Body constitution and TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its roots in ancient times and has continuously been refined over the course of history. Today, it is increasingly used together with modern diagnosis techniques and western medication.

TCM adopts a holistic approach towards healing the body and the mind.

In TCM, the body constitution (“体质” in Mandarin) is a set of physical traits which affect your body’s response to external and internal conditions.

Besides being an indication of your wellbeing, it also has an impact on everything from your susceptibility to diseases, metabolism, and response to various stimuli.

In providing the appropriate TCM treatment, TCM physicians would typically consider a patient’s current body constitution in addition to the signs and symptoms of their ailments.

Extended to personal wellness, being aware of your body’s response to your environment helps you in managing yourself towards attaining optimal health and minimising the risk of illnesses.

Your body constitution changes over time with your habits, psychological state and environment. Hence, it is recommended that you regularly check your current body constitution.

The nine general types of body constitution

In general, there are nine broad body constitution types based on distinct characteristics. Every individual possesses a combination of body constitution types, with one or two considered dominant.

Improving your general wellness involves identifying and working on your body’s dominant constitution types to achieve a better internal balance.

A neutral body constitution is often considered ideal, being characteristic of a well-balanced body.

Your body has achieved an optimum equilibrium of yin and yang and is able to adjust well to any external or internal stressor.

If this is your dominant type, it means that your body is in a good state and your lifestyle is generally well balanced. Consider looking at your secondary body constitution types to identify other areas to help you improve your balance further.

Your body is low on energy, getting fatigued easily and making it more susceptible to a weakened immunity.

Managing your mental state

Try not to overwork yourself or undergo extreme diets for weight loss, as such lifestyles tend to cause your body to go into a state of qi deficiency.

Overthinking can also consume your qi (or internal energy), which may increase your chances of damaging your body's vitality and compromising your health.

Therefore, do not over-analyse matters which may be bothering you. Where possible, consider approaching such issues with a different perspective, keeping a positive mindset and maintaining good emotions throughout.

Exercise recommendations

High intensity physical activity should generally be avoided. Instead, opt for low intensity exercises such as walking, jogging, or yoga to strengthen your body and replenish its vitality.

When your body is in a state of qi deficiency, it becomes just like an overused battery is depleted more quickly and needs to be recharged more often.

As such, highly demanding physical activities would only serve to expend your energy more rapidly than usual. Hence, by going easy on your body, you will help to strengthen its vitality at a gentler pace, minimising fatigue and preventing your health from worsening.

Diet recommendations

Try to consume food that invigorates qi and strengthens the spleen. Food that is high in magnesium and manganese is recommended such as

  • Rice and whole grains
  • Clams, oysters and mussels
  • Nuts, soybeans and other legumes
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Coffee and tea
  • Many spices, such as black pepper

You should also consume more fruits and vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C.

Avoid consuming food that might possess cooling properties such as water spinach, bittergourd, and raw vegetables.

Your qi is not flowing smoothly within your body.

Managing your mental state

When emotions are suppressed, especially over prolonged periods, the flow of qi is easily hindered and may even stagnate as a result.

Do not bottle up any negative emotions. At the same time, avoid overthinking and excessive worrying. Try to find peace with your emotions by approaching matters with a different perspective and talk it out where necessary to clear any doubts.

Exercise recommendations

Consider joining regular group exercises which allow you to interact with others to elevate your positive emotions and improve the flow of qi.

You should also explore activities that rejuvenate the mind such as yoga, meditation and taichi. Besides encouraging you to calm yourself down, these exercises will also help you to control your emotions better.

As these exercises tend to be slow-moving, you may find them difficult to manage initially. However, with time, you should be able to grow accustomed to them.

Diet recommendations

Consume more food which helps to elevate your mood and improve the flow of qi. These include:

  • Seaweed
  • Hawthorn
  • Roses
  • Lavender
  • Fatty fish (e.g. salmon and mackerel)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fermented foods (e.g. kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut)
  • Bananas
  • Oats, berries, nuts and seeds
  • Coffee
  • Beans and lentils

Conversely, avoid sugary, high calorie food that may lead to weight gain and other chronic health problems which may further trigger negative emotions.

Your body is not efficiently replenishing the oxygen in your blood.

Managing your mental state

Excessive mental workloads tend to contribute to the subtle depletion of blood according to TCM concepts.

When there is insufficient oxygenated blood to nourish the heart, you may experience insomnia, forgetfulness, or an inability to focus, and this may lead to frustration more easily.

Hence, it is important for you to get enough rest, taking mental breaks where necessary to calm down your mind and relax yourself.

Exercise recommendations

Regular routine exercises such as jogging and swimming are recommended in order to stimulate the production of red blood cells. In addition to promoting overall wellness, vigorous exercise increases your body’s need for oxygen, sending signals to your brain to create more red blood cells.

However, if you experience fatigue easily, then make sure to pace yourself and gradually build up the intensity of your physical activities.

