ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Chinese and Ayurvedic Pulses

In Ayurvedic medicine, the balance of our doshas determines our constitutions. Vata relates to the nervous system and the body’s energy, pitta to digestion, acid and bile, and kapha to mucous, moisture, fat and lymph. A close parallel between the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems is clear.

Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Chinese philosophy believes that different systems and organs reflect their intrinsic vital force in different parts of the body. The wrist is an extremely accessible pulse point and is the most documented of areas for practitioners to learn how to measure the energy in the system. In principle, all these disciplines share the same fundamental beliefs but have different names and ways of describing the energies.

The Eastern philosophies believe that the body is made up of humours, organs, systems and elements. The practitioner will be checking for pulse rate, missed beats and ‘quality’. An orthodox training will teach about a ‘full’ pulse or a pulse with a double beat, for example, and correlate this with the function or structure of the heart. An Eastern-trained practitioner might describe the pulse as full or empty, having excess fire or damp, or as being thready.

The practitioner, using whichever technique he or she has been taught and possibly by correlating different philosophies in one pulse-taking technique, can perform the examination with the patient sitting or lying. It is important that no part of the body is crossed and that nothing that affects the pulse rate has been ingested. This includes caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars in particular, but also excessively spicy foods or those that may cool the body, such as an iced drink or ice-cream.

Whilst the orthodox pulse-taker is interested only in the function of the heart or the influence of chemicals on the heart rate, the Eastern practitioner will take this into account but also consider the effects on a much broader diagnostic scale.

The Chinese philosophies believe that the pulses not only reflect the physical but also the emotional and psychological states. You may hear a practitioner describing a weak spleen or a full liver, which will not necessarily correspond to the normal orthodox function of that organ.

Another Eastern philosophy suggests the following psychological and spiritual correlations with the organ pulses.


Lung tolerance disdain, prejudice, contempt

Liver happiness unhappiness

Gallbladder love rage, fury

Spleen faith in future anxiety about the future

Kidney sexual security promiscuity

Large intestine self worth guilt

Circulation/Sexual function/ renunciation of past, jealousy, regret

Heart protector generosity, relaxation

Heart love, forgiveness anger

Stomach contentment disappointment

Triple Heater happy depressed, lonely, grieving

Spleen joy sorrow, sadness

Bladder peace, harmony restlessness, impatience

Taking your own pulse Place the second and fourth fingers either side

In each wrist there is a bony prominence about and press as lightly as is necessary to establish a two finger widths up from the wrist crease on the pulse in all fingers. Push down deeply with each side of the thumb . Place finger in turn and then altogether and you will be the third finger of the opposite hand on this lump feeling the superficial and deep pulses characteris- and move inwards slightly. A pulse should be felt, tic of Chinese pulse-taking.

Ayurvedic physicians state that the right-hand side of the body is the masculine side and gives out energy and the left-hand side of the body is feminine and receives energy. Imbalances in specific organs or humours can be detected by comparing each point with all of the others and a generalized weakness in one set of pulses as opposed to those of the other wrist may represent a general lack or excess of masculine or feminine energy. Masculine energy represents aggression, achievement, drive and ambition, whereas feminine energy represents nurturing, love, homemaking, tolerance and acceptance. All of us have a balance and we should all strive for an equality of energy. Pulses change through the day, depending upon the amount of energy that is used. Kidney energy is said to be an energy store and should be diminished towards the end of the day. Each point represents a spiritual, psychological and physical aspect and therefore when you hear a practitioner talking about kidney energy he does not necessarily mean the possibility of kidney problems. Lung energy may represent sadness and grief, stomach energy the ability to absorb a concept, and gallbladder energy about digesting facts. The subject is both fascinating and immense and can take a lifetime to even attempt to understand and practise accurately.