Pulse Testing

This article aims to share the simple 'how-to' for the ancient technique of pulse testing. It is written with students or practitioners of holistic medicine in mind but equally these notes are for the reader who is attempting to take better charge of their own health journey and needs the help of a wise and intuitive guide...

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The philosophy

It seems that the most important things in life are shrouded in impenetrable mystery. How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Why are we here? What is love?

Interwoven with the everyday miracle of existence itself, is an extra-ordinary force, we might call it 'Nature' that exists within every living thing, no matter how tiny, just as each and every drop exists within the ocean.

This force is never so obvious to us as when we are tired, or sick, or suffering, and yet somehow, most often with no action on our part other than to get out of its way, we replenish, we heal, we get better, it just happens.

Ultimately, it is this most remarkable, self-healing force of Nature that stands between a return to health or an illness getting the better of us.

In working for health and healing, our goal must be to align with this force, to do whatever we can to remove whatever might be obstructing it, to let it do its work.

Herbal medicines have been an integral part of our collective journey from our very beginnings. Those roots, flowers, leaves & berries that reliably helped to remove obstacles and nourish the self-healing force have been collected and cherished for as many millennia as we have been able to talk with each other. The knowledge of when and how to use them has then been carefully, safely, passed down through each successive generation.

Now, in the modern world, we have easy access to an enormous number of potent plant medicines in a way that has never happened before. This is a great thing on so many levels; herbs are the 'people's medicine'. They belong to all of us just as we belong to the Earth itself. No-one can patent a herb, no-one can take ownership of it, no-one can get exclusive rights to its use and distribution.

Much of the motivation behind the labour of love that is this living book you are reading right now has been to empower my fellow humans with the knowledge and confidence to safely and wisely use these great gifts from Nature for themselves and their loved ones.

However, just because herbs and herbal lore is so readily available does not equate to these medicines being safe or appropriate for everyone and anyone to use. Herbs are potent, complex, natural drugs. They are not vitamins, they are not things that we are used to having every day in our foods, they contain strong medicinal substances that our body responds to in diverse ways.

There is a great art to using herbal medicines wisely. To knowing firstly what herb to take, but also how much of it to take and how long to take it for. Even how to best combine it with other herbal remedies to speed and enhance its effects.

Knowledge is essential, both that which has been passed down through the many generations as well as the knowledge that has been learned through the lens of modern science. However, by itself, knowledge can at times prove inadequate to the vital task of matching the right herbal allies with the person who is stuck in a condition that is not resolving itself.

What works for one person will not always work for another. We are complex creatures, the names we give to our problems are only one part of the picture, and not even always the most important part! When sickness has taken hold, we must strive for healing, for nothing can be more important than our health.

In such an important matter of choosing what medicine to help, at least sometimes, especially in the beginning or when we are thinking about those important remedies that have the power to affect our internal balance at a deep level, it may be wise to seek the guidance of that force, that intelligence, that runs like a river through all living things.

We must go as far as we can with our knowledge but then we also need to know when we do not know. For that is the exact point when we must be ready to empty our minds and open our hearts.


position to test your own pulse

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The technique

Right there at that point, when we need something more than knowledge, is the simplest of techniques to help us take a step into the unknown. This technique is immediately available to anyone. It requires no special training or ability, it is as accessible to us as our ability to touch and feel.

This process can and should be used with another person, in fact it is considerably easier to do this with another than it is do it with yourself. Nevertheless, to learn it and to truly test it you must first become at least somewhat comfortable with reading your own pulse. See the picture just above to show the best hand position to feel your own pulse.

Hold one hand and wrist in the palm of the other and wrap your fingers around your wrist so that your fingertips lie comfortably over the radial artery, just inside the bone, in line with the base of your thumb.

This process of learning how to listen to the pulse is all about waiting, it is about allowing something to come to you rather than trying to go to it, it is about being empty, open and receptive.

Take your time, relax, move your fingers around while you are learning how to best find it, explore, go deeper, come back softer, try to get as much contact with the pulse as you can.

Ideally, and with practice, you will be able to feel the pulse through three fingers at the same time; your index, middle and ring fingers. Nestle them in close together as if they were all wanting to get in there and have a feel. Don't use the very tips of your fingers, there are less nerve endings there than there are in the pads. The part to use is the top half of where your 'finger-prints' are. Here is where some of the most sensitive tissues of your whole body are present. Those tissues, those nerves, are the ones you want feeling the movement, shape, and 'feel' of your pulse.

