Working out the Constitution

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First impressions vs. complexity

Genetics play a huge part in this whole subject and each of us has a natural inclination to be one of the four constitutions from birth. That said there are many other key factors, such as lifestyle, environment & nutrition, that influence just how much hotter, cooler, dryer or damper a person then becomes.

Sometimes it is very easy to identify a person's constitution; their look and manner of moving, speaking etc. are so characteristic that any questions one might later ask are merely to check and confirm the first impression. People are complex though and sometimes, however, the constitution is not obvious and one needs to ask questions with an open mind until you can be sure where they sit on either side of the two spectrums.

It is usually easier to work out another person's constitution than it is your own but, so long as you keep an open mind and don't rush to make a decision you will find that it always eventually falls into place...


Hotter vs. Cooler

I usually start with the hot to cool spectrum because, generally speaking, it is the easier one to work out and, in many cases, just one or two questions will tell you where the person sits or will confirm the earlier 'first impression'.

I have written out the following questions much as I often ask them in real life. You must ask the person (or yourself) these questions in a truly open manner with no bias of one answer being the right one, or a better one, than another!

Feeling the heat or cold

1) "Do you feel the heat more easily or do you feel the cold more easily - is it easier for you to get too hot or too cold?"

It is a simple fact that no-one wants to feel too hot and most certainly no-one wants to feel too cold! That said, the further someone sits along either side of the spectrum the more emphatic tends to be their answer on either side of the scale. Cool constitutions know they can get cold easily and will often give an unreserved exclamation of 'the cold!' No hot constitution wants to be cold either but, when they stop and think about it, they will often recognise that it is actually much easier for them to get too hot than it is for them to get too cold.

Feel like you sit in the middle?

No-one actually ever sits exactly in the middle but it is quite common that a person will sit closer to the middle on one of the two spectrums whilst being much further to one side of the other. If you could go either way on any of these 'working it out' questions then it may just be because you are closer to the middle of that spectrum, don't worry about it, just take an impression of which side you might tend towards and go on to the next question, the overall picture will eventually become clear.


Dressing up or down

2) "Imagine you are at an outdoor gathering where it's casual dress, comparing yourself to the other people there, will you be wearing more layers of clothing than average or less layers of clothing than average?"

This can be a particularly useful question for picking out the cooler constitutions who are usually well aware that they need to have extra layers to keep comfortable and have often looked at others in short sleeves, open shoes etc. on cooler days and wondered how they can do it! Hotter constitutions tend to be less aware of their need for extra layers so may look a bit vague when asked this question - unless they are further out to the edge of the spectrum and have heard a few comments about how hot-blooded they must be to only need to dress so lightly.

This question can also be morphed into how a person compares to others in their home environment because if they are a 'hottie' then they may be the one who often wants to open windows, turn off heaters, throw off bed-covers etc. but if they are a cooler constitution they may be the one who often wants to turn up the heat, add blankets, keep out drafts etc.

Sipping style

3) "When you get a hot drink of something do you prefer to sip it whilst it's still hot or do you prefer to let it cool down first?"

This one can be influenced by habit and upbringing however, there's often a close correlation with the cooler constitutions wanting the extra heat of sipping their drink hot, whereas the hotter constitutions don't need to get any hotter and so prefer their drinks cooler.

You may already be half way there...

There are more ways to assess this still to come but if you already clearly identify with being a hotter constitution then you are going to either be an Eagle or a Tiger whereas if you already clearly identify with being a cooler constitution then you are going to be a Bear or an EB (Elephant/Butterfly). How you know which one of the two you are is determined where you sit on the next spectrum - the dryer to damper...


Dryer vs. Damper

The dryer to damper spectrum can be trickier to work out, particularly because imbalances in health can influence it so much. Remember to ask the questions of yourself or the person you are doing this in an open way and be willing to take an overall impression if there are any uncertainties.

