Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works For Regular Folks
















What's Your Type? East and West Personality Types
by Brian Carter, MS, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and maintains a private acupuncture and herbal practice in San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.


Everyone is unique.
We experience it. We see it all the time. It's fundamental to Chinese medicine. Throughout the ages, many minds and cultures have produced "typologies" - or, personality types. In this article, we'll look at three of them:

Table of Contents:


  1. Western Civilization's 4 Personality Types: Hippocrates called them Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic and Melancholic. Jung wrote about the Feeler, Thinker, Sensor and Intuitor. David Keirsey, author of the popular book "Please Understand Me" uses Plato's original names for these types: Idealists, Rationals, Guardians and Artisans.

  2. Chinese Medicine (CM)'s 5 Constitutions: Each constitution has a different approach to life. In CM, body mind and spirit are integrated. So we have a mind-body-spirit typology. The 5 constitutions are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. There's even more about this in my new book, Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind.

  3. Chinese Medicine's 6 Temperaments: Yves Requena writes about an additional historical system based on the 6 divisions of the "Cold Damage Classic (Shang Han Lun)" as temperaments. The 6 temperaments are shao yang, yang ming, tai yang, tai yin, jue yin, and shao yin.

    I'll give you just a brief introduction to each of those 3 systems. It'll help you in your daily life to start to categorize the people you meet. Then you'll be able to understand their motivations and deal with them more comfortably.

    One of you is thinking, "This is too reductionistic! Real people are too complex to categorize." It's true that none of these systems can explain all your complexities, but it's a start. Besides, when was the last time being complex got you anywhere? I mean anywhere good. ;-)

    These 3 typologies (Keirsey, 5 phase, 6 division) are separate, overlapping systems. They have not been fully integrated. Some of the 6 divisions correlations are my speculations. I invite your feedback!

    1. Keirsey & Brigg's 4 Major Types (16 subtypes)

    This is a system of 4 either-or characteristics… Extrovert/Introvert, Sensory/Intuitive, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. From these (2 x 2 x 2 x 2) we get 16 possible combinations. These 16 types are each represented by four letters like this: ENFJ, ISTP, etc.

    But let's start with just the four most basic types:

Plato, 340 BC Artisan (SP) Guardian (SJ) Idealist (NF) Rational (NT)
Galen, 190 AD Sanguine Melancholic Choleric Phlegmatic
Paracelsus, 1550 Changeable Industrious Inspired Curious
Fromm, 1947 Exploitative Hoarding Receptive Marketing
Myers, 1958 Probing Scheduling Friendly Tough-minded
Self-Image (Keirsey, 1998) Artistic


Orientation (Keirsey, 1998) Hedonistic



There is too much to say about each type. Keirsey's book, Please Understand Me II (check it out on Amazon.com) is 300+ pages on this topic. It goes into the 4 subtypes of each of these 4 types, for a total of 16 types. It discusses mating, leadership, and parenting for each. There's insight about how patients and doctors can work together better… spouses, friends, bosses and employees, etc.

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2. The 5 Phase Constitutional Types of Chinese Medicine

I've spoken elsewhere about these… I wrote an article about the earth phase and food cravings, another about the wood phase and its relationship to coffee, anger, and planning, and a third about metal and autumnal changes. Right now I'm going to focus on the emotions and mental tendencies of all 5 phases.

Here's a chart:

Phase Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Physical Symptoms Ribside pain, tendon, eye, and nail problems,Headaches in vertex and temples, fatigued in AM, difficulty rising, go to bed late Heart palpitations, urinary tract infections, feelings of heat, consuming fatigue can occur suddenly and can lapse into depression, sleeps for short periods only, 4-6 hours per night Intense brief fatigue, loose stool, excess weight, low or high appetite, acid reflux, burping, vomiting, strong, stamina, slow to act Cough, shortness of breath, throat problems, skin problems, easily tired, lacks energy, exhausted in evening, economizes, slow, needs lots of sleep, goes to bed early Low back pain, urinary problems, Knee and ankle weakness, joint problems, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, frail, often ill
Emotions out of balance Irritability, frustration, anger, depression, intellectually unstable, wavering concentration, weak memory Over-excitement, excessive joy, anxiety, mania, hypersensitive, hides emotion, rebellious, withdrawn Worry, obsession, lazy, indolent, neglectful, manipulative, distracted, forgetful, melancholy Grief, sadness, melancholy, lack of attention, easily discouraged Fear, dread, fright, discouragement, disgust, disinterest, sadness, desire to be alone
Abilities planning, leading, waxing, increasing inspiration, hype, fullness, memory can be amazingly god or bad, may be sharp intelligence and focus, authoritative processing, thinking, balance, optimism, philosophy organizing, discernment, endings, waning Groundedness, inherited potentials, IQ, amazingly good or bad memory

As you can see, each type tends toward certain physical symptoms and emotions. But every yin has its yang, every coin has two sides- each phase also has positive abilities.

3. The 6 Division Temperaments

The 6 Temperaments can be further divided into 12… each division has two of the 5 phases. So, for example, you can be a wood-shao-yang, or a fire-shao-yang type.

