Pulse diagnosis in Ayurveda

Article shared with permission from Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum.

The ancient doctors of India made many amazing discoveries, all of which are now being proven by modern research. But I have to say that one of the most important and useful things they developed was pulse diagnosis. This allows the Ayurvedic practitioner a window into what’s going on inside the human body, a very deep picture of the body’s processes which usually we don’t have access to. Many people don’t understand exactly what we feel in the pulse. Well, here in the Western world doctors and nurses basically feel the rate and the rhythm of the heartbeat in the pulse. Just these two things. This means they can feel how fast the heart is beating, how many times a minute, and if the heartbeat is regular or not. While this information is extremely important to have at one’s fingertips, Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis goes much further and provides us with information that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain through various diagnostic tests.

Let’s take a look at some of the things we can find in the pulse.

First of all, we don’t just come down with a serious disease overnight. But instead, we go through 6 stages of a disease process as we work our way towards a disease we can name. In the first two stages of the disease process, some things could be going out of balance, but there won’t be any symptoms just yet. But as these imbalances start to spread and go deeper into the body, in the third and fourth stages you start to develop symptoms. But no disease can be diagnosed just yet.

We’re all familiar with this — we have tons of symptoms, yet when we get blood work or other tests they come back normal. Which, on the one hand is good, because we don’t want to be entertaining any disease, but on the other hand since the doctors can’t find anything on the tests they might make you feel like nothing is wrong with you, or they either treat it incorrectly or don’t treat it at all. Which leaves you feeling pretty frustrated and hopeless.

Don’t forget, doctors are trained to diagnose and treat disease, so unless you fall into that category, many times there is nothing they have to offer you. So then if you let these imbalances continue on, they will turn into a disease in the fifth and sixth stage. But wouldn’t it be great if these early stages could have been picked up sooner and something done about them to halt the progress to the 5th and 6th stage? This is what preventive medicine is all about. Well, this is where pulse diagnosis comes in. It can detect the early stages before it blossoms into a disease. For example, we can detect when the liver is toxic and not functioning well, and fix it, instead of allowing it to spiral out of control turning into diabetes a few years down the road.

We can feel when the thyroid is struggling many years before it shows up on blood work. This is why I decided to write a book about it, called Healing the Thyroid With Ayurveda, because it is so much easier to fix the thyroid when it is first getting weak, rather than when it has been damaged by a disease process because it was ignored for too long.

In fact, it is much easier to prevent any disease than to react to it once you have it and try to reverse something that was years in the making. But this is where modern medicine falls short. They have wonderful diagnostic tools to detect when you have a disease and are able to put a name to the disease, and they have some amazing medicines which can suppress the symptoms of that disease, but they don’t really have any ways of preventing it from happening in the first place. That’s why so many people are coming down with serious illnesses, and the rates of these diseases are getting higher and higher with every passing year.

So here is what we can feel in the pulse. We feel the pulse with three fingers: the index finger picks up the information about Vata, the middle finger picks up what is going on with Pitta, and the ring finger detects any and all information we need to know about Kapha. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are elements which are found in nature and are inside our bodies as well. They are the directors behind the scenes. They are controlling all of the bodies’ processes, but since we can’t see them, they are not discussed in Western medicine at all. Which is not so great because it turns out that most of the disease processes have their very early stages in imbalances in these three doshas, as they are called, and if you can detect them early on, they are fairly easy to reverse. If you don’t nip them in the bud they eventually take you down the path towards disease.

  • Vata in nature is the element of movement, quickness, dryness, coldness, roughness and lightness. So, for example, while we want movement in the body, such as movement of the blood through the arteries or the movement of food through the digestive tract, we don’t want too much movement where we can become hyper, anxious and nervous as too many thoughts move through our brain which can create worries, anxieties and depression.
  • Pitta represents the fire element, so it’s mainly found in the digestive organs so that they can cook the food when it comes in. Now, while it’s good to be able to break the food down for proper absorption into our cells, we don’t want so much heat in the digestive tract which can cause, say, an ulcer.
  • And Kapha represents coldness, slowness, unctuousness, stability and sweetness. So while it’s great to have a sweet personality, we don’t want to become so sweet that our blood sugar goes high and causes diabetes.

The good news is that you can feel the amounts of these 3 doshas in the pulse, and the specific areas they affect in the body, which are called the subdoshas. So very quickly, Vata has 5 subdoshas, affecting the movement of thoughts through the mind, the upward flow of energy in the throat and the area around the thyroid gland, the clockwise flow of food through the stomach, the downward flow of the food in the intestinal region and the movement and circulation of our blood. Pitta controls the hot organs, so the 5 subdoshas of pitta give you an indication of how the stomach, liver, heart, eyes and skin, all pitta organs are doing. And the subdoshas of watery and cold kapha give you information on the lubrication of the cerebrospinal fluid, the salivary glands, the joints, the lubrication of the stomach and information on the lower spine. Each of the 3 fingers can detect the subdoshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in the pulse. The index finger detects the pulsation of the 5 Vata subdoshas, the middle finger gives information on the 5 Pitta subdoshas and the ring finger lets you know the health of the 5 kapha subdoshas.

To make things even more complicated, but also very interesting, we can detect the health of the 7 tissues, which are the blood plasma, the blood tissue, the muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and reproductive fluids. So we can detect if the bone tissue is weak and fix it so the patient doesn’t develop osteoporosis, or if the bone marrow is holding onto too many environmental toxins, pushing the patient into an autoimmune situation.

Even further we can detect the information on the body’s physical channels: channels that carry tears, sweat, lymphatic fluids, bowel movement, urine and so on. These channels can shrink, get inflamed, become clogged or hard, all of which we can feel in the pulse. Which means we can tell if the person is developing hardening of the arteries, and if so, clean them out and pull the calcium deposits out of them, so they can revert back to the elasticity they had when the person was in their 20’s. We can even tell if a person is eating too much tofu and clogging all the body’s channels. Many people think of tofu as a health food, but the pulse proves otherwise — it is so hard to digest that it just clogs all the channels, so much so that my teacher coined the term, “tofu pulse” when he felt the pulse of someone who had been eating a lot of tofu and as a result had severe clogging of their physical channels. And this is very exciting: we can feel the four types of toxins: ama, ama visha, gar visha and electromagnetic toxins.

  • Ama is a residue which gets stuck in the body’s physical channels whenever the food doesn’t digest well. This can happen if someone’s digestion is weak and/or if the food is too heavy. So instead of absorbing into the bloodstream after being properly broken down in the digestive tract, it only partially breaks down and remains stuck in the initial channel, which is the digestive tract, and creates a cold, clogging residue that just sits there.
  • Then this ama eventually rots and ferments and forms a very hot reactive and acidic toxin called ama visha which, due to its heat and acidity, can pave the way for autoimmune diseases and cancer.
  • Gar visha are the chemical toxins from outside the body, such as air pollution, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, and nutraceuticals, which, also due to their very hot nature, can cause autoimmune diseases and cancer.
  • And electromagnetic toxins come from using computers, smart phones, smart meters, cell phone towers and other forms of manmade radiation, such as X-rays.

It’s interesting to note that each of these different toxins has its own unique feel, so that you can detect the types of toxins that particular person is holding onto, and even better, you can tell where they have travelled — to which tissue, or organ or gland. This means we can feel how the flu shot ingredients wind up sitting in the bone marrow, or the effects of bad oils like refined vegetable oils and canola oil — how they damage the liver, or how the birth control pill is causing blood clots in the leg. We can also tell the strength of the body, the rhythm of the heartbeat and the volume of the blood, and if a person is dehydrated or not. And a really good pulse diagnostician can tell the health of the mind and even the various qualities of the soul.

So now you can see that the pulse diagnosis in Ayurveda is vastly different from what you may have thought. This gives us a window into the flow of prana, the life energy in each person, where we can detect very early stages of a disease process and reverse them, so no disease develops. Or, if a disease has already developed, we can still detect all the underlying imbalances that led up to it and fix them, one by one, even if the person is on a prescription drug, so that maybe we can help them to lower the dose of the drug, or even come off the medicine if the body is still able to heal itself once the imbalances are addressed.

I think you can now see how extremely important pulse diagnosis is for both the practitioner and the patient, and how it can give you valuable information that no other form of diagnostic tool can detect.

I hope you found this information useful as you seek to understand pulse diagnosis. Thank you!


It is my mission to inspire and guide you to calm the mind, relax and connect. Through a holistic approach with Ayurveda and Yoga, I am grateful to empower you to achieve and maintain optimal health and well-being.

Riim has been teaching yoga since 2011 and meditation since 2017. She is founder of LINgGAN Yoga Studio (afterwards saktiisha yoga) in The Hague and SankalpaYogi in Suriname.
Sankalpa Holistic Health was founded in 2014.

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