The Yin and Yang of Body Shapes and What They Say About You

According to the Five Element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), all body shapes fall into one of five categories. This philosophy embodies a simplified approach limited to the interaction of yin and yang energies within our bodies.

While there are an infinite number of body shapes, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) categorizes them into five groups based on specific characteristics and corresponding to each of the five elements of TCM theory.

You might find it interesting to see where your body shape falls in the schematic representation to the right. For more information on body shapes and morphology, go to our blog post of Friday, September 2.

Note: Yang is represented by an equilateral triangle (all sides equal) standing not on its base but on the opposite angle. Conversely, yin is represented by an equilateral triangle standing on its base.

1. The upside down triangle: With dominating yang energy, favors the development of the upper part of the body at the expense of the lower parts (big shoulders and skinny legs).

2. The triangle resting on its base: With dominating yin energy, favors the development of the lower part of the body at the expense of the upper part.

3. A rectangle standing on its smaller side: Balance of yin and yang.

4. Two triangles joined at the opposing angles with their base both at the bottom and at the top: With strong yang on the upper part of the body and strong yin in the lower part of the body creating a constriction in the midsection, results in insufficient energy for assimilation and elimination with all the attendant health and skin problems this condition generates.

5. Two triangles joined at the base with opposing angles both at the top and the bottom: With limited development of legs and shoulders and strong development of midsection, points to overactive assimilation and elimination but weak regenerating function.

Here are fascinating excerpts on Yin and Yang physical tendencies from two ancient Chinese medicine textbooks.

Abundant Yang

“People with abundant Yang hold their head high while standing because it is the nature of Yang to rise. They shake their body while walking because it is in the nature of Yang to move. They often hold their hands behind the body with the arms and elbows by the sides of the body as it is in the nature of Yang to be exposed.” — The Golden Mirror
“A Greater-Yang type of person looks arrogant with the chest and stomach projected forward as if the body was bending backwards. This is the picture of a Greater-Yang type of person. A Lesser-Yang type of person holds the head high while standing, and shakes the body while walking… 
A person with abundant Yang is emotional and as warm as fire; he talks fast and is swollen with arrogance. It is because the Heart- and Lung-Qi of such a persona are abundant; Yang-Qi is therefore plentiful and flows freely and vigorously. For this reason, it is easy to stimulate his spirit, and the Qi arrives quickly when acupuncture is given.”
— Book Two, The Spiritual Axis, from The Neijing Suwen

Abundant Yin

“Persons of the Greater-Yin type have a sombre countenance and pretend to be humble. They have the body build of a grown-up, but make themselves smaller by bending their back and knees slightly… They are restless while standing, and walk as if to hide themselves…
Persons of the Greater-Yin type are constitutionally excessive in Yan and deficient in Yang. Their Yin and blood are thick and turbid. Their defensive Qi does not flow freely…” — Book Two, Spiritual Axis, from The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor

Harmony of Yin and Yang

“People with the body shape with harmony of Yin and Yang look elegant and graceful.” 
— Book Two, The Spiritual Axis, from The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor


“People with a strong body build and relaxed skin, in whom Qi flows smoothly, will live a long life; while those with a strong body build but tense skin, in whom Qi stagnates, will die young…. As medical practitioners, we must understand the connection between body build and body shape so that we may have an idea of the patient’s life expectancy.” —The Golden Mirror

About the Texts Quoted:

Also known as The Imperially Commissioned Golden Mirror of the Orthodox Lineage of Medicine, The Golden Mirror was the Qianlong emperor’s serious effort at categorizing the treatment of sickness and injuries in order to establish a comprehensive standard Chinese medicine textbook.

The Spiritual Axis is one book of the Neijing Suwen, also known as the Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor, one of the most important classics of Taoism, as well as the highest authority on traditional Chinese medicine. Its authorship is attributed to the great Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, who reigned during the third millennium BCE.