Temperament Related 5 Phases Characteristics Keirsey Types & Examples
Shao Yang - ACTION, VISION, LEADERSHIP, INSPIRATION Wood and Fire Pretentious, moves around a lot, angry, superficial energy, generous, vital, exuberant, optimistic, cheerful, intense, spontaneous, fiery, warm, sparkling, full of ideas and imagination, wild blundering creativity, inspired, exuberant, enthusiastic, quick temper with regret, anxiety, agitation, optimism, can't stay still
  • Victor Hugo
  • John Wayne
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Basquiat
Yang Ming - HARMONIOUS, GENEROUS, SOCIAL Metal and Earth

Both types: harmony, tact, ponderous thought, extroverted

  • Earth: calm, generous, unambitious, optimistic, jovial, welcoming, good memory, word-play, puns, choruses, proverbs, hyperactive, dynamic, objective, practical, extroverted, life of the party, tolerant, tactical sense, successful, tranquilizer, entertainer, sensual, superficial, bad gamblers, lack of accurate foresight
  • Metal: humble, meticulous, clairvoyant, natural elegance, pipe-smoker, good memory, discernment, analysis, law, appear inactive but are always working, habitual, punctual, honest, ethical, keen sense of humor, react to conflict with reason



  • Earth subtype:artisan (ESP) - extrovert, practical, social, witty, polite, ironic, skeptical, manipulative; Diplomat, manager; Dickens, Krushchev, Falstaff
  • Metal subtype:rational (ENT) - routine, objective, trustworthy, patient, determined; George Washington, George Bush, John Kennedy, Bach
Tai Yang - PROUD, FOCUSED, DISCIPLINED Fire and Water Rigid, erect, slender, noble, arrogant, narcissistic, dignified, dominating, condescending, great memory and intelligence, great capacity for learning and work, ambitious, achieving, single-minded, controlled, sacrifice, discipline, pride, austerity

Thinking, Judging

  • Alexander the Great
  • Caear
  • Napoleon
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Orson Welles
  • Barbara Streisand
Jue Yin - EMOTION, IMAGINATION, CREATIVITY Wood and fire Irregular, do as they please, nervous, emotionally expressive, great but inconsistent achievements, easily seduced, easily consoled, memory problems, up and down emotionally, occas severe lack of self-confidence, hypervigilant, imaginative, creative, seductive, put up appearances


Politician, anything people-oriented, revolutionary, speaker, leader

  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Woody Allen
  • James Dean
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Metal: introverted, crafty, polite, apathetic, independent, habitual, somber, plain, meticulous, secretive, introverted, sad, slow, deeply knowledgeable, distracted, inattentive, good memory, analytical, relational thought, prudent, cautious, disciplined, closed, cautious, orderly, innate sense of judgement, intolerance, slander, faithful, devoted, reclusive; law, forensics
  • Earth: extroverted, passive, soft, calm, generous, optimistic, good confidant, prefer to listen than to speak, objective, rationalistic, indifferent to past, easy-going, unambitious, disengaged, tolerant, indifferent, passive, obstinant, pleasure-seeking, careless, not punctual, see relationships between things, absent-minded, periods of unexplainable isolation and depression, lack of follow-through; arbitrator, counselor, artist, musician, poet, actor
  • Metal - Introverted, Judging - Christ, Verlain, Chopin, Cinderella, Snoew White, Sleeping Beauty, Laurel and Hardy
  • Earth - Extroverted, Thinking, Judging - Buddha, Diogenes, Mozart
Shao Yin - CAUTIOUS, INTROVERTED, DEVOTED Water and Fire Introverted, timid, brisk, quick, awkward, teary-eyed, cautious, sensitive, desire for intimacy but fear of exposure, give all or none of their trust, lack of eye contact, reclusive, attached to past, memory is better for emotions than facts, more conceptual than practical, opinionated, ethical, sentimental, modest, humble, melancholy, discontent, introspective, self-analyzing, romantic, monogamous, faithful

Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling

  • Einstein
  • Ghandi

As you can see, these are some really interesting (and involved!) systems.

Chinese Medical Typologies - Mind Body and Spirit Integrative Medicine

The promise of the Eastern typologies is that once we know your personality, we can help you physically, and vice versa… once we know your physical constitution, we can guess quite a bit about your personality. This means that the excellent Chinese medicine physician can treat you body mind and spirit; she can heal your aches and pains, counsel you on emotional problems, and help you understand relationship problems as well.

To get this kind of help, you'll have to work one-on-one with a Chinese Medicine (CM) physician. Before you see them, you may want to ask about their specialty. Almost any CM physician can integrate mind and body in this way… but some practice sports medicine and aren't too interested in your psyche. On the other end of the spectrum are the 5 Phase practitioners who treat everything, even physical symptoms from a purely emotional standpoint.

So What Can You Do with this Info?

Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses… it's kind of like the type of fuel you burn. That means that even when you are healthy, you still need to live, eat, exercise, and take supplements that balance your natural inclinations.

If you know you are, for example, an Earth type constitution, you can expect that your digestion will always be a bit vulnerable. The Earth type tends to pull in too many people, activities, and foods, and suffers from mental overwhelm and physical indigestion. It's better for an Earth-type to stay organized (metal element), practice saying "no" (wood element), walk rather than run marathons, and eat some natural sweets but not overload on candies, ice cream, and cookies.

What you can do is:

  1. Figure out which type you are… meditate or pray about it for a month, while watching your habitual behaviors and symptoms. Consult a CM practitioner about it. Then, once you know your type better, you can…
  2. Go easy on the activities and foods that make you worse, and…
  3. Add foods and herbal formulas that lend you balance.

The Goal... Personal Balance

Chinese Medicine doesn't balance everyone into the same kind of person… it makes you a balanced your-kind-of-person. It doesn't try to force you into some abstract perfect model… it makes you the best YOU that you can be.

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  1. Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me II.
  2. Requena, Yves. Terrains and Pathology in Acupuncture.
  3. There's even more about this in my new book, Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
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