Identify constitutions correctly for cure
By Lee Sung-hun
Quite often Koreans refer to their body type, or what we in Korean Oriental medicine (KOM) refer as body constitutions. The word ‘constitution’ may not be directly mentioned, but you will hear Koreans say things like, “I can drink as much Soju as I like, and be okay with it, but a single glass of beer can upset my stomach.” Some say that they can eat as much flour-based food as they like, and others will say that they have problems digesting this type of food. There are those who only like drinking cold water, and yet others will only drink warm water. Such are the instances that reveal our body’s characteristics – our constitutions. These traits reveal what is suitable or unsuitable for our bodies, allowing us to live a healthier and longer life.
The term constitution has been used for a very long time in KOM. However, the term Sasang Constitutional Medicine was coined by Lee Je-ma (A.D. 1837-1900) during the late Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). In his book, “Dongeuisoosebowon,” or longevity and life preservation in Oriental medicine, Lee says that humans are born with one of four types of constitution; soyangin (SY type), soeumin (SE type), taeyangin (TY type), and taeumin (TE type).
A common mistake made with understanding the classification of body constitutions arises because the words “Tae” and “Yang,” mean great and positive respectively. Therefore people tend to think that TY is the best type of the four. However, this could not be further from truth. Each constitution lets us know that there are comparatively stronger and weaker organs for each type, and such functional differences result in our body’s characteristics.
For example, a TY type person has a more developed Yang force and generally has a stronger upper body. The neck tends to be thicker, and shoulders and face wider; their lower bodies are less prominent, and thus their hips tend to be smaller, and their legs thinner. Thus a TY type person may have an awkward posture while standing and tend to tire easily when walking or standing for an extended period of time. Personality-wise, a TY type person is usually a leader. Many may view this as a leadership quality, but in certain cases, TY type people are prone to not compromising.
As such, there are pros and cons in each category which means reactions to diseases and methods of treatment differ. Medicinal herbs are used in different combinations for individual constitutions, and corresponding acupuncture points also differ. Thus, categorizing a patient is the first and the most crucial point of diagnosis.
If you have visited a KOM clinic, you may have filled out a questionnaire sheet in order to identify your constitution. There are many factors in determining a person’s constitution; appearance, body shape, personality, lifestyle and any chronic illness, etc. In my clinic, I personally use what is called the Body Measuring Method (BMM). BMM involves drawing 5 horizontal lines (shoulder, chest, stomach, umbilical and ilium lines) between the shoulder and the pelvis of the patient’s body, and measuring the length to compare the developmental status of the body trunk to determine the patient’s constitution. In most cases, BMM will reveal the patient’s constitution right away, but in atypical cases, an interview with the patient about specific symptoms along with their personality and emotions can be necessary.
Identifying one’s constitution may seem like a straightforward process, but in reality, it is a complex one that requires years of experience. Avoid the common mistake of reading a few articles from magazines and thinking that you have figured out your own constitution. As in any other medical field, it is best to seek professional advice by consulting a KOM doctor who practices Constitutional Medicine.
The writer practices KOM at UN Oriental Medical Clinic in Seoul.