As a teacher and practitioner of Chinese medicine well into my second professional decade, I have felt for a long time that some of the most important areas of study in our medicine have received the least attention. This discrepancy is probably most relevant in the area of pulse diagnosis—and with good reason. Pulse reading can be an extremely subtle art, and there seem to be multiple ways of interpreting the same pulse. Add to that the fact that teaching the pulse is, at least in part, a transcription of our concrete sense of touch into an abstract verbal interpretation. The resulting confusion is nearly always daunting for the student and professional alike, and we wind up falling back on the not-so-subtle aspects of the pulse, limiting our data-gathering to a narrow number of simple distinctions like excess vs. deficiency. And though these distinctions are useful, if they were the only data we had to form our diagnoses, our treatments would be lacking.
When it comes to pulses, theory alone can never suffice. If you go to apply what you’ve learned and your finger position is a little off or if your finger pressure is too heavy or too light, you are not going to pick up the right information from the pulse. Having taught his system for many years, Dr. Will Morris understands that when teaching the art of diagnostic, lecture cannot be the only mode of teaching. There is a great deal of hands-on practice in these classes: from basic calibration of pressure, to correction of finger positions, to insights for practitioner comfort, and, of course, comparing pulses around the room. Dr. Morris and trained assistants are right there with you while you are feeling pulses in the class, available for checking your findings against theirs and offering further explanation relevant to the pulse you are feeling at the moment.
I bet most of us have a sense that if we could only improve our pulse diagnosis technique, clinical effectiveness would improve accordingly. Well, of course we are absolutely right in thinking so. But how do we improve our pulse diagnostic skills? One of the keys, I learned from Dr. Morris, is that we need to approach each pulse with the right framing tools. The pulse diagnostic we use to create an herbal prescription might be a different system than what we use for an acupuncture strategy. Furthermore, the pulse system we use to determine which channels are most affected by a soft-tissue injury may be different from the way we approach the pulse if someone comes to us with insomnia or shen disturbance. If Dr. Morris had contributed nothing else, his tools for filtering through the multilayers of informational “noise”in the pulse to help us home in on what is relevant in this context for this patient in this visit would have been a valuable contribution to our field. As it is, he has actually contributed a great deal more than that.
In this series of pulse classes taught by Dr. Morris, the participant learns many distinctions in the pulse that can be applied immediately in clinic; others need more time to master. One of the “extras” in the class is that Dr. Morris is liberal with sharing a multitude of clinical insights. Not only does he cover a variety of pulse techniques in depth, but he shares treatment strategies and ways to think about treatment strategies that correspond to the pulse diagnostic technique being taught at the time. Because you walk away from these classes with new, clear, diagnostic skills, new treatment strategies, and clarity for how and when to apply the new material, your practice benefits immediately. As you study and use the material from Dr. Morris’ pulse classes over time, your connection with the medicine deepens while your confidence and effectiveness as a practitioner solidify.
John Heuertz, DOM has been practicing Chinese medicine since 2001. He is nationally certified as both an acupuncturist and a Chinese herbalist practicing in New Mexico. Dr. Heuertz publishes and lectures extensively to colleagues in the Chinese medical field.