Diet recommendations

Consume more food that is iron-rich or high in vitamin B (folic acid) such as

  • Dark, leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
  • Dried fruits (e.g. prunes and raisins)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Egg yolks
  • Enriched breads
  • Enriched cereals

Food high in vitamin A (retinol) also supports the production of red blood cells. This includes:

  • Dark, leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Red peppers
  • Fruits (e.g. watermelon, grapefruit, and cantaloupe)

In TCM, yin is closely linked to your body’s level of hydration.

Hence, when your yin is lower than your body’s equilibrium state, you will tend to experience signs of dehydration.

This includes dryness in your skin and mouth, feeling thirsty despite regular water intake, and an undesirable reaction to Chinese herbs which have “warm” TCM properties.

Managing your mental state

A deficiency in yin would make your body feel hot more easily and may make you more irritable. As such, consider avoiding competitive games or sports which may aggravate negative moods and emotions

Staying up late at night can also reduce your body’s yin level and should be minimised as far as possible.

Exercise recommendations

If you are experiencing low yin levels (i.e. getting dehydrated easily in the TCM context), then you should avoid physical activities which may involve excessive perspiration.

Try to do exercise that is lower in intensity and non-competitive, such as e.g. yoga or tai-chi.

Diet recommendations

Avoid eating spicy food with heaty TCM properties such as chili, garlic, Chinese chives, and mutton.

Rather, try to consume food with high water content, or food that possess cooling TCM properties such as green beans, winter melon, sugar cane juice, and watermelon.

Your body’s blood circulation is poor due to obstructions in your blood flow.

Exercise recommendations

Medium to high physical activities are recommended to increase the blood circulation within your body. This includes brisk walking, dancing, jogging and aerobics. Furthermore, regular exercise has the added benefit of reducing your risk of heart disease.

However, if you have any cardiovascular conditions, please also be careful not to over-exert yourself. Listening to your body and pacing yourself at your own comfort level is important.

Diet recommendations

You will benefit greatly from foods which help to promote better blood circulation. These include:

  • Hawthorn
  • Vinegar
  • Roses
  • Cayenne pepper and cinnamon
  • Onions, garlic and ginger
  • Fatty fish (e.g. salmon and mackerel)
  • Leafy greens
  • Citric fruits, berries, and pomegranates
  • Walnuts
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes

At the same time, you should try to consume less fatty, oily, and salty food.

Note: if you have any medical conditions which require anticoagulants, do consult your medical doctor on your diet restriction as some of the food listed here may not be compatible with such medication.

Yang (“阳” in Mandarin), being associated with the sun, represents a source of heat energy in TCM. Therefore, when your body is low in yang, it will tend to experience lower levels of internal heat.

Managing your mental state

It is important that you remain conscious of your mental state, staying positive and adjusting your emotions accordingly to avoid being affected by any negativity.

Exercise recommendations

Outdoor activities in the day are a great way to help your body accumulate more yang. High intensity exercises will also help to build up heat within your body.

Diet recommendations

Consume more spicy food with heaty TCM property, e.g. chilli, garlic, chinese chives, mutton, etc.

Try to consume more spicy food with heaty TCM properties such as chili, garlic, Chinese chives, and mutton.

Conversely, food that possess cooling TCM properties should be avoided. This includes food such as green beans, winter melon, sugar cane juice, watermelon, and green tea.

“Heatiness” is a TCM term that indicates that your body’s yang level is higher than its equilibrium state.

Managing your mental state

Try to stay conscious of negative emotions, such as anger in particular. Learn to develop the will to control your feelings with a rational mind whenever you start to feel angry, overcoming any emotional impulses.

Exercise recommendations

When you are heaty, high intensity exercises will help your body to release the excessive yang through increased perspiration. Hence consider physical activities such as circuit training, boxing, and running.

Diet recommendations

Try to consume food with high water content, or food that possess cooling TCM properties such as green beans, winter melon, sugar cane juice, and watermelon.

At the same time, avoid eating spicy food with heaty TCM properties such as chili, garlic, Chinese chives, and mutton.

You should also avoid alcoholic drinks, as these may impair your cognitive processes and trigger the aggravation of negative emotions such as anger.

Dampness in TCM refers to a condition when fluid builds up within your body, and phlegm is one recognized form of this intangible element which may sometimes cause you to fall ill if not properly managed.

It is caused by factors such as high environmental humidity (e.g. Singapore's weather) as well as consuming too much fried food, or food that is oily or high in sugar/artificial sweeteners.

Managing your mental state

Dampness can often lead to a stagnation of qi flow within your body, which may consequently affect your cognitive abilities.

Consider engaging in various outdoor activities to increase your physical output and counteract against a sluggish mental state caused by dampness.

Exercise recommendations

In TCM, perspiration is one way in which you can remove internal dampness from your body.

Regular exercises such as circuit training, boxing, and running can help to increase your perspiration and reduce the level of dampness within your body.

Alternatively, you can also visit a steam room to induce perspiration and further expel excessive dampness from your body.

Diet recommendations

Try to eat clean, consuming more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Highly processed snacks, sweets and other packaged food should be avoided.

Some common TCM herbs that you can consider consuming are dried tangerine peels, ginger, and barley, as these strengthen your digestive system which will also help to eliminate dampness from your body.