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Pulse assessment as a diagnostic tool

An ayurvedic therapist is checking the pulse of young woman during consultation at home.
“Pulse resides on the fingertips of the Vaidya, not on the radial artery of the client – and Ayurvedic Professionals live on their fingertips!” says Vaidya. Jayarajan Kodikannath, Kerala Ayurveda Academy Director and Lead Faculty teaching Pulse Assessment.

What is pulse assessment?

Pulse Assessment in Ayurveda and TCM (commonly used in Acupuncture) is a major diagnostic technique. Similar to Western medicine – listening to the heartbeat with a stethoscope and checking pulse – it serves as a quick, non-invasive assessment method used by trained health care professionals. 

For thousands of years, multiple levels of the pulse or Nadi have been used in Ayurveda. Pulse assessment holistically interprets the individual’s constitution, imbalances, and mental/physical health. Ancient texts like Sharangdhar Samhita mention pulse analysis, while Yogaratnakar provides a detailed description of this science carried forward as part of the traditional lineage of Ayurveda. Emphasis of pulse assessment varies amongst practitioners and schools of thought may vary.  

Some Ayurvedic Doctors (or Vaidyas) may focus mainly on the pulse examination; but at Kerala Ayurveda Academy, we educate our students to use pulse as one of many assessment tools

We receive lots of questions from prospective students about pulse assessment training. Here are the top Q&As to help you understand what it is and what it’s not. We also share how you might be able to use it in your Ayurvedic practice.

Kerala Ayurveda golden lotus logo

How is pulse assessment practiced?

Sitting across from Vaidya. Sheena, the student, closes her eyes. At a class practical, she’s gone through a health intake and is now having her pulse assessed. Vaidya. Sheen listens to the pulse and begins to tell its story: the student has a tendency to be over productive and burn out. To be more specific, she will follow up over productivity by sitting around like a couch potato, and even more specifically, binge watch shows. Vaidya. Sheena also confirms her irritable bowel symptoms to round off this assessment. 

Much is revealed during pulse assessment

The vibration of the radial artery can reveal seven layers downwards to ascertain health, disorders and even their prognosis.

The other layers reveal:

  • Imbalances (Vikrati) 
  • Balance of the Subdoshas
  • Metabolic fire strength (Agni)
  • Toxicity levels (Ama)
  • Status of organ systems and tissues (Dhatus)
  • The deep pulse indicates Prakriti (body constitution).

The Ayurvedic professional is trained to hold the client’s hand and feel for the pulse with their index, middle and ring fingers. Each respective finger feeling for the Vata (snake), Pitta (frog) and Kapha (swan) pulse, dubbed as such because of their characteristic rhythms. 

When to take the pulse

Pulse is often assessed following the health intake during a routine assessment as the client is usually more relaxed at that time. The pulse often confirms findings and may provide additional subtle insights for the Vaidya. Some Vaidyas primarily use the pulse, others may not, depending on their approach, experience and paucity of time.

Side view of swan swimming in lake

Can a pulse assessment provide all the information needed in an Ayurvedic exam?

Vivan is a quiet teenager. He sits with his Mom across from the Vaidya for a consultation (read more about what happens in an Ayurvedic consultation on our Wellness site). It feels like he’s relating the story of his life: his daily routines, diet and lifestyle, bowel habits, ailments, and his genetic, physical, physiological, psychological and social history. He sticks out his tongue, shows his nails, and bursts into laughter as the Vaidya takes his pulse (he’s ticklish!). 

Ayurveda examines the entire person, rather than piecemeal symptoms. It assesses the root cause of disorder and disease.

Types of assessment

When you could go to an Ayurvedic professional with IBS or knee pain, for example, there is a standardized 3-step assessment including questioning, observation and touch – which includes pulse. Another type of assessment is the eightfold method, which looks at attributes like pulse. tongue, eyes, skin etc. A ten step examination also includes constitution evaluation, imbalances, age, physical strength and more.