Hard or easy sweat

4) "Do you sweat quite easily or does it take a lot to get you to perspire?"

The answer to this question will be affected by the person's level of fitness and the kind of climate they are in but there is usually a strong association with dryer constitutions taking a lot more to get a sweat going (very dry people may say they hardly sweat at all) whereas damper constitutions will usually sweat more easily and a very damp person may sweat quite profusely.

Skin type

5) "Does the skin on your body or your feet tend to be more dry and flaky or more oily and moist?"

If you just ask people whether they think their skin in general is more dry or oily they will usually base their answer on what they think of their facial skin but this can be very affected by products &/or the environment. The skin of the body or the feet can be a better gauge so long as they are places that don't get shaved, weather-beaten or overly moisturised! The further a person is to the edge of the dryer or damper spectrum the more they tend to notice a relative dryness or oiliness in their skin.



6) "Let's talk about mucus! The 'goo' that we make in our noses, throat, ears, all the openings in our bodies - do you think that you are quite a generous mucus producer or do you think that you are a fairly scanty mucus producer?"

This can be a particularly useful question to bring out the damper constitutions because, whilst a dryer person may simply not be much aware of making much mucus and so give you a kind of blank response, the damper a person is the more they know that they tend to produce plenty of bodily fluids! That said you have to be careful not to be thrown by a dryer person with some kind of environmental allergy or chronic infection that is giving them some congestion because they tend to find mucus particularly uncomfortable and will emphasise its presence if asked about it. The kind of mucus the dryer constitutions produce tends to be scanty but prone to getting stuck whereas damper constitutions tend to make mucus that is much runnier and easier to pass.


7) "From mucus to bowel motions! If we said that a 'normal' bowel motion was like a soft, ripe banana, would you say that you were typically about normal or that you tended to often be softer and looser than that or that you tended to often be harder and dryer than that?"

It is an observable pattern that a person who tends markedly to the dry side of the spectrum can be prone to getting dryer stools or may even occasionally suffer from constipation whereas a person who veers to the damper side of the spectrum damper will often report a tendency to loose bowel motions. Of course this all depends greatly on diet choices as well as the health of the bowel so don't be overly thrown if the answer to this one, or indeed any of the above, seems to be in contrast to the general pattern; such irregularities happen and in fact there is often a good reason for it which is useful to investigate further.

If you clearly identify with being a damper constitution, then you will be a Tiger or a Bear whereas if you clearly identify with being a dryer constitution, then you will be an Eagle or an EB (Elephant/Butterfly).

Which one are you?

Don't worry if you are not completely clear from the above questions because there is further information below that can also help you work out your constitution. However, if you are already confident that the clear majority of your signs or answers are towards one side of the hot to cool spectrum and likewise towards one side of the dry to damp spectrum then you probably now already know which one you are and can click on one of the links below this picture to find out a lot more about your constitution!

~ If you clearly tend towards being hotter and damper then you are a Tiger
~ If you clearly tend towards being hotter and dryer then you are an Eagle
~ If you clearly tend towards being cooler & dryer then you are an Elephant/Butterfly
~ If you clearly tend towards being cooler & damper then you are a Bear

~ Tigers: Hotter & Damper

~ Eagles: Hotter & Dryer

~ Elephant/Butterflies: Cooler & Dryer

~ Bears: Cooler & Damper

~ Back to Constitutional Medicine Introduction

Origins & Adaptations of Constitutional Medicine


Observable patterns

You can use your senses to deepen your impression of the constitution by observing the complexion, the voice and the hands. Remember that people are complex and not everyone's signs will always fit completely into what is expected for that constitution but if the majority of the evidence points towards one side of the spectrum then you can be confident you are looking in the right direction.


On average, the further a person tends towards the hotter side of the spectrum the ruddier will be their complexion and, vice versa, the more a person tends to the cool side of the spectrum the more pale they will typically appear. Do be aware that many other factors can influence this though, level of sun-exposure foremostly but also things like anaemia that can cause paleness or a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause the skin to flush.

