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Ayurveda 101: Pulse Diagnosis

What if there was a system that could tell you about diseases and imbalances that you are predisposed to even before they have manifested in your body? As surprising as that sounds, there exists such a profound tool of assessment encoded in the science of Ayurveda—pulse diagnosis (nadi pariksha)! This assessment can give you what can only be compared to a movie trailer about the overall state of your body, mind, and spirit.

My experiences with some of the best nadi experts have filled me with awe and admiration for this timeless art of precision and depth in examining one’s body and mind. How thorough are they? They could tell you about the state of your health, illnesses, and problems at the time of your birth from a thorough examination of your pulse!

Modern science has been exploring the connection between the body and mind only in the last few decades. But what if there was a way to assess the state of your health in totality? What is your mental makeup like? And what is your physiological constitution like? How do these influence each other? How do you learn everything about the kind of diet that suits your body; foods, climate, temperature, habits, and overall lifestyle that is favorable or unfavorable for your constitution? That’s where this very special, timeless art of pulse assessment based  comes in.

According to the Ayurvedic Institute, “In the Ayurvedic tradition, it is the most important of eight clinical examination methods, opening the doors of perception to a client’s physical and mental prakruti (constitution), vikruti (current imbalance), disease prognosis, organ energy and tissue health. Even the functioning of chakras can be perceived by a practitioner with enough sensitive awareness.”

The most valuable gift of Ayurveda is letting you in on possible conditions your body type is predisposed to, giving you exhaustive personalized guidance on the best lifestyle for your prakriti, or psycho-physiological constitution, and treatments to bring back a balance of basic elements, represented as doshas. Ayurveda offers holistic solutions for preventing illnesses and helping you maintain good health and vitality. Pulse diagnosis is an important examination tool that goes much deeper than just your typical pulse taken by most western medical doctors.

What is Pulse Diagnosis?

Your nadi, or pulse, is a measure of your prana, or life force coursing through your entire body, revitalizing your subtle energy channels. We are said to have 14 major energy channels that branch out into 72,000 additional channels in the body.

As we discussed earlier, pulse diagnosis allows a practitioner to retrieve detailed information about the internal functioning of the body and its organs through signals present in the radial pulse. The expert then gives an assessment of the individual’s state of doshas—those in balance or out of balance—and how to address the imbalances.

Dr. Nisha Manikantan, seasoned nadi expert and Ayurveda practitioner, writes in the classic introductory text Ayurveda Simplified, “Prāna flows through a network of energy channels or nādīs, located in the astral body which has no corresponding physical structure.”

Pulse diagnosis (nadi pariksha) is a technique that is handed down from masters to their students as part of the Gurukul (Guru-disciple) tradition and the knowledge is considered extremely sacred.

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A Complete Reading

In modern medicine, a physician records the pulse rate, but in Ayurveda, the expert looks for more details by way of observing, sensing, feeling, and touching not just the rhythm and rate of the pulse but also its consistency, quality of the flow, temperature, and movement. Pulse diagnosis works on the principle that indicators of a particular illness show up in your pulse much before anywhere else in the body. And so when a vaidya (Ayurvedic doctor) reads your pulse, they are able to let you know well in advance your existing state of health as well as conditions you are likely to see manifest in the future. It is similar to how a chemical imbalance in the blood can be detected in the blood before clearer symptoms show up.

During the assessment, the vaidya will use three fingers to take a pulse at three positions on each wrist simultaneously, and will judge the pulse according to 28 variables. They will first use only light pressure against the wrist, then increase it. The light pressure allows the doctor to check one specific organ, the increased pressure another one. Every organ’s status can be monitored by the quality of the pulse. The doctor can, among other things, feel if the organ lacks energy, or the energy has stagnated, if there is a lack of blood, or if a pathogenic factor has invaded the organ.

The Three Aspects to Pulse Diagnosis

There are three parts to this type of assessment: seeing and observing (Darshana), light touching (Sparshana), and questioning (Prashna).

Ayurveda relies on the principle of the oneness of our mind, body, and spirit, and that there is a connection between the state of our physiology, mind, and emotions. And so examining any one of these helps the vaidya infer more about the health of the other two aspects as well. And this is a fundamental tool available in Ayurveda for reading the health of an individual in totality. Are you in a healthy emotional state? Is your digestion sluggish or proper? Are there impurities in your blood? Is your vata dosha (air and ether elements) out of balance? Is your kapha holding you down? Are you predisposed to diabetes? A good nadi expert can provide answers to all these questions and more.

Knowing Your Doshas

It is really important for the Ayurveda physician to be able to inform you about what doshas or bio-energies dominate and shape your personality and lifestyle. Nadi experts are able to clearly tell you of your tendencies, behaviors, and preferences in food, temperature, habits, and stamina, as well as which organs are weak and identify any elemental imbalances.

Once the physician identifies the imbalances in the doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha—they are better positioned to guide you about the root cause of the diseases, manifest or yet to possibly manifest, and the restorative procedures for the specific dosha imbalances. Nadi experts can also identify stress in the body— specific organs affected by it and its underlying causes.

A big difference between pulse assessments in modern medicine and Ayurveda is that in the Ayurvedic system, there are six stages in pathogenesis (identifying the origin of an imbalance or disease), and you will not find the first four stages in modern diagnosis. Because of this, Ayurveda is able to give you an indication of signs and symptoms of diseases early on, so that the right remedial treatment can be given in good time, at lower costs, and with little to no damage done to your health.

When can you take the Nadi examination?

Ayurveda experts recommend pulse diagnosis be done only when the stomach is empty, not be directly after oleation or bath, or when an individual is very thirsty or hungry.

Higher Expertise

Awareness is an important component of a good assessment. At the moment the expert touches the wrist of the patient, the process of healing begins.

It is believed that a very seasoned nadi expert may even be able to bring out subtler information, such as details about your body and mind at the time of your birth, past illnesses, or even times or particular years that may be critical for your health when you need to take more care, engage in spiritual practices, or stay calm and stress-free.

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