What is a practitioner feeling for when they take your pulse and what does that tell them about what’s going on with you? Several things are important. One is the place where the practitioner is feeling. Each wrist has three positions, one on the wrist crease over the radial artery where it overlays the styloid process and then a finger width toward the elbow and then two finger widths toward the elbow. Each of these positions corresponds to a different system of the body. Check out the illustration above.
Pulse diagnosis has deep roots in Chinese Medicine, the roots of which are described in the classic text of the Neijing Suwen. An examination of the pulse is an important part of many traditional medical systems such as Ayurvedic Medicine, Tibetan Medicine, and Islamic Medicine as well as contemporary Western Medicine. In a Western clinical setting the pulse is felt to asses the heart rate and that is also considered in Chinese Medicine. In addition to speed, 28 other qualities of the pulse are considered. There are actually several variations and interpretations of the pulses. Reading the pulse was a skill that was developed slowly over many years and taught within medical families. The methods and meaning were carefully guarded secrets.
Shigehisa Kuriyama examines the various ways Chinese and early Western practitioners viewed the pulse in his fascinating book, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese physician Li Shi Zhen is considered a great master of pulses and wrote the classic, Lakeside Masters Study of the Pulse. A wonderful translation is available from Blue Poppy Press. Leon Hammer’s Chinese Pulse Diagnosis: A Contemporary Approach has shown him to be a modern master of the art. Contemporary practitioners study a variety of techniques that give them insight into the pulse.
Taking into consideration the location, its level, and the quality of the pulse let’s the practitioner identify deviations from normal that help identify what illness or imbalance may be occurring in a client’s body, mind or spirit. A skilled practitioner will then correlate this information with a tongue diagnosis, and a client’s reported complaints to create a full diagnosis as well as a treatment strategy.