How to build your constitution and vitality

How to build your constitution and vitality:

Your constitution represents your strength, vitality and lifeforce in Chinese medicine- it is what you received from your parents- some people are born with a strong constitution and others are born with a weak constitution.

There are advantages of having a strong constitution (you don’t get sick often, are resilient to illness and able to push beyond ordinary people’s capacity) but you are also at risk of burning the candle at both ends – until you burn out (pun intended).

There are also advantages to having a weak constitution, though this is rarely discussed. Oftentimes people with weaker constitutions will tend to get sick- they may be born with this e.g. childhood asthma, allergies and skin conditions (also known as the atopic triad), autoimmune conditions or will easily fall into a pattern of chronic illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia where an individual with a stronger constitution will show resilience for longer. For individuals with a weak constitution- by being sick in younger age you will often have to address things such as diet, lifestyle, mindset and take better care of yourself in order to prevent your body from becoming easily imbalanced. These individuals are often more sensitive to their needs at a younger age and due to the need for health enhancing practices these individuals are more capable of living long and healthy lives.

‘Control your diet, regulate your life, do not carry out unnecessary tasks, and then you will have a healthy body and a good spirit. If you carry this out all the time, you will live until you are a hundred years old’- Huang Di Nei Jing (Qin and Han periods (221 BC – 220 AD)

This article is written from experience- both personal and clinical- as someone with a ‘weaker’ constitution I went through chronic fatigue syndrome over a period of several years- a journey where I learned the importance of nutrition, rest, sleep and energy enhancing practices (QiGong, Yoga, Pranayama). It is my hope that others will also be able to benefit in their health and wellbeing through integrating these dietary and lifestyle practices.

  1. Nutrition and hydration

The importance of nutrition and hydration cannot be overstated- there is an oft referenced quote from Hippocrates- “let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food.” In Naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs are often prescribed, but healthy dietary practices form the foundation on top of which these additional medicines should exist.

A diet rich in cooked fruits and vegetables, plant-based protein (lentils, beans, seeds, tofu, nuts) and complex carbohydrates (sweet potato, basmati rice, steamed potato, quinoa etc.) should form the foundation of diet. Ideally, they should be cooked fresh, which is said to contain a greater amount of Qi/Prana/Energy.

Herbal medicines such as Ren Shen (Panax Ginseng), Huang Qi (Astragalus Membranaceus), Dang Shen (Codonopsis polisula) help to build an individual’s overall vitality and strength- but of greater importance is a healthy, balanced diet- it is of utmost importance.

For some individuals (those with weak constitutions) eating more frequently is preferred- every 2-4 hours. An example of a meal plan would be something like this:

Breakfast: 8am: Cooked rolled oats with some fruit and berries and some maple syrup.

Snack: 10 am: 10 cashew nuts and 2 medjool dates

Lunch 12: Vegetable stir fry with hummus, bread and passata.

Snack: 3pm: Piece of fruit

Dinner: 6pm: Kichari with lentils, basmati rice and vegetables.

Eating in this way is sustainable- how do I know? I still eat like this every day! I cook a big batch of the 3 main meals every 3 days- and take them with me to work. The snacks are easy enough- carry some nuts and dates with you and a piece of fruit.

Some individuals feel better fasting- for individuals who need building up (deficiency) eating more frequently is recommended while for those who need clearing (excess) fasting is recommended. Experiment and see what works for you.

2. Sleep

Straight forward enough. 7-9 hours per night. Ideally before 10pm. In Chinese medicine there is an organ clock- with different organs predominating every 2 hours. The time between 11am-1am is the Liver and Gallbladder time- which is responsible for recharging the organs and replenishing blood in the body. Good rest at this time period is VERY important.

Some people like to stay up at this time- as the blood flow in this 11pm-1am period increases; people will divert that flow to the brain and use it for thinking and doing activity. Over time will begin to deplete the body as organs will not be as effectively replenished (we call this Yin deficiency/Blood deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)).

Additionally for those who have insomnia (been there) a good strategy is to relax and lie in bed and have the attitude that “even if I don’t sleep, I’m just going to rest and relax.” You will find that in the morning you will actually feel quite rested, and without stressing about sleep, you will funnily enough get more sleep.

3. Rest

Rest can be challenging for some people- but is just as important as activity. “From Yin generates Yang- from rest generates movement.” You simply can not have one without the other. If you are always moving- you will end up burning out, which is all too common in the Western world of hustle and bustle. Take some time for yourself every day- to relax, read a book, sit in the sun, enjoy nature or even watch TV and be a lazy slob. This is an ongoing practice- a good reminder is that “by taking time for your self you are doing yourself and everyone around you a favour.”

A good ratio is 1:1 between movement and rest. For those who need building up the ratio may be as much 4:1. Achieving a good balance is about tuning in and seeing what feels good and what builds you up.

Holidays are also important and we all need to take them- I work 5 days a week and try and take a few days off every few months.

4. Movement, energy enhancing practices

Here I will provide a brief overview of movement and energy practices I have had experience with. These practices are an integral component to building strength in the body and stability in the mind- the key is to find what works for you: Some people feel great lifting heavy weights, others enjoy swimming while other people feel better doing some gentle breathing exercises or meditation.

The key thing to remember is safety- if you are going to do any of these practices you need to have a guide to show you what is safe and appropriate for you, I have attached links for the courses I recommend.  

I personally practice SKY breathing (Sudarshan Kriya yoga) daily as well as 20 minutes of meditation morning and night.

These practices are recommended for everyone to integrate into their day to day lifestyle as they provide a strong foundation for health and can be practiced regularly for one’s entire life.

  1. Yoga Nidra (conscious muscle relaxation)- I recommend this one: -1x per day
  2. Breathing into the lower abdomen (Dan Tian breathing from QiGong): Lying on your back with hands on the lower abdomen – can be done as often as desired, may be done several hours if bedridden/depleted
  3. Meditation practice- this is a course I recommend but otherwise any meditations done by Sri Sri Ravishankar on youtube recommended, the headspace app is also very good. – 10 minutes per day to start
  4. Sudarshan Kriya- daily breathing practice- extensive research showing lower rates of depression and anxiety and increased energy levels. Link to course:  -1x per day
  5. Qi Gong and Tai Chi (guidance from an experienced teacher is essential)- as needed
  6. Yoga postures (Sri Sri Yoga is recommended as it is gentle and nourishing)- as needed .

A good attitude is to “use your energy to build more energy.” For example, if you find you can only do 30 minutes of activity per day- use that time to do some gentle breathing exercises, or to do some meal preparation for days ahead.

This article is targeted to those who have a lower physical capacity and need more ‘building’. Therefore it is recommended to stick to these practices and as you get stronger and healthier, begin to integrate movement with more impact (walking, gardening, swimming, saunas etc.).

When embarking on new change it is important to start small. Start with 1 thing, try it for a few days and see how you feel before progressing to the next area of your life. If you need any further instruction or guidance, you can book in to see me in my Naturopathy & Acupuncture practice in Matraville.

All the best,

Dr Ahil Ganesan (TCM/ACU/NAT).