The question ‘why are you taking my pulse?’ is perhaps one of the most disarming questions a naive patient can ask an acupuncture practitioner during a treatment. Naturally any question a patient asks is welcome, but this one has the potential for a very long conversation. In case you are unaware, pulse diagnosis oriental style involves feeling the pulse in three different positions on each wrist and, depending on the practitioner’s style may be repeated more or less frequently during the session. It is a way of gaining information about the patient’s state of health and monitoring the effects of treatment. Although referred to in earlier times, the first really systematic discussion of this technique is to be found in ‘The Pulse Classic’ written by Wange Shuhe in the 3rd century ad.
The problem is that most acupuncturists have trained for three years or more then spend the rest of their days of clinical practice perfecting their pulse technique. They forget that other people have not. It may be compared to learning the piano in the sense that mastery is a lifelong process. ‘How do we distinguish a wiry pulse from a thready pulse’ and ‘what is a drumskin pulse’? So how on earth do I keep the answer to our question simple? How about :-
- By reading the pulse I can figure out what is happening inside your body.
- It is a little like the diagnostic test on your car engine.
- I am checking the flow in your acupuncture meridians.
- I am monitoring the progress of treatment.
In truth these answers are helpful but quite reasonably folks want more. Wouldn’t you?
One answer I feel comfortable with is – pulse diagnosis tells me how you’re doing at this time and when I put the needles in the pulse reading changes. It is the nature of that change that tells me whether or not we are stepping in the right direction.
What do you think?