All of these assessment methods and steps help a practitioner to understand the client’s total state of health. A thorough case analysis leads to a comprehensive protocol with dietary and lifestyle guidelines, formulations, suggestions for pacification or cleansing as needed and follow-ups.  

Limitations of pulse assessment

While pulse assessment can technically provide all the information needed to assess an individual’s constitution and imbalance, relying on pulse alone is not necessary. There are some scenarios when taking a pulse is not viable. For example: virtual consultations, in areas where an individual is not legally able to touch their client (this varies based on state in the U.S.), and in special circumstances such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic. There are also times when pulse assessment is not recommended, such as right after a meal. That’s why it’s important to utilize all the assessment tools available, including detailed case history review and examination of the client’s eyes, nails and tongue. 

Kerala Ayurveda golden lotus logo

What are the advantages of pulse diagnosis?

Pulse is the rhythmical movement of blood as it is propelled through the arteries by the heart.  Measuring the pulse provides important information about your current health status and possible future health problems.  Pulse diagnosis is beneficial as it:

  • Is non-invasive and can indicate disorders without the use of x-rays, endoscopies and other diagnostic tests 
  • Helps assess digestive, metabolic strength and immune resistance
  • Is a quick and subtle way to assess imbalances when there is paucity of time
  • Is holistic in nature, factoring in both mental and physical health 
  • Provides insights when a physical assessment doesn’t help and a subtle one can indicate certain imbalances
  • Provides clues on what further diagnostics may be required 
  • Predicts future disorders and can provide guidance on how to prevent them
  • Indicates the prognosis of disorders; simple, chronic and/or incurable 
  • Exposes causative factors of a disease, helping map the cause to a management protocol
Photo of students learning how to take their pulse

Want to learn more about Ayurvedic assessment and pulse diagnosis?

“To be able to tell a person’s health from their pulse is a skill, an art and a science; it is a privilege to study this from a Master Vaidya such as Jayarajan Kodikannath.” – Anuradha Gupta

The key to mastering pulse assessment is study, practice, practice and more practice. And that’s what you’ll do in our Ayurvedic Assessment and Pulse Diagnosis Workshop! In an action packed three days, we delve into Ayurvedic assessment, narrow in on pulse diagnosis and engage in live cases to understand the complete mapping of disease.  

Learn more about our Ayurvedic Assessment & Pulse Diagnosis Workshop.

New certification formats – from 100% online to NAMA-approved

Multiracial colleagues discussing on video call

We run our certification programs every spring and fall, and we continue to adapt them based on our students’ feedback, as well as to accommodate the latest requirements for accreditation. One of the challenges we encounter as an Ayurvedic school is to balance this spectrum of needs, as higher levels of requirements dictate certain restrictions on our program’s format, and impact the cost. We feel that our fall 2022 lineup is the best set of program options yet. Here’s why.

Industry standards – what, why and how

Kerala Academy team standing on the stage at NAMA conference

 

Alignment with National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA)

Our Academy aligns with the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), the largest Ayurvedic organization in the U.S., to provide industry standards. NAMA association by schools, and membership by professionals, are both optional. We opt into this alignment as we believe that standardization of the profession and licensure offers benefits to professionals as well as clients, making Ayurveda more accessible.

That said, it will take time for the industry to progress, and it’s not possible for all of the current prospective students to meet these requirements. Access to in person training is determined by proximity to an Ayurvedic school, or the time and financial resources to travel for potentially multiple stretches of time to visit a school. We do not wish to inhibit prospective students from completing our training programs, so we set an intention for our fall 2022 lineup to meet the needs of everyone.

2021 program requirement changes

We introduced online learning to Ayurvedic education in 2012. At that time, we knew this would make an Ayurvedic certification achievable for more students across the U.S. in regions without access to Ayurveda. Our motto was flexibility – all classes were live streamed and recorded, and hands-on training was available for those who were able to come in person. With minimum live class attendance, this flexible format met the requirements set forth by the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) for a level I Ayurvedic Health Counselor (AHC) program.

