What's your constitution?
A Road Map to Balance
TCM Bodily Constitutions
In the West, we are accustomed to surveilling a symptom. We wait until we have one or more, and sometimes we wait them out, see if they develop, and treat them from there. Sometimes we wait until they disappear, never knowing their cause, why they go, or how they developed in the first place. Traditional Chinese Medicine chooses to engage more personally.
TCM understands the body by its individual constitution, first and foremost. Our bodily constitution manifests in a set of traits that demonstrate how each person is vulnerable to certain ailments, diseases, and conditions, but not others, as well as how they are compatible with certain stimuli or environments.
It is one of the most fundamental concepts of TCM—one that helps us to understand the patient on a very personal level, gain insight into their background, and also paves the groundwork for diagnoses, prevention, and treatment. Ideally, TCM does not aim for symptoms, but prevention.
Because each person is unique, we have different constitutions. We both inherit elements of our constitution, as well as obtain them from lifestyle choices and experiences. We are all born with unique physiological and psychological aspects that influence how we carry ourselves, how we are structured, and how we move through the world, which effects how susceptible we are to certain microbes or illnesses, and how our bodies are effected by them.
Since constitutions are determined by these factors, men and women tend to have specific patterns of contrast when it comes to their consitution. Also, our constitution is not completely static. As we age, our bodily structure, our metabolism, our hormones, and our cells change, which can strengthen, weaken, or slightly change our constitution.
Nine Types of Constitutions
While we can have another dominating constitution and still be healthy, neutral constitutions are considered ideal. Those with with a neutral dominating constitution are of a strong, sturdy build, emotionally and mentally stable, thick, healthy hair, smooth and hydrated skin. They don’t tend to have trouble sleeping or eating, and rarely find themselves with indigestion or constipation. They are self aware, a calming presence, and adaptable to stressful situations.
Those with a qi deficient constitution have lower energy. This prevents them from strenuous exercise, so they tend to have soft, slack muscle tone and fatigue easily. If there is a cold or flu going around, they are the most likely to catch it each time. They can have a nervousness about them, making them appear more shy, introverted, or shy. They do not always respond well to rapid changes in the climate or weather, which can cause them to fall sick, or suffer from skin rashes.
The blood stasis constitution can be considered as poor circulation. The blood flows, just not with robust vigor to supply all parts of the body with vital nutrients and oxygen. This makes them slow to move, as they may get light headed easily. They can be forgetful, or irritable. Their skin, lacking strong microcirculation, can be dull and uneven, and give them a tired, worn out pallor, or details like dark circles and undereye puffiness. They are cold easily, wounds heal slower, and are more susceptible to rashes and skin tags.
Phlegm and Dampness
Those with a constitution known as phlegm and dampness have a predisposition to being overweight, accumulating weight especially in the middle region, or stomach. They are known to be calm and collected, patient, and kind. They tend to have an oily complexin, and moist, sticky skin. As one might guess, phlegm and dampness constitutions are susceptible to chest congestion and excessive mucus. They tend to crave sweet or heavy, fried foods, and diabetes and heart disease are common with this type.
If you know someone with a short fuse, they may have a damp heat constitution. These individuals can be irritable and volatile, which also manifests in their skin. Think—oily complexion, cystic acne, or rosacea. An overall sluggishness can occur when their constitution is imbalanced, causing them to feel fatigue, have unsatisfying bowel movements, and urinary issues such as UTIs, intensely yellow urine, or excess discharge. Humidity and heat is not good for this constitution.
A constitution in which a stagnation of qi is dominant manifests most visibly in the mood and temperament. These individuals are more susceptible to depression or anxiety, and are easily overwhelmed. They struggle to adapt to stressful situations, especially if the weather is not a favorable, sunny day. Due to an ingrained restlessness, they can also have trouble sleeping.
People with a special constitution tend to be thin and wiry, weaker, often having many allergies and skin conditions, such as eczema. They are sensitive to drugs, and pollen, foods, and they can respond negatively to stress, smells, sounds, changes in the weather, and often suffer from congestion, difficulty breathing, and depression.
While it may seem like every constitution aside from neutral is heavily negative, that’s not the case. These constitutional attributes are merely indicators for an individual or a doctor to reference in order to help someone reach a more balanced state.
For example, someone with a special constitution can be on high alert when trying out a new medication, or can choose not to take recreational drugs due to their understanding of their body and it’s likely negative response to this type of stimuli.
Or, someone who has an innate phlegm and dampness constitution may be advised not to eat ice cream or fast food, and instead stick to a lean diet in order to balance their weight, prevent disease, and maintain a glowing complexion. The bodily constitution is the baseline for all kinds of Chinese Medicine practitioners to assess the individual’s personal needs, and prescribe advice or otherwise in order to help someone reach their optimal, healthiest, most harmonious self.