Patient asks, “What do you feel for when you feel my pulse?”
Holy smokes, I always take a deep breath when I hear this question. It's such a great question but the answer can be extensive. There are literally entire books written just on the science and art of pulse taking.
In the beginning of each acupuncture session, I feel the radial (wrist) pulse on each side of the body. Typically, I feel this pulse multiple times over the course of the treatment to track any changes. I note the rate, the overall strength, and the regularity. In addition, I feel three positions on each wrist, at three different depths. Over the course of decades of practice, Acupuncturists develop the ability to feel for over 50 more subtle qualities in each position. Some examples of qualities are tight, tense, slippery, or taut.
Sometimes it might seem like magic, but as my teacher, Lonny Jarrett says, “The condition of the artery simply indicates the condition of the arteries throughout your body." The subtle qualities recognized in the pulses are rooted in thousands of years of acupuncturists feeling pulses and recognizing patterns. These qualities allow us to interpret messages from the body at the subtle level and provide valuable clinical information.
For example, a patient comes in for a treatment and I feel a slippery pulse quality in the area associated with the condition of his Lungs. The qualities often reflect the symptoms of the patient. In this case, the patient has a history of recent bronchitis. The pulse quality helps me to develop and then refine the treatment plan and also to make a prognosis on the trajectory of a patient's state of health and well being. In the case of the slippery Lung pulse patient, I know to include some acupuncture points that clear dampness in the Lungs, even if the patient is no longer coughing! You can start to see why acupuncture is referred to as a preventative medicine. Using the information in the pulse, I know to strengthen the Lungs in order to prevent potential recurrence of the bronchitis.