigmented complexion and purplish dark lips can also occur. Like a yang-deficient body constitution, you will also not be able to tolerate cold and windy weather.
TCM TREATMENT: Foods that promote a healthy flow of blood and qi, including pork, rice wine, hawthorn fruit, and red beans, are recommended. Pungent spices, such as turmeric, coriander and pepper, are also helpful for blood circulation. However, you must do away with greasy foods, fat-rich meat, dairy products, and frozen foods
Activities like dance or acrobatics can prevent congestion of blood and qi. Tuina and deep breathing exercises can also ensure a smooth flow of qi through the meridians.
WESTERN REMEDY: Blood stasis can be described as clotting. This refers to an accumulation of blood in your veins or arteries in response to a blood vessel injury. However, an unhealthy lifestyle and excessive weight gain or obesity can also set off blood clotting. For these reasons, it’s crucial to eat nutritious meals, listen to calming music, and keep problems like diabetes and hypertension under control. Ensure work-life balance and stay active for better circulation. Younger people may take on moderate to high-intensity workouts, while older people should opt for light to moderate physical activities.
6. Phlegm-dampness constitution
SYMPTOMS: Dampness usually emerges from digestive impairment and can move to the large intestine and lungs. Specifically, dampness that transitions into the lungs will see phlegm coming up when you cough.
In TCM, dampness contributes to numerous illnesses, including eczema, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases). It’s also the root cause of profuse sweating and poor adjustment to rainy weather or a damp environment.
TCM TREATMENT: Eat more bland foods like barley, seaweed, carrots or wasabi. Reduce your intake of foods that are naturally greasy, starchy or sweet. Acupuncture can help eliminate dampness in the body by promoting circulation as well as supporting the body’s digestion centre (spleen and stomach).
WESTERN REMEDY: It’ll be wise for you to be more active, but at your own pace. Also, stay away from outdoor activities during cold or humid weather. Mental health is also pivotal, so keep away from situations that involve extreme emotions.
7. Damp-heat constitution
SYMPTOMS: Internal accumulation of damp-heat can manifest as acne, constipation, thirst, bad breath, an oily face, or a bitter taste in the mouth. You may also be at risk of developing jaundice or health issues linked to hot and damp environments.
TCM states that the spleen is responsible for metabolising food and water and transporting nutrients to different parts of the body. In this regard, a damp-heat constitution is caused by a spleen disorder and abnormal water metabolism.
TCM TREATMENT: Take foods with heat or dampness-removing properties, such as red beans and water chestnuts. Reduce foods that are acidic, greasy or heaty in nature.
WESTERN REMEDY: An environment that’s dry and well-ventilated is a priority. Avoid outdoor activities during hot and humid weather and get enough sleep. Practice mental cultivation as well as avoid overworking and staying up late. It’s also good to engage in moderate to high-intensity workouts like CrossFit, which consists of functional movements performed at a high intensity.
8. Qi-stagnation constitution
SYMPTOMS: A stagnation of qi is associated with stress and psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, fear, and insomnia. It can also lead to frequent chest palpitations and tightness in the throat. Individuals often appear skinny and have a dull complexion.
TCM TREATMENT: Increase the consumption of foods that aid digestion, remove stagnation, and refresh the mind. Onion, parsley and wheat are some foods that meet these criteria. Herbal formulations that use fingered citron (Foshou) and orange peel can also induce similar effects.
WESTERN REMEDY: Include heavy exercises as part of your daily living. Participating in group exercises or games can also support an active lifestyle and social life. At home, a quiet living environment is preferable for getting restful sleep. Cultivate optimism, nurture good relationships, and keep an open mind.
9. Intrinsic body constitution
SYMPTOMS: People with this constitution are often sensitive to pollen, certain kinds of foods, pollen, medications, and scents. You are also likely to experience nasal and skin allergies, such as rashes or a blocked nose. Asthma or chronic illnesses may also occur as a result of weather changes.
TCM TREATMENT: A bland, balanced diet that comprises enough meat and vegetables is advocated. You should abstain from spicy foods or foods that are stimulating. Avoid dairy, seafood, as well as other allergens.
WESTERN REMEDY: Keep your environment clean and free from dust or allergens. Wear clothing that protects your body from the cold when exercising.
Understanding the different body types in Chinese medicine can help you make better dietary and lifestyle choices. Use this guide to identify foods or activities that are suitable for your body types to ensure good health and prevent illnesses.
This is an adaptation of an article, “WHAT’S YOUR BODY CONSTITUTION”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
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