The principle of taking careful note of the pulse and finding the state of the body and mind is a radical change from western medicine. Here we outline the basic laws that enable this to be a fundamental part of Ayurveda.
The Three Doshas
There are three qualities in Ayurveda. These are Vata (Space and Air), Pitta (Fire and Water) and Kapha (Water and Earth). These five elements constitute the three major biological component, i.e. the three dosas. The pulse can be interpreted by an expert to determine the balance or imbalance of any of these three doshas. Health follows when the doshas are balanced and disease, when they are imbalanced. Within each dosha there are five sub-doshas (see the table at the end of this article).
Vata, Pitta & Kapha Pulse Diagnosis – Reading the Pulse
The Doctor’s hand is placed over the wrist to find the pulse. The first finger detects Vata, the second Pitta and the third Kapha. In each case the fingers touching the wrist experience sensations in the tip of the finger. Some pulses are stronger or weaker in one finger or another. Imbalances in the pulse can be felt in any of the fingers. The doctor can detect the vata, pitta and kapha imbalances through the qualities of the pulse. On a deeper level, using different areas of the fingers, imbalances can also be detected in the sub-doshas.
The speed and strength of the pulse also determines the diagnosis. Finally, any pulse quality can move from the natural placement on one finger to another, for example the Vata pulse can move to the natural Kapha position. All these factors tell the expert where the imbalances are in great detail and lead to lifestyle, diet, routine or other advice. For example a weak or dull pulse in the Vata location can indicate ama or toxin in the body related to the Vata aspects of the physiology.
The digestive and metabolic strength or “agni” of the body is a vital part of health and poor health or disease is a normal outcome from a weak agni. Many people have experienced eating a little too much and feeling sluggish and dull afterwards. This is because the body is busy trying to consume the food and the digestive fire is extinguished leaving the food not fully assimilated. Poorly digested food results in ama, i.e. toxins that are the normal result of food that is not completely broken down to components the body can use. This then gets into our blood stream and obstructs the channels our blood flows through, which is one way disease can form. If the problem is diagnosed on time, then it is easy to solve. Persistent imbalances can build up and lead to significant problems but fortunately we have a very good early warning system in pulse diagnosis.
To understand the subtle nuances of pulse reading takes a lot of experience but you can actually learn to take your own pulse from a trained Doctor. Dr Donn Brennan runs self-pulse diagnosis courses. Pulse reading helps to diagnose the problem before it has taken hold at the first stage. This is one major unique benefit of Ayurveda. It is all about restoring the natural state of health that we all have within us.
The names and locations of the five Sub-doshas in the Vata Pulse
These diagrams show the five Vata sub-doshas as felt in the finger of the doctor. Indication of the speed of the rise and fall in a typical pulse in each of the three doshas can also detected.
The fifteen sub-doshas and the associated areas or functions in the body
|Prana||heart||Breathing and swallowing of food|
|Udana||mind||Speech and voice|
|Samana||neck and chest||Action of digestive enzymes, assimilation of end products of food and separation into the various tissue elements|
|Apana||intestines||Elimination, urine, semen, foetal and menstrual blood|
|Vyana||pelvis||Circulating channels of blood vessels|
|Pachaka||stomach and small intestines||Digestion|
|Ranjaka||liver, spleen and stomach
|Sadhaka||heart||Memory and other mental functions|
|Bradjaka||skin||Colour and glaze of skin|
|Khledaka||Upper stomach||Moistens food that aids digstion|
|Bodhaka||Mouth||Energy of limbs|
|Avalambaka||Lumbo-skeletal area of lower back and ziphisternum in chest||Perception of taste|
|Tarpaka||Central nervous system and brain||Nourishment of the sense organs|
|Shleshaka||Joints||Lubrication of joints|