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April, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 04

The Korean Four Constitutional Types, Part II

By Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc

Editor's note: Part I of this article appeared in the March issue of Massage Today, available on line at

There are many different paradigms for assessing fundamental characteristics in Chinese medicine.

No one pattern can fit the bill for all people. Whichever system you use, it is important to carefully consider your clients' nature to select the most effective meridians on which to focus.

Last month, I talked about two of the four Korean constitutional types: taiyang and taiyin (greater yang and yin). These are both excess types, as seen by the word "greater" in their names. So for taiyang, we are looking at large amounts of yang, such as a lot of energy, action, aggression and forward motion. For taiyin, we are looking at great amounts of yin such as a soft, fleshiness, tumors, growths and stagnation. (See MT, February, 2002)

This month, I will continue by describing the characteristics for shaoyang and shaoyin, (lesser yang and lesser yin) which are characterized by a relative deficiency.

Shaoyang -- Lesser Yang -- Gall Bladder and Triple Heater

The Gall Bladder and Triple Heater meridians are on the lateral aspect of the body: on both sides of the head and the middle yang meridians on the arms and legs. They move us in a side-to-side direction. Shaoyang helps us differentiate, "Should I go here or there?" Or as the Clash would say, "Should I stay or should I go?" Decision making, usually in the realm of the GB, can be supported with the TH because of their shaoyang relationship.

You are going to find that often shaoyang people have a small, wiry body type. They are very sinewy and always active. Their complexion has an olive tinge to it. They often have a bit of dark under their eyes from an underlying deficiency created by burning the candle at both ends.

The shaoyang person is always being pulled to the sides and all directions at once; they are interested in everything! This is the person that has something scheduled for every moment of their time. They work as well as take all kinds of classes, every night of the week: karate, Japanese, belly dancing, pottery, car racing, boating and on and on. Then they get real excited because they find out that there is a taiqi class Sunday mornings which they can fit into their schedule, oh boy! They are people that don't like to be bored, are looking for stuff new and exciting and take on way too much.

For that reason, their pattern is "burnout." They go and go and go, then get sick or injured and then collapse. But they rest only enough time to recover and then start back again into the same schedule. Most of the time they are on stimulants such as coffee to maintain their activity level.

Oftentimes, many of my students are shaoyang. They work full-time jobs, come to class weeknights and weekends, and still maintain their other varied interests. I don't see taiyang students often because they don't want to go to a shiatsu school, they want to start one. The taiyin person can't figure out how to get off work to take classes, and as I'll you'll see, the shaoyin person is too sick and tired to do anything.

Because of the shaoyang person's exhausting activity level, an important thing to tell them is that it is ok to take a break; that doing nothing is doing something! Suggest that they drink less coffee and eat less greasy and salty foods, eating more leafy green vegetables instead.

Definitely address the shaoyang meridians with this person, but you can probably guess that their Kidney meridian is shot as well. When they are tired and over extended, they will often get headaches on the side of their head along the shaoyang meridians, due to Liver Yang rising. This is a combination excess/ deficiency syndrome. If this is the case, be sure to incorporate local points such as GB 20, GB 8 and GB 13 and distal points such as Lv 2, GB 41, Ki 3 and Ki 6.

Shaoyin -- Lesser Yin -- Heart and Kidneys

The Heart and Kidney meridians form the fundamental core of our body: an axis created by fire and water. They are located at the most tender, medial, yin aspect of our arms and legs.

The body type of a typical shaoyin person is thin, weak and frail. Their energy level is very low and their skin and lips are pale. They are definitely a deficiency type.

The strength (and of course weakness) of this person is their sensitivity. They are great at doing any kind of energy work because they perceive more than most people. The problem is, though, that they feel too much and it is hard for them to differentiate and quantify. For example, they come into your office and you ask them if they have anything wrong and they pull out 50 typed pages. They have problems and pain everywhere and they perceive it all as equally horrible. They will go into details such as a twinge that they had last week in their right fourth toe and ask you, "What does that mean?"

A shaoyin person is the type to put themselves on a very strict limited diet. Not only will they only eat, for example, brown rice and sprouts, it has to be a certain kind of brown rice like short grain and not all sprouts, just a few types are ok. They feel the impact of everything so acutely. Whereas the taiyang person can eat fast food and junk all day long and feel great.

To contrast those two types again, a student's taiyang father was working on his car, broke his hand and continued to fix his car until he was done. He came into the house with his hand kind of dangling and twisted off to the side and his wife flipped out while he denied that it was a big deal. He only agreed to go to the hospital if he could drive. (And we are talking about a stick shift here!) I think everyone will agree that is a bit much but a true shaoyin person is just as extreme in the other direction. If they get a hangnail, it is so disruptive and upsetting, they will call in sick to work that day.

It can be fun working with shaoyin people because they can feel everything happening in their body and can give you great feedback. You will touch a point on their shoulder and they will feel it and trace the exact meridian down to their feet. The challenge, though, is they tend to exaggerate symptoms. You have to put a filter on what they say and quantify information. For example, if they come in with pain in their arm as their main concern (and it is always hard for them to find a "main" concern because it is all so horrible) and you ask them the next time they come in how it is, they tend to say, "Oh the pain is just awful!" whereas if you ask them to quantify the pain on a 1-10 scale each time, maybe it is actually 50% better, even though they still find it unbearable.

Start by trying to build the shaoyin person up. Tonify the Heart and Kidney meridians with gentle deep and penetrating pressure. Use moxa, particularly on Ren 4 and Ming Men. I have found that shaoyin people really appreciate subtle work such as Jin Shin Do® Bodymind Acupressure ™ as well. Encourage them to broaden their diet with more high calorie foods/ protein shakes. Encourage them to exercise more, maybe even try weight lifting.


The Korean constitutional types are one paradigm among many! Whenever I use it, though, I always utilize it in combination with a more detailed assessment, using the tongue and pulse. I love the imagery used in this system; it's so easy to see parts of others and ourselves in these classic types. Enjoy!

Learn More

For a list of schools that offer programs in ABT, go to For information on the national ABT exam, go to

Click here for previous articles by Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc.


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