“Open your mouth and say ahhhh.” We’ve all had a doctor request to see our tongues, and in many schools of medicine, the tongue serves as an important diagnostic tool. In Ayurveda, the tongue is key in diagnoses, and a practitioner can get a pretty good idea of a person’s constitution and health just by looking at it.
The shape of the tongue helps to reveal one’s constitution. Vata tongues tend to be narrow and off-center. Pitta tongues tend to be medium width and pointy, and kapha tongues are wide and thick. The color of a tongue gives us information as well. When a tongue is purple, that indicates a vata imbalance. A rich red color is indicative of heat or a pitta imbalance, and a very pale tongue is indicative of a dim fire which lends itself to kapha imbalances such as weak digestion and phlegm.
Take this dosha quiz to see if your personal tongue reading matches up with your quiz results!
Consistent with most visible diagnostic traits, we understand that people are complex, and no single sign is necessarily absolute. Someone could have a pale tongue and great digestion. Someone else could have a very bright red tongue and be free of pitta imbalances, such as heartburn and acidity which are commonly associated with a bright red tongue. The tongue helps to give us general clues as well.
What the Tongue Can Tell Us
Details on the landscape of the tongue reveal an even clearer picture. When we begin to pay attention to the tongue, we can use it as a guide to bring balance. Following is a list of easily identified markers to help figure out what’s going on in the body.
- Ridged edges or teeth marks around the perimeter of the tongue are consistent with malabsorption. Someone who displays this type of tongue should remove all artificial sweeteners and chemicals from their diet. These products compromise the intestinal wall and can inhibit the body from absorbing all the needed nutrition from food. If someone has ridged edges that look like teeth marks, they can drink a traditional Ayurvedic tea called CCF Tea. Comprised of digestive aids, fennel, cumin, and coriander, this tea will help repair the health of the gut and aid in the absorption of nutrients.
- Foam on the tongue can correlate with candida. Candida, a yeast-like overgrowth, is caused and fed by the prevalence of too much sugar in the diet. If someone has a foamy tongue, it is best to avoid sugar, especially refined sugar. Brahmi and Triphala tablets are both helpful when working on a yeast imbalance in the body.
- A puffy tongue, or a tongue with waves along the perimeter, is consistent with stagnant lymph. Eating meals too late at night or drinking wine in the evening can also create a puffy tongue. People with a puffy tongue will do well to avoid eating and drinking alcohol after sunset. These people can also try dry brushing to help move the lymph. To dry brush, purchase a loofah sponge or loofah gloves and brush upwards from the base of the limbs towards the heart, once daily before a shower. An invigorating self-massage with Kapha Massage Oil can also be stimulating and warming.
- A thick coating on the tongue indicates the presence of ama, or toxins, in the body. The location of the coating is telling as well. A coating in the back of the tongue near the tonsils indicates that the toxicity is mostly in the colon. A coating in the middle of the tongue indicates that the toxins are throughout the gastrointestinal area. A tongue cleaner helps remove the topical toxins and stimulates the digestive process to prevent the buildup of new toxicity. Digestive herbal blends such as Kapha Digest, Pitta Digest, Vata Digest, and Triphala are all helpful in dispelling and preventing toxicity.
You are now educated on the basics of tongue diagnostics. These tools can be very helpful in gathering data and keeping track of our personal health on a daily basis. I look at my tongue every morning and have a habit of checking my tongue periodically throughout the day. Surveying and understanding the tongue gives us direction as to where we might need to make adjustments in our diet—with our food and supplemental routines. For example, as a pitta-vata, my tongue is bright pink when I’m in a healthy state. If I wake up and my tongue is pale, this indicates to me that my agni, or digestive strength, is weaker than usual, so I eat lighter than usual and perhaps sip on ginger tea that day.
Ayurveda is all about self-knowledge and self-healing. Your tongue is just one more place to gain insights!