Demystifying Ayurvedic Pulse Reading

Pulse Reading is known in Ayurveda as Nadi Parikshan. Nadi Parikshan is the Sanskrit term that means examination of pulse. This is one of the ancient systems of clinical examination by Vaidya or qualified Ayurveda physician.

The word Nadi simply means channel or conduit where something is flowing. Sometimes, the word Nadi broadly connotes with blood vessels, lymphatics and even nerves.

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However, when it comes to Nadi Parikshan, it simply relates to the behaviour of pulsating arteries – for touch, temperature and pressure.

What is Pulse According to Modern Medical Science?

Medical science describes three types of blood vessels. Arteries are the network of blood vessels that carry blood from heart to different organs. Veins are the blood vessels that carry impure blood from various tissues back to lungs for its purification. Capillaries are the minute blood vessels that actually distribute oxygen and nutrients to various tissues and collect disposable waste material and carbon dioxide.

Our heart is a four chambered bag made up of Cardiac muscles that typically work throughout the life span of an individual. Even though, it is said that heart muscles never rest, however, heart muscles of different chambers get their rest during various phases of a heart beat.

When left ventricle constricts and generates a pressure (Systole) and throws blood into arteries, this creates a higher pressure and pulsation moves to various arteries. When left ventricle relaxes, this creates a drop in pressure (Diastole) and brings down the wave of pulsation.

So, in this way, our heart usually beats around 70-80 times a minute in healthy individuals. Certain athletes can have a lower heart rate at resting time and this is perfectly healthy for them.

Where Pulse Reading is carried out?

Typically the most common place to examine the pulse is…

  1. Wrists toward the radial side, about one thumbs space down from wrist
  2. Armpit
  3. Neck
  4. Thigh fold
  5. Near Ankle

Ayurvedic Consideration of Nadi Pariksha:

Pulse reading has its own flavour in Ayurveda and do provide information about Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ayurveda considers these points very important for pulse reading…

  1. Identifying appropriate location
  2. Placing three fingers – index, middle and ring fingers – side by side
  3. Sensing temperature
  4. Normal Behavior of Pulse
  5. Behavior of Pulse when transition is happening from deeper pressure to slighter pressure
  6. Throb or pressure of pulse
  7. Differential feel of pressure on parts of a single finger
  8. Movement of pulse in single finger
  9. Movement of pulse in all three fingers
  10. Rhythm
  11. Speed of Pulsation
  12. Missing of Pulse
  13. Pressure of Pulse
  14. Modification of Pulse during various times of day and night
  15. Patterns of Pulse behaviour

The rest of the section is better explained by answering the common questions that I have received from Ayurveda community.

FAQs or Frequently Asked Questions

Is Pulse Reading Sufficient for diagnosing a health problem?

I have seen some Vaidya doing pulse reading and telling or diagnosing the disease. Despite being an Ayurveda doctor and practicing in India and outside of India for over 15 years, I simply say that this is a fraud.

Let me explain why I do say so…

In Ayurveda classics, there are three primary methods of clinical examination (Trividha Pariksha) …

  1. Prashna or Asking Question is the first one
  2. Darshan or Examination by Eye
  3. Sparshan or Touch

These examination methods are the true classical ways even in modern time when technology has upgraded and deepened their reach. For example, Chest X Ray or Ultrasound or CT Scan or MRI are simply extensions of examination through eyes.

Later on, 5 modes of examination were described in Ayurveda…based upon five senses and their perception…

1. What you could smell2. Taste of the patient or what could be tasted3. What you could see with eyes4. What you could touch with hands5. What you could hear or soundsThen, it was further elaborated to eight modules of examination (Ashtavidha Pariksha)…1. Jihwa Priksha or Tongue examination2. Mala Pariksha or examination of stool or fecal matter3. Mutra Pariksha or examination of urine4. What you could hear5. What you could touch6. What you could see or examine with eyes7. What you could taste or feel of the taste in mouth of patient8. Nadi or Pulse reading

So, I have described the different ancient most as well as relatively modern concepts in Ayurveda and there is no place where Ayurveda sages have described only Pulse reading or emphasized upon this method out of way.

Very truthfully, you have to implement Pulse reading as an integral part of Rogi Parkisha or examination of person. If you leave other methods of examination, you are not following Ayurveda.

Please don’t make Ayurveda a gimmick just because Pulse reading and diagnosis appear to be fanciful or mysterious.

I bought a CD or a book on Pulse reading by some expert. I feel I can read the pulse but still don’t find myself able to diagnose or find the truth.

