Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks


Hey, this is Brian Carter, founder of PulseMed.org.  I've been writing to regular folks about alternative medicine solutions for the last 5 years now, and we've reached more than 300,000 people around the world.  
My first book, Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure will be published by the end of November.  I literally can't wait to talk to you about it and answer your questions!  That's why I'm starting a series of Teleseminars.  These are phone conference presentations that everyone calls into.  I'll speak on a topic like 'Boosting Your Energy' or 'Introduction to Acupuncture', and then, answer questions from the audience.
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You Felt WHAT
in my Pulse?
Pulse & Tongue, Sinus Infections & Antibiotics, Pregnancy & Phlegm - Part I

by Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, maintains a private acupuncture and herbal practice in San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.

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 not better.

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...

  1. How we use the Pulse and Tongue for Diagnosis
  2. Antibiotics and Sinus Infections
  3. Phlegm and Pregnancy


In Part I...

The Pulse
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 time.

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 is concerned]

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 coat.
  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."

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