Pulse Diagnosis and Why to Have A Pulse Assessment


One of the important diagnostic techniques of the ancient science of Ayurveda is nadi vijnan or pulse diagnosis.  This is a body of knowledge handed down in the gurukula tradition (a master-disciple relationship) in India which likely has been practiced for thousands of years.  Its use as a diagnostic tool for discovering imbalances in physiology is not widely known or practiced in India because of the traditional way of orally passing knowledge from generation to generation. However, as proof of an awareness and use of it we see evidence that over the centuries it has been disseminated in various forms around Asia and has a place in traditional Chinese medicine. 


The present rejuvenation of Ayurveda around the world finds this technique gaining prominence in its two applications: 1) Self-pulse:  When done by oneself on oneself it promotes extending awareness in the mind/body system to an imbalance in physiology, which leads to healing; 2) Pulse Diagnosis: A trained practitioner feels the client's pulse, assesses the state of balance of physiology, and suggests remedial action for restoring balance. Ayurveda is a science which asserts the unity of mind, body, spirit, i.e.,  mental, emotional, physical aspects of physiology. Learning something about one facet gives understanding of all three aspects of life, and pulse yields this insight about the total person. This is one reason for having a pulse assessment.  


The present state of being--reflecting what is happening now in the mind/body system--is assessed at the superficial level of pulse. If there is a strong emotion, if digestion in the stomach is going on, if the body is aroused, etc all these and many other states of being can be detected. 


On the other hand, deeper levels of pulse are a kind of biographical record of past stresses and natal information like physical and mental constitution. Stress stored in deep tissue suggests long term chronicity of exposure to some negative influence. Constitutional assessment is extremely important because this information gives understanding why certain foods, herbs, activities, emotions, etc. can have either a favorable or negative effect upon a given individual. It helps predict what kinds of imbalances or diseases that person is most susceptible to. It gives the practitioner clues about whether or not one expresses what nature intended/endowed from birth...has this person become other than what he/she started with? Further, it describes the innate balance of the doshic principles which acts as a target for balancing in that individual. In a way one can say that knowing something about one point in time promotes knowledge of all points in time--past, present, future. In the same way, mental constitution assessment yields a picture of the way one is likely to think and act spontaneously when in balanced physiology or good health.


Discovering etiology--at the level of cause--is another reason for having a pulse assessment. Ayurveda employs three interacting principles--vata, pitta, kapha or motion, heat, and structure, respectively--to explain all of physiology and creation. These principles are considered to be the governors of physiology. Balance of these principles, felt in the pulse, is a requisite for health. Detecting imbalance at this level signifies finding the root cause of disease. Of course, there are many predisposing factors such as genes, congenital factors, trauma, and so on, but what brings about the manifestation is a disturbance in a doshic principle.


In Ayurveda the heart is more than an organ--in the sense that it is a pump, for example. It is the very essence of mind and of every organ and tissue of the body and serves to both monitor and transmit or amplify the status and functioning of every organ via the pulsating arteries.  An expert can feel which organs, systems, or tissues are working under stress and which doshic principle is causing the problem. When the practitioner determines what organs and tissues are involved then a good idea of the pathogenesis (origin, path, and extent of imbalance or disease) is gained--another reason. 


As a result of the foregoing reason yet another one arises based on the fact that Ayurveda recognizes six stages of pathogenesis--the first four of which are not found in the modern allopathic model. Ayurveda identifies imbalance or disease before it manifests with signs and symptoms. Remedial interventions at these stages are easier, less costly, and quicker to produce results.


There are numerous additional points which are important also. Consciousness is said to be the nature and basis of life.  It expresses as a trinity of values: prana, tejas, and ojas. Prana is the vitality or energy of life which gives rise to tejas and ojas. Tejas is the transformational value of life necessary for digestion, metabolism, understanding, etc., which acts on ojas to convert it. Ojas is the subtle substance of life giving rise to tissue, etc. and expresses as immunity, cheerfulness, good complexion, etc. These are directly perceived in the pulse. The condition of their balance and integration with Consciousness (called samhita in Sanskrit) can be directly perceived in the pulsating arteries.


The pulse contains information about impending critical times--periods of higher risk or vulnerability. These are termed gandakala in Sanskrit. For example if a certain impulse is found under the index finger this suggests that the next 6 months are a critical time.  If the impulse is found under the ring finger the next month will be a critical time. One is encouraged to be extra careful and diligent about meditation, yoga, etc. It has another preventive value in this way.


The pulse can corroborate Jyotisha (astrology) findings or predictions. For example, if the pulse shows weakness in the liver this indication is likely to be suggested in the natal chart for the same period. (An expert practitioner often uses the Jyotisha chart to aid in diagnosis and treatment.)


Finally, the mere touch of the practitioner is sufficient to begin the healing process as it, too, brings awareness to physiology--from the client and practitioner. Without awareness there is no healing.  Health means that awareness--the healing flow of intelligence--is moving throughout physiology.


In summary pulse assessment is an unique technique which is like a window into the heart and soul of the individual. It is is the best manner to assess physiology directly. It yields the fundamental understanding of cause and effect.  It helps explain the past and present and even suggests something about the future.  It is a tool which when combined with physical/structural assessment techniques gives a complete picture of the state and progression of imbalance. When combined with therapeutics it enables Ayurveda to be both remedial and preventative.


Copyright 1996 Michael S. Dick All Rights Reserved