Pulse reading is part of the clinical examination of the person. Even in medical curriculum, medical doctors are taught Clinical Examination. Yet, there is no written test for this subject. This is the practice that we as healthcare professionals have to adopt and refine throughout the life.

Second, most of the so called Ayurveda programs or books don’t introduce you in sufficient depth in basics such as Ayurveda Anatomy or structure of body, Ayurveda physiology or functioning of various tissues and Ayurvedic Pathology or study of disorders.

Any good and attentive student can master the method of Pulse reading in few weeks. But it needs lot of study to make sense out of it, to correlate with symptoms of the persons, to arrive at a working diagnosis and then indepth study of herbs and management of disorders and patients to actually provide health benefit to the individual.

I am not discouraging you; I am genuinely placing the truth with Pulse reading in the holistic context of Ayurveda. Pulse reading alone or the skill of pulse reading alone, doesn’t mean anything in Ayurveda.

You will not be able to do any benefit to person just based upon Pulse reading without knowing other aspects of Ayurveda.

Can you tell me what do you sense while doing Pulse Reading?

Yes, this is a smart question.

I have given the detailed list above. Now, I am giving a very specific answer that you would like to hear...

You intend to learn or find out specifically about this in Pulse reading…

  1. Subdoshas (5 subtypes of Vata, Pitta and Kapha each, total of 15)
  2. Their inter-relatedness
  3. The patterns of Pulse – movement, rhythm, feel, pressure, touch etc.

Some teachers have written about layers of 7 tissues and other theoretical stuff. Those are more of a speculative and imaginative work to remain engaged and exaggerating a simple and intuitive practice, making it complex and thereby making oneself an expert extraordinary.

Actually, this is hurting the cause of Ayurveda.

If gradually, you have started to feel Subdoshas, congratulate yourself. You have crossed the big hurdle of Pulse reading.

When you are able to find out Subdosha, you can relate it with bodily organs, functioning, ill health of that organ. It is just obvious. You don’t need to say that you have felt organs or tissues in pulse.

If I learn Pulse Reading in a workshop or seminar or course prepared or conducted by You, what would I learn in it?

I am very happy to learn about this. If this type of program would happen with You as participant…I would require you to have…

  1. Basic to medium knowledge of Ayurveda Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology
  2. Basic knowledge of Human Anatomy and Physiology

If you don’t have these prerequisite, you should seek these fundamentals before. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make better use of your skills learned in such type of program, or you might have to set aside few more days.

Why are there differences in Pulse Reading from individual to another individual?

This can be normal when the timings are different. Suppose, you go for Pulse reading in the morning, then in the evening again. The reading can be different even if the same individual examines Pulse.

Pulse reading is an art and science. It is basically a practice of Clinical examination based upon some concepts or principles and what you could feel.

Gradually, you can be more and more refined.

The variation is possible for even simple parameters like temperature. If 10 individuals touch a person and then tell the sensation of warmth, some will say warm, some will say cold and some will say normal.

But, if the fingers are well placed and you are attentive, usually, there should be less chance of variation when you put sufficient time and effort and attention.

I have read or heard something about Prana Vidya or Pulse reading as part of Prana Vidya. What is this?

Actually, this is pretty advanced stuff. And you just read about it out of curiosity, there is nothing that you can get out of it.

Definitely, Pranacharya (Ayurvedic Expert of Prana) is extolled in Ayurveda and suitable for being a Royal Ayurveda practitioner.

Whether it is Hatha Yoga (Asanas or posture and breathing) or Ayurveda, these are very integrated part of Vedic literature and system of education that takes you from where you are in life at present to ultimately experience the unified or universal consciousness of which all of us and this entire world is merely a part.

In Yoga and Ayurveda, there are actually 50 types of Vayus (or Prana or Life energy). I could challenge you to find few individuals who could even name them, and then few of them will be able describe these. And their mastery is very remote field.

Yes, of course, many sages have contributed in this field with their highly evolved consciousness.

To summarize this topic giving you a practical hint, practical wisdom of Prana (Vital Energy) starts when you could stop breathing in and out spontaneously, without force and will, and sense the inner dynamics of Prana, while being utmost alert and focused and immersed in deeper parts of your awareness.

If you want to venture into this subject, sincerely adopt meditative practices and Yoga in its pure and deeper sense. Personally, I highly recommend Lahiri Mahasaya Kriya Yoga in its original and classical form.

Please believe that this have to be a life time mission for you.

Otherwise, you would find yourself and your so-called teachers also only juggling with words and jargon, now or ten years later or twenty years later or you could just drop this as rubbish concept.

Dr. Vikram Aditya Tomar
 

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