By AFEA member Mia Kawada

One of the most significant texts on Chinese medicine The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijin 475-225 BC) notes “In diagnosis, observation of the spirit and facial colour, and palpitation of pulses are the two methods that were emphasized by the ancient emperors and revered teachers”.

Five element acupuncturists use pulse diagnosis as an essential tool to determine the energetic health within the person. The practitioner does this by feeling the pulses on the patient’s wrists along the radial artery in six different locations and on two levels. The pulses are linked to vital organs and functions, which are called “the Officials”. These are Heart, Small Intestine, Bladder, Kidneys, Pericardium/Circulation Sex (Circulatory and Sex Hormones), Three Heater (Body’s heating engineer), Gall Bladder, Liver, Stomach and Spleen. Each Official is likened to an Official in a court with particular ministry and a role, not only in physiological sense but also their role in a person’s mental and spiritual wellbeing.

After the initial consultation, each treatment begins with the pulse diagnosis. The practitioner is asking the Officials;

How are they feeling?
What is the volume of the energy in each Official?
What is the quality of the energy in each Official?
How is the energy distributed amongst them?
Is there a block in the flow of the energy from one Official to the next that needs to be corrected?

This is invaluable information to the practitioner that helps plan the treatment for the day. The objective is to affect a positive change in the pulse picture using needles, then listening carefully to how the Officials are responding.

It is immensely satisfying for a practitioner to notice the change taking place in the pulse picture as the treatment progresses. It is also an enormous privilege to have a direct line of communication with a person’s inner workings and an intimate relationship with the Officials in charge.

What fascinates me the most, as a practitioner, is how clearly the Officials communicate with me. When the relationship is established and familiar, the Officials and I have a common language. A patient might come in for the treatment with tight and taut pulses and leave with “perky” and relaxed ones, another patient might have all the Officials singing a different tune until the imbalance is corrected and they are once again in harmony with each other. Not to mention when the pulses tell me that the patient is pregnant, sometimes even before the patient knows it.

Pulse diagnosis is a skill that takes years to learn and a lifetime to master. It’s essential to keep the fingertips trained ready to receive the information but also and more importantly learn to really listen with curiosity and open mind.

“Learn to listen with your fingers” Helen B. Taussig

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