A lot can be gleaned from physical examination. The orthodox world uses the term ‘palpation for the pushing and poking that goes on over the abdomen and a doctor will tap around the chest and abdomen to test for the amount of air contained. This is called percussion. Congestion in the lungs will sound like a dull thud, whereas excess air in the bowel will sound much like a drum. Stretching joints and pushing on painful areas in the musculature and skeleton of the body will tell a physician a lot about injury and inflammation. All this is a necessity and, whilst mildly invasive, should be allowed regardless of how remote the examination may be from the area of discomfort. Examination of the lower back and upper thigh is essential for a pain in the foot, for example, and is very important in making a firm diagnosis. The neck may be the reason for cramping in the calves. This is known as referred pain.

Eastern-trained physicians will utilize all these Western approaches but then have a few tricks of their own. Observation by physicians over thousands of years has suggested that different parts of the body reflect energy flow through the system as a whole. Acupuncturists plant their needles in the points through these meridians or energy channels and Shiatsu practitioners and reflexologists apply pressure to alter the flow of energy. Shiatsu practitioners study the hara, reflexologists study the reflex points in the feet and hands, and applied kinesiologists will test muscle groups to monitor their strength or weakness, which varies depending on the compound that the body is in contact with.

Hara diagnosis

The Japanese have developed their art of healing from a clear and distinct belief in energy flow through the system. Their practitioners have noted and taught for thousands of years the ability to diagnose by the excess or deficiency of various systems or organs in the body. Each organ or system is represented by a position on the abdomen or back and is described in the diagrams below. Gentle application of pressure will either be resisted or allow the practitioner to push in with very little resistance and this represents the energy within the organ. Specific abdominal pains may or may not be related to the energy area, and muscles on the back that are pulled may have nothing to do with the system or organ either. A practitioner who uses this together with pulse technique, tongue diagnosis and such like can pick up the subtle differences that will tell whether the deficiency has been long-standing or is acute. As a general rule the pulses may change rapidly but Hara changes are slower. This may account for why a Shiatsu practitioner may pick up one set of strengths or weaknesses, whereas a pulse-taker will pick up another within an hour or so of examination or even at the same time.

It is also relevant to note that pressure on a Shiatsu point or on a weakened or excessive pulse point may actually be a treatment or therapy and therefore alters the energy flow quite markedly.

Pulse taking

The orthodox world considers the pulse in the wrist an accessible point to test for a variety of cardiac functions. We are able to tell the rate of the heart, the rhythm and, with experience, glean some idea of the arterial pressure. The feel of the artery may give clues as to the development of arteriosclerosis but beyond this the orthodox world goes no further.