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Communicating with the Depths of Our Being: Acupuncture and Pulse Diagnosis

Communicating with the Depths of Our Being: Acupuncture and Pulse Diagnosis

As an acupuncturist, the main tool I use to diagnose patients is the pulse. Everyone is fascinated by this process. For good reason: a tremendous amount of information can be gathered by feeling the pulse on a person’s wrist.

When I lay my fingers on a patient’s pulse I can read the functional strength of all the body’s major organs. I’m also able to assess the quality and amount of vital substances such as blood, body fluids, hormones.

Even more fascinating is information the pulse provides regarding relationship between the body organs: how well the digestive system is supporting respiratory function, the endocrine system’s effect on the mind and emotions, interaction between the various aspects of immune and circulatory function. The pulse can even provide information relating to the psyche: where a person may have a mental fixation. Congenital issues can also be located in the pulse, as can physical and emotional traumas that have disturbed daily physiological function.

Master pulse diagnosticians say the pulse conveys a person’s past, present and future: what we’ve inherited, traumas we’ve suffered, and possible future physical and mental manifestations. The pulse can also predict what may happen to us in the future: propensity for certain health conditions. It provides warning signs, as well as requests for supplementation or changes that we need to make. A pulse reading can help us become aware of things to watch out for; it also helps us gain insight into ways to protect ourselves from catastrophe.

Take for example a patient suffering from insomnia. The sleep disturbance can come from many sources. It can come from the Lungs and Heart failing to anchor circulatory energy at night, or from a deficiency of blood or hormonal fluids failing to nourish the spirit. It can come lack of internal warmth, failing to move the blood and fluids. The insomnia can result from weak digestion creating phlegm that harasses the spirit, hampers proper production of blood or body fluids, or blocks blood flow into the chest. Or it can come from a functional weakness failing to maintain necessary circulation. There can be excessive inflammation surging up into the chest causing the person to have nightmares or wake during the night. The inflammation itself can also come from many sources: the result of excess stomach acid, or from unresolved emotional issues creating internal heat.

To successfully treat a problem with acupuncture, the cause must be found. This can be done through the pulse. It will show what’s out of balance. If the endocrine glands are not working together (as measured through the relationship between the Heart and Kidney pulses), this is likely to be the cause. If the stomach shows excessive inflammation venting into the chest, this might be the problem. If there is a deficiency of blood, this could be the cause.

There may be more than one imbalance: the result of a longterm problem that has progressed, causing symptoms along the way. The blood deficiency can be the result of excessive internal inflammation, which is rooted in an unresolved emotional trauma from long ago. If this is the case, the pulse will present a very different picture than if the inflammation is the result of poor diet. The pulse can even help differentiate whether the emotional issue is related to current issues, those from the past, or issues relating to the ancestry (what we’ve inherited).

Essentially, that which is being felt in the pulse is relationship: how our internal organs are relating to one another, as well as the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. Life is built on relationship. Survival requires working together. We may have adequate resources, but if we are not exchanging them, we can’t flourish. We need other people in order to learn about ourselves. We may have things others lack; others may have what we lack. In health, we are constantly exchanging with others. With plants, we exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. This is called respiration: the most fundamental physiological process necessary for survival. With people, we exchange love, ideas and skills. We create our sense of social group identity through relationship with others. All of this is a type of energetic circulation. It all has an effect on our health.

Inadequate emotional circulation can cause physical blood circulation problems. Insecurity or excessive vulnerability can hamper respiratory function. Low self-esteem can inhibit endocrine function. Emotional hyper-vigilance can lead to an overactive immune system. The reverse is also true: poor digestive function can create an obsessive mind and the inability to concentrate. Weak lungs can give rise to a feeling of depression or vulnerability. Stagnation of blood (from heart weakness) can cause an inability to communicate well through speech.

With all of these layers of energetic function (body and mind, social and self relationship), trying to locate the cause of a condition can be overwhelming. The pulse helps decode the mystery. Feeling the pulse is a way of listening very deeply to a person. It conveys things we are not aware of within ourselves. One of our body’s main survival mechanisms is repression. This occurs on both the mental and physical levels. Hepatitis for example, when it is not in the acute stage, goes into hiding in the cells. We don’t have symptoms to alert us of its presence because it is lurking in a latent state. We may not remember a traumatic event that happened when we were children because the body has repressed it. Just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on our bodies and minds. We may be having strange symptoms that we cannot explain. Nothing shows up on blood tests, we can’t pull anything up when talking to our psychoanalysts. The pulse can reveal that which is hidden, so we know where to pull the lurking toxin out from.

The pulse will show us what resources we have available for detox. Cancer for example requires a great deal of blood, fluids and energy to be detoxed. Even when undergoing Western medical treatments like chemotherapy, we need a lot of blood and fluids to be able to flush out both the cancerous toxins, as well as the medicine killing the toxins. Many people for whom chemo doesn’t work lack adequate body resources to withstand the intensity of the treatment. The strategy with chemo is using a toxic substance to eliminate an internal body toxin. It can be highly successful- if the person has adequate strength and resources. The pulse will show what aspects of the body need to be supported during the therapy. It will also show the therapy’s on-going success or lack thereof.

I believe the pulse is the one of the best ways to identify the root of a problem. The healer develops a relationship with the patient through the pulse. Overtime, the healer will sensitize himself to communication from the patient’s pulse; ideally the patient and his pulse will gradually reveal more overtime.

Many people say healing is like peeling the layers of an onion. This will reveal itself in all aspects of the patient, including the pulse. Symptoms that were reactions to something deeper will disappear, revealing the deeper wounds and imbalances. Eventually the root of the problem will make itself known. The body will develop confidence that it can communicate that which it has been hiding or protecting.


Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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