These requirements changed in 2021 to require a new minimum number of in person training and clinical encounters. For the level II Ayurvedic Practitioner program, in person training was already a requirement, though the number of hours increased in 2021. NAMA introduced these requirements to elevate the training benchmark, as part of an accreditation and licensure agenda. We support this agenda, and have modified our program to provide this benchmark. We also offer alternative formats that do not meet NAMA requirements, but offer students an opportunity to be certified.

Close up of graduation certificate from Kerala Ayurveda Academy

 

Explained: certification is not equivalent to NAMA membership

One of the most common questions we receive about NAMA has to do with how our programs qualify graduates. Key points to keep in mind:

  • Certifications are awarded by schools.
  • Professional Membership with NAMA is awarded by NAMA.
  • For NAMA membership eligibility, a graduate must have completed a program that is NAMA-approved and pass the NAMA Board Exam.
  • Our Academy offers program certifications for both NAMA-approved formats. The NAMA Track must be completed to be eligible for taking the NAMA Board Exam.
  • Enrolled students do not have to wait until graduation to pursue NAMA membership. They can apply for Student Membership.

Introducing our fall 2022 program formats

Some of our students prefer to take their certification entirely online, while others wish to complete the requirements for NAMA eligibility. One of our trademarks has been the added flexibility to choose between online and in person attendance throughout the year. We wish to continue offering this flexibility, with a clear pathway for meeting NAMA’s requirements.

Our answer is three tracks: Online, Hybrid and NAMA.

We introduced this approach to all of our professional certifications, beginning with the Holistic Ayurvedic Coach (HAC) program – which is equivalent to the first 6 modules of level I AHC, and therefore outside of NAMA’s requirement threshold. It also seamlessly transitions into the AHC program for students who wish to upskill.


The three tracks of our certifications

All Online Track
Hybrid Track
NAMA Track

All classes are attended via live streaming

Available for:

Holistic Ayurvedic Coach (HAC) – 300 Hours

Level I Ayurvedic Health Counselor (AHC) – 600 hours

Classes are attended in person and via live streaming

Available for:

Holistic Ayurvedic Coach (HAC) – 300 Hours

Level I Ayurvedic Health Counselor (AHC) – 600 hours

Level II Ayurvedic Practitioner (AP) – 910 Hours

Classes are attended in person and via live streaming

Practicums, Practical Immersions and Clinical Internships are attended in person based on NAMA requirements

Available for:

Level I Ayurvedic Health Counselor (AHC) – 600 hours

Level II Ayurvedic Practitioner (AP) – 910 Hours

close up of students engaging in class

The in person requirements: what to expect

A few important points about in person training with us:

  • Not all of the in person training available in a program is included in the in person requirements for the NAMA Track. This is because NAMA’s definition of these requirements is specific about the type of training the student receives – specifically, clinical training that is supervised.
  • The above point explains why our Hybrid Track exists – it offers in person training to the student based on what is convenient for the student, though it does not include the additional hours required to meet NAMA requirements.
  • In person requirements for the NAMA Track are unique to each program, so we recommend reading our Course Catalog to learn more about these requirements.

Transitioning to the NAMA Track

One of our prerogatives when designing the layout of these program formats was transitioning. We understand that circumstances can change, and want to offer options for students who complete the All Online or Hybrid Tracks and later wish to fulfill the NAMA Track requirements for NAMA membership eligibility. Our course catalog outlines the add-ons required for completing this transition as well as the costs involved. Both currently enrolled students and graduates can make this transition, and our team is available to support students in achieving this goal.


In short: what the new tracks offer

  • Track options are now crystal clear to help you pick what works best for you!
  • All Online Track is 100% online.
  • Hybrid Track is a blend of online and in person – flexibility!
  • NAMA Track is specifically designed so that you can meet all the requirements to be eligible for taking the National Ayurvedic Medical Association’s Board Exam.
  • Transition options are available for Counselor (AHC) and Practitioner (AP) students who wish to fulfill the requirements for our NAMA Track at a later time.