When I went to get acupuncture for the first time for a chronic knee ailment, my acupuncturist urged me to lay my hands down on the table, palms up, so he could feel my pulses. I assumed he was only looking for the rate, but after five minutes, it became evident that there was a lot more he was looking for. After a few minutes, my acupuncturist told me in terrible English that I had weak kidneys, which was why I felt spaced out and exhausted most of the time. He also said my kidneys were to blame for my knee pain, the odd soreness in my lower back, and the low-pitched ear ringing that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Furthermore, he stated that the vague terror I have from time to time is caused by poor renal function. I glanced at him, puzzled, and questioned, “You got all of that from feeling my pulses?” He only nodded his head. What amazed me was how correct he was about each of these symptoms, despite the fact that I had just told him about the discomfort in my knees. Unfortunately, my knees did not respond to the multiple sessions of acupuncture, but that dialogue with my pulses instilled in me a trust in Chinese medicine and a curiosity in its application, which led to a career as an acupuncturist specialising in this ancient technique.

The secrets of your pulse

Throughout the various branches of Asian medicine, there are different pulse diagnosis traditions. The most common type used by Western acupuncturists includes twenty-six distinct pulse characteristics, each of which reflects various organ imbalances that may be leading to the patient's poor health. The acupuncturist also palpates three basic points along the radial artery on both wrists, each of which mirrors the function of a key organ in the body.

The acupuncturist will feel for specific features in each of these places to evaluate the relative health of each organ and how the organs work together. The pulse can reveal aspects in any of these places that indicate spiritual, emotional, or bodily concerns; understanding this information is primarily dependent on the acupuncturist's competence. Now that we've covered the fundamentals, let's take a look at some of the more appealing aspects of this diagnostic procedure.

Shock and Stability

When I first feel the patient's pulses, the most essential dynamic I look at is the heart's general stability. The consistency of the pulse's pace, rhythm, and intensity determines its stability. If the pace of the pulse changes, or if there is any irregularity in the rhythm of the beats or the qualities sensed, then stabilising the pulse becomes a top therapeutic goal. When the pulse becomes unstable, the heart becomes unstable.

Almost always, this is due to a condition of shock that has surpassed the patient's ability to enjoy optimal health and balance. We typically conceive of shock as a type of acute trauma or overt danger that threatens our basic survival. On a more basic level, shock might be defined as any life-changing event that puts us off balance and weakens our ability to be present in our lives. Divorce, job loss, verbal abuse, addictions, and stress can all result in this type of shock.

When our heart loses its temporary steadiness and rhythm, our faculties of consciousness and insight suffer as well. The spirit or awareness that radiates from the heart, the heart shen, becomes clouded. As a result, we lose touch with our intuitive senses, making life feel untrustworthy and full of effort. According to the five-element acupuncture approach, we can only alleviate chronic health issues if the underlying state of shock is effectively handled.

This is why so many of us become trapped in the unpleasant cycle of seeing initial improvement in our symptoms, only to experience a regression a short time later that puts us right back where we started, if not worse. The patient simply does not have their own spirit to use as an ally in the healing process without this deep foundation of a balanced heart shen. When patients recover from shock and their pulses stabilise, one of the most typical statements I hear in my clinic is, ‘I feel like I have myself back.' This reaction to treatment always makes me optimistic about the patient's predicament since they now have an inner reserve of awareness and strength to call on that was before unavailable.

The Influence of Prevention

Susan, a 33-year-old woman, came to my practice seeking help for a serious anxiety and depressive problem that had been bothering her for several years. She was on two antidepressants when I saw her. She complained of weariness, overheating, thirst, and disturbed sleep. Susan had a characteristic pattern of yin deficiency, which meant that her physiology's cooling, calming, and moistening functions had been weakened. Yin insufficiency is most common in persons between the ages of 45 and 65. It indicates that one's constitutional strength is deteriorating as a result of excessive pondering, stress, or anxiety.

The presence of this pattern in Susan, a 33-year-old woman, implies that her mental state was causing her to age prematurely. Given that the pattern would most certainly worsen over time if not addressed, I predicted that Susan would experience menopause in her late thirties or early forties, and that her body would fail her well before she had lived a complete life. We were simultaneously attempting to address not only her current problems but also her inclination toward premature ageing as I employed acupuncture and herbs to nourish her yin.

Susan began to feel more emotionally balanced than she had in years as her pulse began to relax and soften, and she began to look visibly younger. She felt lighter, more energised, and slept better. Susan's general health had improved considerably and her potential for longevity had greatly enhanced due to her course of yin nourishing treatment, as seen by her pulses and overall presentation.

This case study demonstrates how the pulse can be used to accurately predict our proclivity for health and longevity vs illness and degeneration. Simply explained, the pulse indicates to the acupuncturist the direction the wind is blowing. Is the patient cultivating energy through moderation and balance, or is he or she losing energy by excessive concern or activity, nutritional imbalances, or other lifestyle factors? Each organ position communicates the organ's proclivity for health or sickness. As a result, a good acupuncturist may not only manage the patient's current health difficulties, but also educate them on future health trends based on the patient's pulse quality.

Western medicine is primarily interested in treating disease once it has manifested itself, whereas Chinese medicine, through pulse diagnosis, is more capable of cutting through the momentum that is leading up to the sickness. This latter skill, as noted by many of history's leading doctors and medical pioneers, is more really symbolic of medicine's true purpose: To educate patients so that their lifestyle choices produce a state of heightened well-being that renders them illness resistant.

The Truth Is Out

A skilled pulse diagnostician can see the patient's pulse as a direct line of communication that conveys poignantly honest and emotionally charged information. Given that language is typically mediated via our subjective impression of what we want others to know about us, this often contradicts what the patient actually says about their circumstance. A patient, for example, may present a facade of everything being ‘great,' but their pulse pattern reveals an obvious condition of instability or discord. Another common scenario I meet is the patient who appears calm but whose pulses reveal a tightly constricted feeling of suppressed fury.

When the acupuncturist is able to discover the genuine status of the patient's inner life, the potential for a strong healing experience increases significantly. Indeed, one of the ultimate goals of highly developed pulse practitioners is to be able to prescribe extremely exact herbal formulae based solely on the patient's pulse rhythm. This capacity is symptomatic of a truly holistic approach to medicine, as it goes past the patient's plethora of symptoms to the underlying pattern of disharmony that is producing their poor health.

The acupuncturist gains confidence in the patient's overall health when the pulse begins to balance, even if this occurs before the patient perceives overt improvement. I've seen several occasions where the patient's pulses improved dramatically before their symptoms improved. These patients nearly invariably begin to see substantial progress immediately after their pulses reflect a more harmonious state after my encouragement to persist with the therapy a little longer.

Acupuncture Treatment For Stress

There are pulse practitioners whose talents appear to cross into psychic territory because they are so adept at absorbing the meaning of the qualities they feel. Acupuncturists of this quality, on the other hand, may frequently claim that their talents are absolutely ordinary and that what is felt on the patient's pulse is only common sense knowledge accessible to everybody. The concept here is that the patient's entire life story is just waiting to be acknowledged; it's just a matter of keeping the senses open to all of the information being offered, whether it's physical or emotional in character. The common nature of the method or herb being used, like with many alternative kinds of treatment, is what makes it so miraculous.

Unfortunately, the very rich legacy of Chinese pulse diagnosis is fading as more practitioners rely on technological instruments for diagnostic information. For many of us in the current world, simply touching another person's pulse may not seem ‘objective' or mechanistic enough. However, in my experience, it is this very ordinary level of touch with another person that so frequently distinguishes actual healing from palliative care.

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