You Felt WHAT
in my Pulse?
Pulse & Tongue, Sinus Infections &
Antibiotics, Pregnancy & Phlegm - Part I
Hi. I have a question for you. There was this
free screening by a lady certified in acupuncture
and Chinese herbal medicine that I went to. She
said I have 12 pulses or something like that, that
would indicate that I'm pregnant, but I'm not.
So she said it probably means that I
have a lot of flem in my system. When she looked at my
tongue, she said the same thing. I've had a lot of sinus
problems lately-2 rounds of antibiotics and I'm still
Could the flem thing be the reason? She
also asked if I've been exposed to pesticides or been
on any farms lately. Do you have any therapy ideas?
Hey Leah! Those are great questions. let's explore these
issues. Since the answer covers a few distinct topics, I'm
going to split this into 3 separate articles...
- How we use the Pulse and Tongue for Diagnosis
- Antibiotics and Sinus
- Phlegm and Pregnancy
In Part I...
Pulse and Tongue are two central diagnostic methods in Chinese
Medicine (CM). First, let's talk about the Pulse. We all
have 12 pulses- actually even more than that... but there
are 12 on the wrists. On each arm, we feel in three different
positions (with one finger each) at two different depths
(superficial and deep). 2 arms x 3 positions x 2 depths
(2 x 3 x 2) = 12 pulses. These pulses, more or less, correspond
to what CM thinks of as the 12 major organs. And each of
these organs is really a system of things beyond the actual
anatomical organs. But that's another issue for some other
You felt WHAT in my pulse?
It takes years to become good at taking the pulse, let alone
master it. Not only are there 12 locations, but there are
at least 28 pulse qualities. Some of these qualities are very
straightforward (like fast or slow, big or small...) but some
are quite obscure (the 'slippery' pulse feels like 'feeling
pearls in a porcelain basin,' and 'choppy' feels like 'a knife
scraping bamboo'). After 4 years, I can only reliably identify
from 10-15 of these 28 pulse qualities. You can go a long
way with just a few of them as long as you cross-reference
them with other symptoms and signs.
||My pulse says I'm pregnant?
It is possible to feel a pregnancy symptom in the pulse. But
to be able to pick up that sign of pregnancy in the pulse...
that's difficult. To not back that up with a pregnancy test...
well, that's not going to work too well in a cooperative health
care model (the MD's would be too skeptical at this point).
[Below I talk about phlegm
and pregnancy- what they have in common as far as pulse
Even if I were that good, I'd still tell you to get a pregnancy
test. A CM practitioner really could be that good - we hear
some amazing stories about all kinds of seemingly unknowable
information garnered just from the pulse (a trauma at a
specific age, for example).
Doctors and Technology
Bear in mind that western medicine has made the huge shift
to technology-reliant diagnosis (more emphasis used to be
placed on physical examination and highly targeted inquiry)
only in the last 50 years. In places with socialized medicine
like the U.K. and Europe, physicians have continued the
more skillful use of questioning for diagnosis. Physicians
in the U.S. rely heavily on lab tests and visual studies.
This makes for a highly reproducible medicine, an army of
hundreds of thousands of doctors (it's less efficient if
all your medical students have to spend 20 years feeling
pulses before they "get it"...)
But I'm happy those 'masters' exist because, despite all
of western medicine's objectivity, there are still many
diseases and problems that they cannot cure. One of the
reasons that 'alternative' medicine exists is that people
are not getting what they need from western medicine. Some
people feel unwell but are told (according to the tests)
that everything is normal! What is "normal" has
fallen over the years, and that is another topic! But, I
digress... quite often.
You want to see my WHAT?
The Tongue is another one of our diagnostic sources. Barring weird-colored
candies, pepto-bismol, coffee, and yogic tongue-scraping, the
tongue is a pretty reliable map of the internal state of your
body. Think about it this way: the tongue is the only muscle you
can see! Among other things, we look at
- the body of the tongue's color, moisture, shape, and quality,
- the and tongue coating's color, moisture, and quality,
- if the tongue shakes, or deviates to one side.
For example, this tongue has a red body and a yellow greasy
||We have a general map of the tongue which corresponds to
different parts of the body. The tip is the upper body (Heart
and Lung), the center is the middle body (Liver, Gallbladder,
Spleen, Stomach), and the root is the lower body (Kidney,
Large Intestine, etc.). The coating usually shows the state
of the digestive system... since the tongue confirmed her
suspicion of phlegm, it means you likely had a thick (white
or yellow) tongue coat. You wouldn't feel coat, but it would
be visible to the practitioner. Even more specific information
is available in this great
article on Misha Cohen's website.
For more, go to the next part, "Antibiotics
and Sinus Infections."