How we decide where the needles go

by Mary Beth Huwe

The body has hundreds of acupuncture points that we can use in combination to affect a certain change. The points we choose and how we needle them depends upon each patient’s unique presentation. In addition to the information we obtain during our intake and gather through conversation with the patient, we take pulses at both wrists and observe the tongue.

We usually spend about 3-5 minutes or so “listening” to the pulses, as it is sometimes called. This is a different process from what happens at your MD’s office; we’re not counting beats per minute in one wrist. Rather, we feel three different pulse positions in each wrist. Rate is part of what we look for, but that’s generally relative to the breath – not beats per minute. We also notice the pulse’s overall qualities – is it forceful, weak, strong on top, empty down below, thin, wide, etc. We’re interested both in how the pulse appears as a whole and how the three different positions feel individually.

There’s a lot that goes into pulse diagnosis – there are books written on the subject – so suffice to say here that we are able to gather substantial information both about the current state of affairs in the body, and about the subtle direction of health.

The same can be said for the tongue. We look at its overall character – is it red, pale, shiny, wet, dry, covered in a thick coat, puffy, thin, quivering, stiff, speckled, cracked? This gives us clues as to the state of fluids in the body. As the beginning of the digestive system, the tongue gives us insight into the health of overall digestion. The tongue is also understood as a type of map that reflects the health of the body’s other systems.

This essay first appeared on The Lantern Project. It appears here with permission.