Now, whether you are doing this with yourself, or whether you are doing it with another person, whilst you are holding the pulse and giving your full attention to whatever it is that you are feeling, you simply place one or two or three drops of a herbal tea or tincture, or any other substance for that matter, on to the tongue.

Just as you have been using your primal sense of 'touch' to feel the heart's echo beating through the wrist, so you are now going to use the equally remarkable senses of smell and taste to allow the body to feel and process the herb or substance you are introducing to it.

Then, you are going to listen to what the heart has to say about that herb or substance.


position to test someone else's pulse

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The practice

Especially when you are learning this practice, when you will naturally be unsure about its validity and its certainty, it is recommended that you adopt the mindset of a scientist who is conducting an experiment.

Still now, in my own practice, and when teaching this technique to students or practitioners, I typically 'double-blind' the process so that neither I or the patient knows which substance is being tested in what order. This is easily done by selecting a handful of remedies then facing the labels away from both of us and shuffling the bottles so we don't know which one is being tested. It can be helpful to make a brief note of the reactions, but it is not hard to keep the impressions of a few in a row, most of them are typically quite memorable.

It does require some real self-discipline to not take a peek, and you can be sure your mind will try to make you, but hold fast and wait and see! We want to keep the expectations of the mind completely out of the way. We want to be an objective experimenter, simply observing what changes happen when introducing a substance to the body, whilst feeling the pulse before, during, and after.

When you do this, so long as you empty your mind of expectation and thus are simply listening carefully to whatever it is that you can feel under your fingers, you will experience how the most remarkable process unfolds.

Within mere seconds of the body tasting, smelling and feeling the drops of herbs that have gone within, the heart begins to speak its responses, and you can feel them through the pulse.

You will sometimes observe how the strength and vigour of the pulse may fade away, or become somehow irregular. Sometimes one can feel a kind of 'edge' or a a tension in the pulse, it becomes palpably 'raggedy'.

After just a little practice and experience, you will begin to easily feel these reactions because they are quite unmistakable and they clearly show that this herb or other substance is not what is wanted or required just now.

To be honest, I love to get such clearly 'negative' responses. They are telling me in no uncertain terms that the heart is talking to me and that it knows what it wants. The last thing in the world I want to do is to break the first rule; primum non nocere, 'firstly, do no harm!'.

Our body is like a living laboratory, thousands of complex chemical reactions occur within it every day we are alive. We should never underestimate its innate intelligence including that the heart really does know what the heart wants; if it says no, listen to it!

You may be equally certain that there will be at least one remedy, and usually a few, for which the opposite reaction will occur, Many, many times, when introducing a new herb to a person there will be a moment's pause as the body feels, senses and processes this new visitor, and then the heart most palpably 'lifts'. The pulse becomes stronger, fuller, smoother, more 'rounded'. The vital force, the healing intelligence, speaks through the heart, it says 'yes'.

You must consider some practicalities in doing pulse testing, i.e. in the way you set up the drops of the medicine to be conveniently tested whilst one of your hands is otherwise engaged! It is very important that you are in touch with the pulse throughout the whole process, before, during and after. You will be able to get the basic technique with very little time however and, of course, the more you practice it the better you will get!

Perhaps surprisingly, it is less common to get a completely neutral 'non-reaction' as it is to get something that is more obviously a yes or no, but such indifferent reactions will happen and don't need to be over-analysed, just pass on to something else.

The unlimited boundaries of space and time, like the infinite complexities of life itself, are a marvellous mystery, hidden in the everyday. It should not be any great surprise that we all might have an inherent, natural intuition that allows us to fathom friend from foe, what will help us and what might do us harm.

There is good reason that all the ancient, great traditions of medicine have put so much store by the pulse. You can feel much of the constitutional pattern through the pulse; whether a person is hotter or cooler, dryer or damper. You can immediately feel a person's vital force through their pulse, its rhythm and flow is like a meeting point of the mind and body. You can feel the nerves, the energy, the will to be well.

In practice, pulse testing is of the greatest value when seeking a surety for one of our many potent medicines, for example a cleansing remedy, or a herb that affects the hormones, or the mind, or some vital organ.

If we ask the right questions it will most certainly talk to us, we only need to wait, and listen, then the 'how-to' of this whole process can be summed up in just four words; empty mind, open heart.


examples of herbal testing bottles

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd