What Do You Feel in the Pulse?

Ever wondered why we feel your pulse using three fingers?

Your pulse is really a way for us to connect to your heart, quite literally.  Your life force, through your Blood, is being pumped through your body.  By taking a moment to connect and listen, we try to understand what is going on within your body.

So, pulse 101.

Pulse diagnosis is a vital diagnostic tool in Chinese medicine. By feeling the pulse at three specific locations on each wrist we gain a wealth of information about the your overall health.

To feel the pulse, we use the index, middle, and ring fingers on the radial pulse, beginning with the index finger on at the wrist crease. Each position represents a different system in your body. And, it isn’t just about the rate, but many different qualities can be noticed and provide valuable information. 

What do we feel for in the pulse?

  • Depth: Depth indicates the location of the underlying issue, is this something that is fairly deep in the body (like a chronic disease) or is it something on the surface (like a cold)?
  • Rate: Rate indicates the speed of blood circulation. A fast pulse is associated with heat or excess, while a slow pulse is associated with cold or deficiency.
  • Regularity: Regularity indicates the smoothness of blood flow. An irregular pulse can be associated with stagnation or blockages.
  • Width: Width indicates the amount of blood flowing through the vessel. A wide pulse is indicates more yin (Blood and fluids), while a narrow pulse is associated with deficient yin (Blood and fluids).
  • Length: Length indicates the strength of the heart’s pumping action. A long pulse is often associated with strength, while a short pulse can indicate a possibly deficiency
  • Smoothness: Smoothness helps us learn more about the quality of the Blood. A smooth pulse is associated with healthy blood, while a pulse that feels more like ‘rubbing a knife on the inside layer of bamboo’ or what we call choppy, can indicate that the blood may be thick.
  • Stiffness: How stiff, or wiry a pulse feels tells us about condition of the blood vessels. A stiff or wiry pulse is associated with stress or pain, while a pulse that feels more like ‘a pearl rolling under your fingers’ or slippery pulse indicates many different things including just plain old healthy blood vessels.
  • Strength: Feeling for strength under your fingers at the different positions indicates the overall energy of that organ system. A strong pulse is associated with a healthy energy level, while a weak pulse is associated with a low energy level.


Feeling the pulse with all three fingers at the same time we can compare and notice how they interact with one another.

What happens in the other positions if we use more pressure on one position?  How does it change on each level, on each position?  Does the width change?  Does a different position just ‘disappear’ or maybe get much stronger?  Pulse diagnosis is complex and nuanced, to master it often requires years of training (and a lot of practice and patience).

Try it out for yourself: Floating pulse in the Lung position.

Do you think you are getting a cold?  To feel for a pulse that may indicate your are getting a cold, use your left index finger and gently take the pulse on the right Lung position (nearest the wrist crease).  If you can feel it with just a bit of pressure, we say that your immune system may be starting to engage, which could indicate you are just starting to fight a cold.

If you are curious, start feeling your own pulse.  Take a few minutes to notice, and note how you are feeling.  With time you can develop a sense of pulse diagnostics for yourself too!