It is also easy to observe whether a person has visibly dry or oily skin and so get an immediate impression as to whether they are likely to be on the drier or damper side of the spectrum. It also should be noted that damp constitutions can get acne well into adult life. Do be aware that skin-care products can really mess with a person's natural balance though. I have had many a person tell me that their skin is dry when I can see for myself the natural oily 'sheen' of their skin where it has been left untreated...


A person's voice is as unique as their fingerprints but there are definitely observable patterns amongst the constitutions. On average, the hotter constitutions tend to speak more loudly and, well, more heatedly! Whereas the further a person sits on the cooler side of the spectrum the quieter or more one-to-one their speaking tends to be. Of course this is also greatly affected by factors such as how confident they feel with whom they are talking as well as how they feel about what is being said!

The dryer to damper spectrum shows up in the voice in more subtle ways - dryer constitutions tend to have lighter voices and, if in the right company or they are on a subject that is close to their heart, they can really talk a lot! Damper constitutions might not have quite so much 'air' and so could speak a bit less on average but they also have more 'density' in their voices; you'll soon start hearing what I mean if you tune into it. All people can have a pleasant musicality to their voice or something entirely different dependent on their mood and health. If you are interested in this area then I encourage you to form your own impressions and I think you will soon start to see some fascinating patterns emerge.

The 'Quicks' & the Nails

Under the nail is a rich bed of blood vessels that is easy to observe - the 'quick'. Hotter constitutions typically have more red 'quicks whereas the cooler a person is the more the quicks tend to be pale.

Dryer constitutions will often have dry skin around the edges of their nails and may have a visible brittleness in the nails themselves. Damper constitutions typically have an untreated 'sheen' to their nail but they may look puffy if they have become too congested. Again and of course this can all be much influenced by how they care for their hands or the nature of their work!


The Weather!

How much we are affected by any one aspect of the weather is determined by how close we are to the middle or the edge of each spectrum it relates to. On a colder day it can be easy to spot the markedly different constitutional types who are out nearer the end of their spectrums because the 'cool' people are well wrapped up with extra layers whilst, at the same time, the 'hotties' can be walking around in shorts and tee-shirts!

Where a person sits on the dry-damp spectrum equally influences how much they are affected by the weather though it may not be outwardly obvious in how they dress. For example, a notably dry constitution can feel a sense of relief when, after a dry spell, the weather becomes more humid or even starts raining! Conversely a person who is already quite damp can start to feel oppressed by a run of heavy, humid days and typically feel much better in themselves when the clouds lift and everything dries out!


A Tiger, if they are well out on their spectrums, can feel quite oppressed and out of sorts in hot and humid weather and can feel much relief when it cools down or the humidity is released by the rain. Tigers have to be especially careful not to get overheated at night and can do well to cool down both mentally and physically before going to bed.


I note that Eagles especially hate to be cold and may have to compare their relatively lower need to dress up and warm their homes or workplaces to see that they actually do have a hotter or faster metabolism than average. It is also notable that many Eagles do not thrive in arid climates or overly dry weather and may be strongly drawn to water to get the balance they instinctively need.


The Elephant/Butterfly will certainly and emphatically not enjoy the cold but they may also find that overly long dry spells leave them out of sorts and can feel better in themselves when the weather both warms and moistens; in fact they may find themselves rather natural lovers of clouds! EBs have to be careful of the drying effect of a cold wind but if there is no air-movement at all then they may soon crave the moisture that fresh-air can bring!


Many Bears can easily get overheated and so sometimes mistakenly think they are constitutionally hotter than they actually are but what is most noticeable is that they can really start to feel oppressed or out of sorts from too much cold or rainy weather and they do much better when things properly heat up and dry out. If the sky is blue and the sun is shining then they can do well to literally dry out in the sun (or get near a fire as the next best thing in winter!)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd