In practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there is a wide variety of methods to create a diagnosis. Perhaps the most obvious to our patients is asking questions. Many patients find that when they come in for their first acupuncture treatment, we (the acupuncturist) ask many questions pertaining to the “chief complaint” as well as other aspects of well-being. For the acupuncturist, the answers to the questions give us our first clues as to which energetic channels are out of balance and where the pathology is located. Next, palpating (feeling) the pulse and observing the tongue are more objective methods in supporting (or not) our preliminary diagnosis.
However, observing each patient as a whole individual is another important clue in creating a diagnosis and treatment plan. In addition to the aforementioned techniques, we need to observe the patient’s eyes, voice, demeanor and body type. Although each person doesn’t necessarily fit into a perfect pattern, there is a theory within TCM that views individual body types into specific categories. These categories are based upon the “5 element” principal within TCM—fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Each element does NOT define who we are as people, but it does give us a clue as to certain tendencies in terms of emotions and where pathologies are more likely to arise. For example, if someone is a “wood” type, they are more likely to have pathologies arising from the wood element (liver channel).
Here is an overview of the different elements and their characterizations:
Wood (Liver): Small head, long face, broad shoulders, tall with small hands and feet
Fire (Heart): Red complexion, wide teeth, curly hair OR little hair, tendency to walk briskly
Earth (Spleen): Yellowish complexion, round face, wide jaw, large abdomen, well-defined muscles
Metal (Lung): Pale complexion, square face, small shoulders, flat abdomen and strong voice
Water (Kidney): Dark complexion, wrinkly skin, large head, large abdomen, long spine
Which element are you?